2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk: A track-ready, tow-possible SUV [First Look]

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2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk (Sinclair Broadcast Group / Jill Ciminillo)

“Did you want to try it?” they asked me.

Uh. Yes, please.

As I got behind the wheel, they offered me advice, telling me I really needed to mash my foot on the brake, that I should move my seat forward a little more, that I shouldn’t be shy about pounding the gas pedal.

I stopped at the end of the long straight away with my heart pounding in my chest. I depressed the “Launch Control” button and pushed the brake pedal with my left foot. At the same time, I pushed the gas pedal all the way to the floor with my right foot. When I hit 2,200 rpm on the tachometer, I quickly took my foot off the brake while continuing to press the gas pedal to the floor.

My heart skipped a beat as the vehicle roared to life, pouncing forward and pushing me back into my seat.

Too soon, I was slamming on the brakes and heading back to pit lane.

As I exited the vehicle, the adrenaline was still rushing through my veins. A guy in an SRT shirt comes running up after me, shouting: “You did that in 3.7 seconds!”

“Is that fast?” I asked.

For a novice it is.

The professional drivers did it in 3.5.

The kicker, here, is that I did that 0-to-60-mph sprint in a 5,500-pound SUV.

The 2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk is the latest project from the SRT performance team at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

With a 6.2-liter Hemi engine that delivers 707 horsepower and 645 pound-feet of torque, the Trackhawk is the most powerful SUV out there. Full stop.

“This is the ultimate performance SUV in the marketplace,” said Scott Tallon, director of the Jeep Brand.

Case in point: Trackhawk has a top speed of 180 mph, and can do a quarter-mile sprint in 11.6 seconds. Oh, and the new Brembo braking system allows for a 60-to-0-mph brake distance of 114 feet.

Before driving the new Trackhawk, it was really hard to wrap my mind around these performance stats. This is a Jeep, after all.

To prove its track chops, however, the folks at Jeep took us to Club Motorsports, a country club racetrack in New Hampshire that included a couple of sweeping curves, hairpin turns and serious elevation changes.

I anticipated a slow jog around the track for handling purposes. But instead, I got a full-on track experience with a vehicle that seems to break the laws of physics.

Cornering at 80 mph and a straight-away sprint at 122 mph were not what I expected from the large but lovely Jeep on a tight and technical 2.2-mile course.

As soon as I did my first lap, I felt the weight melt away, and I could have been driving any number of performance cars – the “utility vehicle” part of “SUV” vanished.

The amazing thing, though, is this isn’t just a vehicle bred for fast breaks. It’s also a comfortable and competent road vehicle. We tooled around Maine and New Hampshire for more than 3 hours before hitting the track, traversing rough road surfaces as well as smooth highway asphalt.

It handled the bumps and grooves better than any track-ready car I’ve driven, and I could see how this would be a great family vehicle for road trips.

The sporty front seats are cushy and supportive, with aggressive bolstering to keep you in place during fast track driving. I loved the reverse stitching on the seats as well as the Trackhawk logo emblazoned on the seatbacks.

The interior is luxuriously appointed with leather seating surfaces, heated-and-cooled front seats, heated rear seats, four USB ports (two front, two back) and standard navigation. The carbon fiber dash accents remind you you’re driving something sporty and not just a regular luxury SUV.

At first glance, the exterior looks like a regular Grand Cherokee. Until you notice the quad exhaust, bright yellow Brembo brakes and extra airflow vents that replace the fog lights. Ride height is also 1 inch lower than its non-Trackhawk brethren.

Trackhawk also has a special Selec-Track system, which goes from track ready to snow capable. The 5 drive modes available are: Auto, Sport, Track, Tow and Snow.

Let’s be clear: This is not an off-road ready Jeep, but it will handle inclement weather with aplomb.

Base price for the 2018 Trackhawk is pretty steep at $86,995 (including destination).

The test vehicles we drove were completely optioned out with the dual pane panoramic sunroof, Blue-Ray entertainment system, signature leather-wrapped interior package, high performance audio group and trailer tow group.

Oh, yeah, and did we mention that the Trackhawk can tow up to 7,200 pounds?

As tested price came in just less than $100K (yikes!), with an MSRP of $99,965 (including destination).

Trackhawk will be in dealers sometime in the fourth quarter of this year.

My first look at the Trackhawk wasn’t nearly long enough – which is a good ploy from the folks at Jeep. My brief time in the vehicle left me wanting more. Much more.

Editor’s Note: Driving impressions in this “First Look” review are from an invitation-only automaker launch event that allowed special access to the vehicle and executives. Jeep covered our accommodations, meals and transportation costs.