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The 2020 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk.

Jeremy Sinek/The Globe and Mail

The last time I drove a Grand Cherokee, its legendary off-road talents were undiminished. Back on pavement, however, I knew I was driving a design past its prime – a pleasant and comfortable SUV gently easing into mellow old age.

None of this matters in the case of the Trackhawk. This uber-Jeep is simply deranged. Its unique ingredient is so outrageous, so over-the-top manic and surreal, that normal parameters for evaluating a mid-size SUV become irrelevant. It is what it is. If its outstanding attribute speaks your language, you may never want to drive anything else. If not, go buy a Lexus RX hybrid.

The Trackhawk is the product of surgically implanting the insane supercharged V8 from a Dodge Challenger/Charger Hellcat into a Grand Cherokee SRT (as if the SRT’s 6.4 litres and 485 horsepower wasn’t enough). In its new home, the 6.2-litre Hellcat motor makes the same 707 hp as in the original Hellcats (the latter was amplified to 717 in 2019) and 645 lb.-ft. of torque (down 11 on the cars).

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The Trackhawk is powered by the insane V8 engine from the Dodge Charger and Challenger SRT Hellcats.

Jeremy Sinek/The Globe and Mail

The Trackhawk possesses the aerodynamic properties of a brick outhouse and weighs a whopping 400 kilograms or so more than the cars, so don’t expect it to match their claimed 200-mph-plus top speeds; you may have to make do with a mere 180-mph velocity to Con College. But the Jeep does have one advantage on its hellraiser siblings: all-wheel drive. That not only makes it theoretically a four-season daily driver; it also parlays the Jeep’s weight into no-muss, no-fuss launch traction that other Hellcat drivers can only dream about.

There is a launch-control function, but the conventional torque-converter automatic doesn’t quite deliver the literally gut-wrenching step-function departure of rival uber-SUVs with automated-manual transmissions that literally “dump” the clutch. But if that costs the Jeep a tick or two in track testing, it makes it up in the real world. Boosted by a supercharger instead of most others’ turbochargers, there is simply no lag; stomp on the loud pedal and the Trackhawk explodes off the line with an instant-on immediacy that largely makes the launch-control redundant. According to Car and Driver tests, most rival uber-SUVs trail the Jeep from 0-100 km/h even using launch control; driving “normally” on the street, the Jeep’s advantage will only widen.

The Grand Cherokee the Trailhawk is based on is growing into old age.

Jeremy Sinek/The Globe and Mail

You want numbers? Jeep claims 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) in a pulverizing 3.5 seconds. That computes with our measured 3.7-second runs to 100 km/h (according to the Jeep’s Performance Pages) or 3.9 seconds as independently reported by our own test equipment. Whichever way you slice it, this thing is devastatingly fast.

Here’s a different kind of number: 21.9 L/100 km. Over a COVID-curtailed week of driving (i.e., no long highway trips) and making frequent use of the right pedal, that’s what the trip showed. The Trackhawk’s 17.7 L/100 km official combined fuel consumption earns it a $3,000 federal gas-guzzler tax. Its carbon dioxide and smog ratings are both 1 out of 10.

You'll want to keep an eye on the gas gauge when driving the Trailhawk.

Jeremy Sinek/The Globe and Mail

Back to the drive, Jeep has masterfully tuned the exhaust system to make huge noise – a savage, crackling, multi-textured shrieking bellow – when you want it. And yet it leaves you in relative peace when you – or your passengers, or anyone else within a one-kilometre radius – don’t want it. When you’re just pottering, an amiable rumble is layered with random whines from the blower and the (otherwise-seamless) transmission; settle into cruise on the highway, and the tailpipe music fades into the background.

As for handling, the extensive chassis upgrades have effectively tamed the Trackhawk’s combination of weight, height and velocity, but they don’t disguise it. This isn’t one of those SUVs that shrinks around you and drives small. On the track you might marvel how well it dances for an elephant – but you still know it is an elephant.

Considerable lean builds up through long cloverleafs, and although the steering is light and precise, it’s too numb to communicate the imminence of run-wide understeer. No doubt in Track mode, which channels 70 per cent of torque to the rear, you could power the rear into a drift even on dry pavement, but you’d need to work at it – and need a safe, private place to do so.

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The Trackhawk is a devastatingly fast SUV.

Jeremy Sinek/The Globe and Mail

At $113,745, the Trackhawk seems like silly money for a Jeep, until you realize that alternatives of comparable performance (all of them European) are even pricier. The next least expensive, the BMW X5 M Competition, starts at almost $130,000.

The Trackhawk may not match the all-round sophistication of the Europeans, but a Jeep badge has its own cachet, and the sound and fury of that engine will never get old. But on the subject of old, this generation of the Grand Cherokee is due for replacement real soon. Chances are there won’t be a Trackhawk version for a while, if ever, so if this unique brand of dementedness turns your crank, grab one while you can.

Tech specs

  • Price: $113,745 base/$131,840 as tested
  • Engine: 6.2-litre Supercharged V8
  • Transmission/drive: 8-speed automatic/AWD
  • Fuel consumption (L/100 km): 20.9 city/13.8 hwy
  • Alternatives: BMW X5 M, Jaguar F-Pace SVR, Lamborghini Urus, Maserati Levante, Mercedes-Benz GLE 63 S, Porsche Cayenne Turbo S,

The writer was a guest of the automaker. Content was not subject to approval.

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