First drive: 2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk in Las Vegas USA

First drive: 2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk in Las Vegas USA

Jeep is synonymous with off-roading, and nothing epitomised that more than their Trailhawk-branded range of vehicles, which came with more offroad equipment than regular versions of the Renegade, the Compass and the Grand Cherokee. We found all three Trailhawk models to be impressive both on and off the road. Yet there was a lot of noise being made to build a Hellcat version of the Grand Cherokee SRT, offroad abilities be damned. So they did. And it gave birth to a new badge — Trackhawk. And we got to try out for a few minutes at a racetrack in the United States.

The 2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk’s claim to fame is the 6.2-litre supercharged “Hellcat” V8 that makes 707 hp and 875 Nm of torque. Mated to a beefed-up all-wheel-drive system, it makes mincemeat of its rear-driven Dodge siblings off the line.

In the all-too-brief time we had with the world’s quickest SUV, we were allowed two laps and a couple of launch-control runs. Put your left foot on the brake, and hold it down very hard. Press the launch button below the shifter and watch the brake pressure build on the digital display between the gauges to an ideal level. Then use your right foot to push the accelerator pedal to the floor. Hold both feet steady, and then quickly leave the brake. The 2,433-kg Jeep from rocket from zero to 100 kph in just 3.7 seconds. Getting below 4 seconds is easy with no drama, no wheelspin and, to be honest, not even much excitement, as the power builds linearly so you don’t get kicked as hard as you’d expect on your backside.

The excitement comes when you get to push harder, well beyond 100 kph, on a long straight such as the one we had at the smooth Spring Mountain Motor Resort racetrack located in a small town Nevada, 45 minutes from Las Vegas. It builds speed fast, and you get to taste 200 kph pretty quickly in what is essentially a tall vehicle with a high riding position. The top speed is 290 kph.

But the beauty of this vehicle is that it can brake and turn too, like a tall sports car, if there were such a thing. Flooring the brake pedal at the end of the straight offers up eye-popping stopping power (thanks to 15.75-inch Brembo rotors front and 13.78-inch rotors rear), while turning into the corner is best described as grippy and neutral. There isn’t much in the way of body roll. Start putting down power too early out of the corner though, and it is prone to push wide, and there is nothing in the way of lift-off oversteer to make things more hair-raising on the turns. The steering is sharp and responsive, but a bit on the light side for track work, and not offering up much feedback either.

The Trackhawk comes with a strengthened 8-speed automatic gearbox, and it can be left in automatic all day long, with speedier shifts in track mode. It sends power through an all-wheel-drive system with an electronically-controlled limited-slip differential between the rear wheels. Depending on the drive mode, the tech is able to vary the front-rear torque split, including 40:60 in Auto, 50:50 in Snow, 60:40 in Tow, 35:65 in Sport, and 30:70 in Track.

On the outside, not much distinguishes the 707 hp Trackhawk from the “regular” 475 hp SRT aside from the bigger brakes, an extra slit in the front fascia to aid cooling, intakes in place of the foglights, a new quad-tip exhaust with a dark finish on the tailpipes, “supercharged” badges and a choice of silver 20-inch wheels or lighter-weight black wheels.

Inside, the tachometer now sits in the centre of the instrument panel, and the 8.4-inch infotainment system features Trackhawk-exclusive pages for monitoring performance metrics. Nappa leather/suede seats with “Trackhawk” badging are standard, as are uniquely-patterned carbon-fibre trim pieces. An available Signature Leather Interior Package covers the whole cabin in black or dark red. This dark crimson is also an option for the seat belts.

This is not the first time in history that Jeep has claimed the title of world’s fastest SUV. They first did it 20 years ago with the limited-edition 1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee 5.9 Limited that did 0-100 kph in 7 seconds, at a time when Mercedes-Benz only made a slug-like G-Wagen, Range Rovers were still slow, and BMW, Porsche et al only made cars. In 1999, the second-gen Jeep Grand Cherokee 4.7 was still the fastest SUV around, with a 0-100 kph time of 7.6 seconds (of which we owned a 2002 model), just before the Germans got into the game. The third-gen Grand Cherokee gave birth to the first-gen SRT for 2006, which did the sprint in 5.1 seconds. And while the 2011 SRT was never the quickest, it was the best bang-for-buck. The Trackhawk now reclaims the “quickest” title for Jeep.

Trailhawk first drives: Jeep Grand Cherokee, Jeep Compass, Jeep Renegade.

Photos by Raj Warrior & Jeep.

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