So what happens when you stick a 707-horsepower supercharged 6.2-liter V8 into a Jeep Grand Cherokee? Exactly what you'd think, and probably more. By taking the same engine found in the Hellcat versions of the Dodge Challenger and Charger and putting it into the Grand Cherokee SUV, Jeep has finally done what enthusiasts have been dreaming about. This high-performance Grand Cherokee even has its own name: Trackhawk.

We just performed our first test-drive of this beast, winding our way from Portland, Maine, to the new Club Motorsports racetrack in New Hampshire and back. As such, we had the opportunity to see the Trackhawk's stuff in both the kind of everyday driving in which most will spend their days, and on a closed track where a lucky few will be able to truly show their stuff.

New levels of performance

The 2018 Grand Cherokee Trackhawk, which goes on sale in the fourth quarter, is a different kind of Jeep. This American SUV brand has built its reputation on making rugged and adventure-ready utility vehicles since World War II, but this new Jeep's performance is measured in breakneck speed on the tarmac rather than its breakover angle on the Rubicon. If you want a Jeep that is primed for off-roading, look to one of its siblings. If you want a Jeep that can embarrass a Porsche for half the price, here it is. 

This isn't the first high-performance Grand Cherokee, but it's certainly the most extreme. Its ancestry can be traced to 1998 with the Jeep Grand Cherokee 5.9 Limited, and more recently to the Grand Cherokee SRT, which uses a naturally aspirated 6.4-liter V8 good for 425 horsepower. The Grand Cherokee SRT, whose production will continue, isn't exactly a slouch given its 4.8-second 0-60 mph. And at nearly $68,000, it isn't exactly cheap.

The new Trackhawk, however, launches past both those figures. The Jeep Trackhawk does 0-60 mph in 3.5 seconds, and it debuts with a starting price of nearly $87,000, including the $1,095 destination charge. And yet, in a twisted way, it could be considered a value given its performance. Yes, it's a strange world in which we live, maybe starting with the fact that you can even buy a production Jeep with 707 horsepower. But before we try to rationalize its value, let's talk about how it drives.

Also: Get your first look at the new and redesigned cars of 2018

It behaves on the road, until you misbehave

I must admit to some initial trepidation in piloting the Trackhawk. No matter how you cut it, 700-plus horsepower is a mighty herd. And unlike the Challenger/Charger Hellcats, there is no black key that tames it to a mere 500 horsepower. This one's red all the way. Upon hitting the accelerator, I half expected the Trackhawk to launch itself absurdly off the road and launch me into a viral video on how not to accelerate.

Mercifully, neither happened. For all its power, the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk is easy to drive around town and on the highway. As long as you're not flooring it, acceleration is linear and there is no scary throttle tip-in. Even when you do floor it, it won't do a smoky burnout like its Hellcat cousins. Thank/blame the Trackhawk's standard all-wheel drive. Whereas the Hellcats are rear-wheel-drive, the Trackhawk is the first vehicle to pair this nuclear reactor of an engine to all-wheel-drive. That means excellent traction, normally split in a 40:60 front/rear bias.

Fun side note #1: The Trackhawk is quite functional, a point shown in that it can tow up to 7,200 pounds. In tow mode, the power bias shifts to about 60:40, sending more grunt to the front.

As we wound our way from Maine to New Hampshire on highways and rural roads, the 2018 Trackhawk proved to be well-behaved, right up until we decided to misbehave. It's surprisingly comfortable and compliant on the highway, with a steering feel that borders on too-soft in the standard auto setting. The 8-speed automatic transmission is well-proven, and went about its business with smoothness and certainty.

Fun side note #2: There's a button on the dash to engage an eco mode, ostensibly to improve fuel economy (the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk is rated at 11/17 mpg city/highway).

But when sitting in the plush leather driver's seat of the Trackhawk, something happens in your brain. You realize you're driving a 707-horsepower Jeep. And so, naturally, you mash the throttle. And then all hell breaks loose. "Ferocious" best describes it. The supercharger hisses, the engine and exhaust wail, and you're pinned to the seat. Other drivers look at you with a mix of bewilderment ("Wait, isn't that just a Grand Cherokee?"), possibly some anger, and definitely envy. The Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk may just be the king of sleepers.

 

Trackhawk on the track

The just-paved, brand-new Club Motorsports racetrack in Tamworth, New Hampshire, boasts 2.5 miles of tarmac with 15 turns and an elevation change of 250 feet that feels like far more. It proved a perfect place for the Trackhawk to strut its stuff. We weren't able to verify its 180 mph top speed, but at 120 at the end of the straight this high-performance Jeep felt like it was just getting started.

In corners, the Trackhawk won't be confused with a Cayman. It won't even be confused with a Cayenne. While it will carve corners about as well as could possibly be expected of a 5,363-pound midsize SUV, the fact remains that it's a 5,363-pound SUV. A Porsche Cayenne weighs less and has sharper handling, starting with its steering, which in the Jeep isn't as communicative as we'd like, despite its stiffened feel in Sport and Track modes. Point this thing in a straight line, though, and all bets are off.

The Trackhawk is actually engineered for just this purpose. The SRT team built it for run after run of straight-line challenges, and they built it to be driven home after doing so. We saw just as much in our straight-line trials.

To help even everyday drivers achieve the Trackhawk's stated 3.5-second 0-60 mph benchmark and 11.6-second quarter-mile time, there's a launch control feature. While such a thing is hardly new and hardly reserved for the Trackhawk, this Jeep's version makes it stupidly easy to go very fast very quickly in a straight line.  It goes like this: You basically press the launch control button, plant one foot on the brake, the other on the accelerator, quickly lift off the brake and hold onto the steering wheel for dear life. One key to getting the quickest launches from the Trackhawk is standing on the brake. And I mean standing on that pedal. Remember: 707 horsepower is rearing its head since you also are basically flooring the accelerator.

Fun side note #3: The Trackhawk needs at least 500 miles on the odometer before launch control can be activated, so don't plan on launch-controlling it out of the dealership parking lot.

A gauge in the instrument cluster shows the engine pressure building, and we were advised to launch around 1,100 to 1,200 psi. On the first run, I managed the Trackhawk's stated 3.5-second time (yes, the data is all recorded for posterity/bragging). On the second run I launched a little earlier, maybe between 900 and 1,000 psi. The result? A 3.4-second Jeep Trackhawk 0 to 60 mph time. I credit beginner's luck and the fact that I waited until after the session to eat lunch.

Making the irrational rational

So the Trackhawk is stupid fast, stupid fun, and at around $87,000, some would say stupid expensive. After all, a Grand Cherokee SRT is nearly $20,000 less, while a humble base Grand Cherokee is about $55,000 cheaper. It's easy to argue the Trackhawk's irrational. And in more ways than just dollars, starting with the fact that it's a 707-horsepower Jeep Grand Cherokee.

But here's the thing: It can brag. And so can its owners, who are already placing orders. As it stands, the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk is the world's fastest and most powerful SUV. And it's a Jeep. Not a Mercedes-AMG, not a BMW M, not a Range Rover SVR, and not a Porsche. It's an American SUV with a collar born blue. Yes, those high-powered European luxury SUVs feel better in the corners and come with badges to which many can only aspire.

The Trackhawk has aspirations, too. One of them is beating a $160,000-plus Porsche Cayenne Turbo S to 60 mph and then beating it again in top speed. In those respects, mission accomplished, at about half the price.

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