Payne: All I want for Christmas is a Jeep Hellcat

Henry Payne
The Detroit News

Santa, I know what I want for Christmas: a 2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk with the same 707-horsepower supercharged 6.2-liter V-8 that possesses the Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat.

Detroit News auto critic Henry Payne would like a 707-horsepower Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk in his driveway for Christmas, Santa. At nearly $100k it's the perfect holiday gift.

You might know it as the Jeep Hellcat.

I know you have a few laying around your workshop. How else can you circle the globe in one night carrying a sack of gifts? Don’t give me that flying sleigh line. Throw your bag in the Jeep’s cargo hatch. All-wheel drive “Snow” mode for the Northern Hemisphere’s winter. Cooled seats and “Sport” mode for the Southern Hemisphere’s summer. Outrageous horsepower for everywhere. Heck, the red leather interior even matches your suit.

I first tested the Trackhawk last fall at Club Motorsports racetrack in New Hampshire. That’s what the “Track” mode is for. It’s only the second SUV I’ve had on a track (cousin Dodge Durango SRT was the other) and it was a blast. When Trackhawk arrived at my driveway for a week this December I contemplated calling my friends at M1 Concourse for more hot laps.

But I had plenty of fun with the Jeep Hellcat as a daily driver. Indeed, its huge all-wheel drive bandwidth deservedly places it as the premium option in Fiat Chrysler’s 707-horse lineup — above the rear-wheel drive Challenger Coupe and Charger sedan.

Wrapped in a black wardrobe, the Trackhawk is the ultimate stealth-mobile. The gaping, lower grille openings feeding the beastie under the hood aren’t obvious. Neither are the heat extractors tucked into the hood (no big hood scoops here). Only the four yellow Brembo brake calipers and quad pipes out back give this hawk-in-sheep’s clothing away.

Sidle up to a Corvette or BMW M3 or Audi S5 (yes, I did) at a stoplight, and it appears to be any other Grand Cherokee family hauler. Nail the throttle when the Christmas tree turns green and watch their jaws drop in your rear-view mirror.

With 700-plus ponies channeled to all four wheels, the Trackhawk explodes off the line with nary a tail wag. Leave the drama for the supercharged V-8’s scream, its eerie, high-pitched WHEEEEEE triggering every car alarm within five blocks and throwing dogs’ heads back in a howl.

Try that in a rear-wheel drive Charger and you might take out every road sign for the next quarter mile, its rear end shaking like a Vegas dancer while the big tires struggle for grip. Besides, you wouldn’t want to disturb the kids in the backseat watching the Smurf movie on the Blue-Ray DVD player.

Yes, the Trackhawk comes with every accessory, including headphones for the DVD player in back, full moonroof, trailer package, and a partridge in a pear tree. I want it all, Santa.

Truth be told, the wide-eyed kids that poured out of neighborhood homes at the words “want to experience 707 horsepower?” preferred the live theater of the Trackhawk smoking every vehicle in sight. Heck, not even the mighty Porsche Cayenne Turbo S can beat this monster off the line. At 3.5 seconds from zero-60, this is the fastest ute this side of an electric Tesla Model X P100D.

The eight-speed transmission is a treat, rapidly swapping cogs with a snarl on every upshift. Turn the center dial to “Track” for maximum acceleration and the shifts belt you in the back. The “Sport” setting will do just fine, thank you, though downshift rev-matching in “Track” is a visceral thrill. Either way, I ignored the steering-wheel shift paddles — quick shifting autos have gotten that good. Encounter a clump of left-lane lolly-gaggers on Detroit freeways, and you’re by them with a quick punch of the throttle, the downshift smooth as silk.

All this exercise will make the rhino thirsty, I should add. I got a mere 10.1 mpg during my week of commuting. Add a tanker truck to the accessories list.

The accessories list is as long as the weapons menu: adaptive cruise-control, lane-keep assist, automatic high-beams, voice control, blind-spot assist, heated and cooled seats, heated steering wheel and so on.

Whether a Laredo, Summit or Trackhawk trim, everything in a Grand Cherokee is where it should be. There’s a console cubby for the smartphone. A shelf to rest your thumb while the index finger scrolls through, say, Sirius XM. Only the climate buttons require thought — they are buried in the screen like a Tesla.

Large families with a need for speed might want the Durango SRT’s roomy third row, but two works for my family of four. On a trip to the airport, the rear cargo hatch easily swallowed four bags. If you pack only one, I would suggest a cargo net lest it be flung around like a rag doll when you encounter a curvy road and the red mist overwhelms you (again).

And if I returned to QuikPark airport parking with my Trackhawk buried in snow? No problem. It’ll pummel snow drifts with glee, a prospect that usually has me stashing my sports car for the winter.

We live in golden years, Santa, when the SUV landscape offers everything from a 707-horse Trackhawk to a 100 kWh Model X. Despite nanny bureaucrat predictions a decade ago that we would be sipping pricey gas in tiny hybrid cars, Jeep has thrivedas the world has come to its utility doorstep.

With a full line of SUVs from the subcompact Renegade to the muscle-bound Trackhawk, the elves in Auburn Hills are having fun exploring the bandwidth of their Hellcat toy.

The price of that gluttony is an hour plugged into Tesla’s Supercharger. If you can find one. My Jeep predicted 240 miles or range and I got 166. The refill took five minutes at a nearby street corner.

Speaking of gluttony, Santa, my base-price $87,000 Trackhawk will cost $99,965 plus aforementioned accessories. ’Tis the season of giving — and I’ve been real nice this year.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne. Catch “Car Radio with Henry Payne” from noon-1 p.m. Saturdays on 910 AM Superstation.

2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee


Vehicle type

Front-engine, all-wheel drive,

five-passenger SUV


Supercharged 6.2-liter V-8


8-speed automatic


5,363 pounds


$86,995 base ($94,965

with all the goodies)


707 horsepower, 645 pound-feet torque


0-60 mph, 3.5 seconds (manufacturer); top speed: 180 mph (mftr); tow capacity: 7,200 pounds

Fuel economy

EPA est. 11 mpg city/17 mpg highway (10.1 mpg as tested under heavy whipping)

Report card


Can carry a Christmas tree in the boot – or Santa’s bag; destroys premium sports coupes at stoplights


Needs its own tanker truck for frequent refueling


Grading scale

Excellent ★★★★Good ★★★

Fair ★★Poor ★