New York — What would happen if Fiat-Chrysler Automobile’s iconic Detroit brands — Jeep and Hellcat — had a love child? Say hello to the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk SUV.
In a dramatic New York Auto Show unveiling before a packed house Wednesday, Jeep introduced the most powerful sport-ute ever with 707 horsepower and 645 pound-feet of torque. Perched on a four-wheel dynamometer on the Javits Convention Center stage, the blood-red, V-8 powered monster roared to life and proceeded to accelerate — in place — through the SUV’s record-setting numbers: zero-60 in 3.5 seconds; the quarter-mile in 11.6 seconds at 116 mph; then onwards to just shy of its 180 mph top speed.
The third FCA vehicle to receive its supercharged 6.2-liter Hellcat engine, the Trackhawk sports super sports-car acceleration and stopping power. With massive Brembo performance brakes, soccer moms can still bring the 5,550-pound behemoth to a stop and let the kids out for school.
“The Jeep calls out to the inner race-car driver we always wanted to be,” Jeep boss Mike Manley proclaimed.
Where the Dodge Challenger Hellcat coupe and Charger Hellcat sedan drip with menace, the Trackhawk attracts less attention. You’ll know it by the black mask surrounding the trademark seven-slot grille, twin-scoop hood heat extractors and quad-exhaust pipes out the rear.
“Our heritage and history is off-road capability, but the key word is capability,” Manley said in an interview with The Detroit News. “We have a history of producing high-performance SUVs. There’s been quite a big following within the Jeep community for extreme off-road with our Trackhawk, but also on-road capability as well. Grand Cherokee is now the most powerful and quickest SUV.”
The Trackhawk is the third evolution of the Jeep muscle-ute based on the popular Grand Cherokee, the second-bestselling midsize SUV behind the Ford Explorer. The first generation debuted in 2006 as the 420-horse Grand Cherokee SRT8 that was in production until 2011. Since 2012, Jeep has produced the $67,890 Grand Cherokee SRT. It features a 470-horsepower, 6.4-liter V-8 shared with the base Dodge Challenger SRT.
The Trackhawk, says Manley, will go above and beyond SRT with Hellcat power. That makes it an affordable competitor to SUV luxury beasts like the Porsche Cayenne Turbo and BMW M X5.
“The SRT and Trackhawk are very different,” says Manley. He ticks off the list: The Trackhawk is supercharged with much-higher horsepower. Fog lamps are removed, brakes are upgraded significantly, quad pipes added. But still packed with safety security features, and can still tow 7,200 pounds.
Jeep literature features the Trackhawk photographed at Atlanta Motorsports Park race track, where the big SUV can pull 0.88 g-loads in turns. That’s comparable to a Challenger R/T.
Despite weighing 1,000 pounds more than the Charger Hellcat, the Trackhawk boasts similar zero-60 times thanks to all-wheel drive and a so-called “Torque Reserve” launch-control feature that helps limit torque before the brake is released. It’s the same tool that launches the Challenger SRT Demon, which is sharing FCA-muscle billing at this year’s show.
The Trailhawk’s supercharged drivetrain — aluminum-alloy cylinder heads, all-wheel-drive, limited-slip differential, the works — is state-of-the-art, as are its interior and safety systems.
The award-winning, 8.4-inch Uconnect touchscreen anchors the console featuring, for the first time, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity. The standard black “Trackhawk” logo-embossed Nappa leather and suede seats are heated in the front and rear. Dark Ruby Red seats and seat belts, and a dual-pane panoramic sunroof are available options.
The Trackhawk features “Trailer Hitch Camera View at Speed” so passengers can keep an eye on the speedboat through the rear-mounted camera while moving. Other safety systems include adaptive cruise control, blind-spot assist and lane-departure warning.
Are there more Trackhawks in Jeep’s future?
“For now it’s a Grand Cherokee thing,” said Manley. “There’s opportunities with some of the others, but no plans at the moment. Grand Cherokee has a halo-effect for the brand.”
The Trackhawk joins a Jeep lineup — Cherokee, Compass, Grand Cherokee, Renegade and Wrangler — that sold a record 1.4 million vehicles globally in 2016. The Trackhawk will be built in Detroit at the Jefferson North Assembly Plant and arrive in showrooms in the fourth quarter of 2017.
Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at email@example.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.