Road Tests

Jeep Trackhawk (2020) is the family’s muscle car

Mr John Force your Jeep has arrived

It’s called the Trackhawk and if the driver reference went over your head then perhaps drag racing, and by proxy, the Jeep Trackhawk is not for you. Instead, you might be better off in a Porsche Cayenne Turbo. But if words like reaction time, launch control rpm and race cooldown form a strong part of your everyday vernacular, then this shotgun blast from the fast SUV arsenal has a clearer appreciation for the nuances of straight-line performance than anything we’ve tested.

Sounds like a one trick pony

That’s because despite a name purporting characteristics of ‘Track’ and ‘Hawk’, it has none of the agility associated with either. Cool name though, and a Redeye edition is on the cards.

What does Jeep know about building a fast SUV?

Fifteen years’ experience, almost as long as Porsche has with the Cayenne. Being part of a family that includes Dodge, Chrysler, Maserati and Fiat also means that Jeep’s all-access card to the inventory of racy accessories is mouth watering.

Weren’t fast Jeeps called SRT?

The SRT has been knocked down a peg but you can buy one for nearly a million rand less than the Trackhawk if you’re happy with the antiquated 6.4-litre normally aspirated V8 eclipsed by engines half the size. Still fast enough and decent value if you can afford the fuel bill, but the Trackhawk’s performance entitles it to live in another realm to the SRT.

The most powerful SUV on sale

Something’s surely gone awry with the status quo when Jeep builds a more powerful SUV than Lamborghini – although the Urus, at 3.6 sec to 100kph and 305kph, just sticks its aerodynamic nose ahead on the claims. The reason behind this extreme performance is black and white – the 522kW, 868Nm Hellcat engine has reshaped the muscle car scene and handed the Yanks current bragging rights over the Europeans – just don’t mention fuel consumption in its presence. This genetically-modified 6.2-litre supercharged Hemi has given the Dodge Challenger Hellcat a qualified reputation around the drag strips and now enables the Trackhawk to join a very elite group of large family SUVs able to do 0-100kph in under four seconds.

Trackhawk in South Africa

The Yanks do like to exaggerate though

Unlike the scrupulous German brands who often understate performance figures, Jeep owners might be in for a disappointing surprise if they ever – coincidentally – line up against an SUV of similar rank and power. Brakes creaking against the wall of power and nose cocked back, the next few seconds are like throwing a grenade up the road, and then arriving there just as it explodes. Yet despite the devastation caused, the Trackhawk never feels quite as clinical in its shifts or traction to be a 3.7 second SUV. But that won’t prevent you from spending an entire day squeezing out those fine margins thanks to a configurable launch control system that will eventually lead to an unresolved online debate.

Added to that are graphs populated with real-time brake pedal pressure and reaction time.  You can then examine even more data after each run. No other launch control system on the market lets you get anywhere close to this involvement but are there enough real enthusiasts out there who would genuinely prefer to fiddle at the lights rather than let the computers mitigate human error and reward with perfect-score launches time after time?

Whatever the answer, the speed and forces thumped out by this Jeep are often too much for the space around it not to be considered scary, or a bit irresponsible even in the hands of a talented driver – who would undoubtedly have chosen something like a BMW M5 Competition in the first place.

This is a big car used to marching up and down generously-shouldered roads or sharing shopping bays with Ford F-150s. In SA the explosive Jeep feels incongruous, especially with a mindset that subconsciously turns every piece of straight road into a new drag strip or decommissioned runway. The combination makes for addictive entertainment with the supercharger’s whine often saturating my brain’s ability to grab the next gear before the engine rams into the limiter. The gears are a bit mushy because the ZF gearbox makes do without a second clutch but the stereotype of slow-revving Hemis is one I’m willing to bury.

What has been done elsewhere?

Ever since those centrally mounted exhausts, every iteration of fast Jeep has slowly integrated its overall design with the rest of the Cherokee family.  If you covered up every single place where Jeep has put the Trackhawk name (bumper, seats, side sills, steering wheel), you would struggle to tell the difference between it and the SRT variant. Exterior changes bespoke to Trackhawk include quad pipes and yellow brake calipers, with badging on the front doors used to warn others that a supercharger lives under the (vented) hood. Even if you were to exclude the luxurious Range Rover Velar SVAD or new Porsche Cayenne from the comparison, the Jeep’s Uconnect system and little bit of carbon fibre leaves a yawning gap between price and quality. Still has a foot brake – which I didn’t realise was on until I was halfway down the road – says a lot about the power of the engine.

Verdict

The Jeep’s singularity of straight-line performance over and above everything else is its main drawcard, followed closely by being the only SUV (in our market) to be north of 5-litre capacity. In South Africa, where muscle cars and their high-cholesterol engines seem out of reach, the Jeep Trackhawk lets you wrap your fingers around one of the greatest V8 Hemis in muscle car literature. I could go so far as to say that the Jeep Trackhawk represents the future of the muscle car.

Jeep is sticking on a thick premium for that grease-monkey membership but the plain truth is the twentieth launch control start isn’t going to give you the same euphoria as the nineteenth’, at which point you’ll be better off in a Cayenne Turbo or, if you want to keep your bling around your neck and the cowboy boots on your feet, a Mercedes G 63 will do.  Andrew Leopold

Specification

  • R2,199 900
  • 6.2 8cyl supercharged
  • 522kW
  • 868Nm
  • 0-100kph in 3.7 secs, 289kph
  • 16.8l/100km
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