A 707-horsepower sport utility vehicle seems a bit out of step with a car industry that’s currently fixated on electrifying everything and taking the driver out of the equation whenever possible. And even to gas-mileage-be-damned enthusiasts, the concept of a high-riding SUV with super car-like capability is a bit of a curiosity. As we discovered in our 2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT Trackhawk review, it’s a sentiment that hasn’t been lost on Jeep’s brass.
“You might be asking yourself the question, ‘Why make this vehicle?’” Jeep brand director Scott Tallon confessed to a room full of journalists before our test drive. With a 6.2-liter supercharged Hemi V8 under the hood, along with hardware from the likes of Brembo, Bilstein, and other racing name plates – this track-focused machine seems out of step for a company that built its reputation on crawling over rocks. But Tallon assured us that the Trackhawk’s actions would speak louder than words.
Since the debut of the Dodge Challenger and Charger SRT Hellcat models in late 2014, enthusiasts have been demanding that Fiat-Chrysler “Hellcat all the things.” While we’re probably still a ways off from a Fiat 124 Abarth Hellcat, the Grand Cherokee Hemi compatibility made it a likely candidate for Hellcatification.
The Grand Cherokee also attracts more well-heeled buyers than most of FCA’s other brands. With the current naturally aspirated Grand Cherokee SRT already garnering accolades around the industry (including from us), developing an over-the-top high performance version actually made sense, on some level.
While the Jeep brand might be synonymous with off-road capability, the Trackhawk is far from its first foray into on-road performance. The concept dates all the way back to 1998, when Jeep debuted the Cherokee Limited 5.9, one of the quickest SUVs of its day. It delivered a sports car-like dash to 60 miles per hour from a standstill in under seven seconds.
The Limited 5.9 would prove to be a harbinger of high performance Grand Cherokees to come. An SRT-tuned package would follow in 2006, cutting that 0 to 60 time down to a brief 4.8 seconds by way of a 6.1-liter 425 horsepower Hemi V8, while also delivering significant chassis and appearance upgrades for good measure. On sale since 2012, the current generation SRT-tuned Grand Cherokee has received regular updates to keep it fresh, but in order to really bring the heat to newer entries into the segment like the Range Sport Sport SVR and Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S, Jeep and SRT needed to step up their game.
They found the necessary 707-horsepower adrenaline shot in the Hellcat parts bin. “But this is not just an engine swap into an existing Cherokee,” Tallon reminded us. To that end, SRT also developed stouter chassis components to handle the newfound grunt, giving the car better durability and balance to match its speed.