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REVIEW | The supercharged Jeep Trackhawk is blindingly fast, but here's why 522kW is not enough

2020-02-26 14:43

Charlen Raymond

jeep trackhawk

2020 Jeep Trackhawk. Image: Wheels24 / Warren Wilson

As soon as that 6.2-litre supercharged V8 engine roared to life, I knew we’d be in for a treat of epic proportions.

Here you have an SUV that, quite literally, is defying the laws of gravity with its sheer grunt and achingly fast manner of picking up speed. Jeep got something right with its Grand Cherokee Trackhawk, or Jeep Trackhawk as it’s more commonly known, and it draws on the tried and tested American muscle car recipe. 

Under the Trackhawk’s bonnet lies a massive engine. The 522kW and 875Nm it develops are fed to all four wheels via the automaker’s eight-speed automatic gearbox. So powerful is the engine that the slightest dab of the throttle will see the Trackhawk jolt forward. It can be addictive but also dangerous. Unsuspecting drivers can be caught off-guard when this beast of an SUV shows its colours – even just slightly. But through it all, it generates a grin that’s hard to hide.

That straight-line speed

Coming in for testing, we knew that the Trackhawk needed to be handled with care. With huge gloves of cautiousness because it can bite. 522kW chomping at the bit is no joke, but it is something that needs to be reined in and controlled. 

At one of the proving grounds outside Cape Town, we lined the Jeep up to test its launch control. Of course, try launching it as effectively as possible. The Trackhawk’s launch control requires an effortless setup. Press the ‘Launch’ button next to the gear lever, and you’re good to go (the system will tell you if you are on an even surface for Launch to work).

READ: Is the epic R2.2-million Trackhawk worth it vs rival performance SUV in SA?

Press the brake pedal into the mat, and the engine’s boost will increase. Once your foot touches the throttle, the SUV takes on an angrier persona. Meaning, it becomes squeamish.

It requires a careful approach, but do it correctly, and you’ll see the Trackhawk jump from 0-100km/h in under 4 seconds! It’s quick! The acceleration is quite a laugh, and you’ll probably find yourself chasing both the sound (exhaust and engine) and thrill over and over again. Oh, top speed is a claimed 290km/h by the way.

jeep trackhawk

                                       2020 Jeep Trackhawk. Image: Wheels24 / Warren Wilson

And dynamically?

While the Trackhawk is a ball of fun in a straight line, it just does not garner the same excitement through the bends. With the driving mode in either Sport and Track (Track disengages traction control, but you can engage it again), the Trackhawk is a lot more responsive to throttle inputs, but the steering-feel remains vague. There is just too much play when going through a corner, which does not conjure plenty of confidence.

Go into a corner too hot, and the SUV falls victim to understeer. A big engine, hanging over the front axle, is always going to curb any enthusiastic driving. When going into a corner at speed, you need to scrub off some speed either through lifting off the throttle or by laying on the brakes. And the brakes are another concern, because the travel of the pedal before it bites is too long.

WATCH: Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk sets SUV speed record on ice

The gearbox, as well, is a case of two tales. On the one hand, it reacts with a decent amount of vigour to manual commands via the steering wheel-mounted paddles. But on the other, it does not override to automatic when you ‘forget’ to shift up. The ‘box will respect your decision to operate it manually and will allow the engine to holiday in the red line without engaging the next gear on behalf of the driver. In fully automatic mode, however, the gearbox is just a charm.

jeep trackhawk

                                       2020 Jeep Trackhawk. Image: Wheels24 / Warren Wilson

Wheels24's Janine Van der Post says: "The Jeep Trackhawk is a *sleeper of note. Sure it looks big and burly, and those 20" massive wheels will grab your attention, but when you have no idea that it's a 522kW beast, you'll be left idling in the dust in the car next door as it jets off from the line. 

"I loved being stuck in morning peak traffic, creeping at a snail's pace and watching other drivers realise what's parked next to them. At first they'd see the huge yellow-painted brake calipers, then take in those massive rims and tyres, they'd take a sneak peek at the rest of the car, and then read the 'Grand Cherokee Supercharged' badging on the bottom of the front door. And then they'd look at the driver. Supercharged? The expression on their faces is always "what on earth is this monster?" 

"You need loads of open roads to put foot, and to be honest it doesn't sound as revvy as a sturdy V8, but the whine that emits when its creating boost is a pure adrenaline rush from inside behind the steering wheel. To the average Joe, that winding noise can be scary when it's totally unexpected. But is it worth R2.2-million of hard cash, I am not sure sure. It's rather underwhelming for all that money and even though its performance is raw, it needs some refinement. I still had a heck of time driving it, and wouldn't mind having one in my garage for its outstanding 'sleeper' persona."

*A sleeper car is a vehicle with incredibly high performance but is completely unassuming on the exterior.

jeep trackhawk

                       2020 Jeep Trackhawk. Image: QuickPic

In summary

The Jeep Trackhawk is one crazy machine, and you can’t help but want to drive it. Despite the dynamic shortcomings, you want to feel the pull of its 522kW engine, and you need to hear those quad exhaust pipes announce their arrival - or departure.

If you buy a Jeep, any new Jeep for that matter, you are aware of the fact that it trails its German rivals in almost all facets. It's the same with the Trackhawk. It’s brilliant fun in a straight line, but the headline of ‘522kW’ is not enough to make you ignore its flaws. But the power figure is only part of the story. This Trackhawk is a headline and introduction to a last hoorah for a vehicle that’s been around for almost a decade.

While we can call Jeep out for merging this engine with an 'old' chassis, you have to respect their resolve for pushing through with this venture. The Trackhawk might not be a brilliant SUV, but it’ll be some of the most fun you will have behind the wheel, even if it is in a straight line.

2020 Jeep Trackhawk

                       2020 Jeep Trackhawk. Image: QuickPic

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Read more on:    jeep  |  charlen raymond  |  new models  |  grand cherokee  |  suv

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