2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk: Because We Can!

Photo credit @stevenphamphoto

I’m on the wrong side of history. Or at least the way history is trending. Vehicles are getting larger and larger.  Look at 2019 where it’s estimated that 70% of new vehicle sales outside of trucks will be SUVs and CUVs.  Me?  As I get older I like smaller and lighter vehicles.  As I write this I’ve been back to back in a GMC Yukon and a Chevy Silverado 1500. Both are a pain in the ass to drive in city traffic.  They’ve just become too large.

Yet it’s SUVs and CUVs that the consumer wants. So OEMs are pushing them out as fast they come off the line.  From the OEM’s point of view, more certainly equals better.  CUVs and SUVs don’t have as tight of emission regulations nor fuel economy standards.  On top of this, they can actually make money on these, unlike traditional passenger cars, for the most part.

Jeep Grand Cherokee TrackhawkI swear a lot in this one…

In the last four or five years, not only do we have a plethora of CUVs and SUVs but now we have performance versions as well.  Ford is even going so far as to call the Edge ST a “hot hatch” and an “adult sports car”. Land Rover and Jag have the SVR models. Lamborghini now offers the Urus. Porsche has a Turbo Cayenne and its Macan. Mercedes-Benz apply AMG badges to everything.  Clearly, nothing says performance like a 5,000+ pound vehicle with 20 to 22-inch wheels!

Then we have FCA.  It has one of the most popular SUVs on the market in the Grand Cherokee. It also has one of the most badass motors made today. Nothing says success like excess!

Photo credit @stevenphamphoto


Photo credit @stevenphamphoto

Yes, FCA jammed the 707-horsepower Hellcat engine into the Grand Cherokee and gave it the name “Trackhawk”.  For which tracks, exactly, is this vehicle built?  Other than the drag strip, the answer is none.

Is the Trackhawk a hoot to drive?  Why yes, yes it is!  The question is then, what are you willing to pay for that level of fun?  Not just the sticker price, but the ongoing running costs.  In the course of the week I had the Trackhawk in for review, it came with a full tank of gas, and I put just over $120 of gas into it while driving less than 500 miles.

Fuel economy is 11 City, 17 Highway, and 13 Combined. That’s about 7.7 gallons per 100 miles.  For those of you in metric countries that’s 18.09l/100km in the combined cycle.  Seventeen on the highway might be about right, but the eleven in combined driving was more like it.

Photo credit @stevenphamphoto

The base price is $86,200. As tested here (and with delivery charge) the total is $91,530.  For context, a base 4×4 Grand Cherokee Laredo starts at just under $34,000 and a nicely equipped Overland diesel will run you about $52,000.  Are you willing to pay a near $40,000 premium for Hellcat fun? Or perhaps just a $20,000 premium over the 475-horsepower SRT version?  Come back in two or three years from now when a used Trackhawk can be had for $50,000.

It’s best you focus on the engine with the Trackhawk, because while the interior is fine for a $35,000-$50,000 vehicle, at $90,000 it’s flat out unacceptable.  It’s not just the visual either.  It starts with the plastic trim at the bottom of the wheel that says “Trackhawk”  For $90K could I at least get a small piece of carbon fiber?  But really PLASTIC, and not good plastic at that?

Photo credit @stevenphamphoto

The center console has the silver fake carbon fiber that isn’t bad but obviously isn’t real carbon fiber.  The paddle shifters are plastic. The trim around the gauge pod is plastic with chrome plastic accents.  The interior beltline trim appears to be carbon fiber but isn’t.

Photo credit @stevenphamphoto

Now, the interior isn’t all bad. The seats are quite comfortable and trimmed with a ultra suede.  The UConnect infotainment system, though beginning to show its age, is still one of the best in the business, and the 19-speaker, 825-watt Harman Kardon stereo is quite good.

Photo credit @stevenphamphoto

In normal driving, the Trackhawk is fine.  It rides well, brakes well, (BIG Brembos), it’s not overly stiff or harsh, but the 295 section 20-inch tires do add to the turning radius.  Press the launch button, bring up the revs to just under two thousand and you easily bark all four tires from a stoplight.

Photo credit @stevenphamphoto

Need to pass someone in a hurry on the highway?  The Trackhawk has you covered.  The 70-125 mph blast happens in the blink of an eye.  And oh so effortlessly.  Seriously. Get to rolling at 70 mph, change lanes, punch the gas, and about as quickly as you read this you are doing a buck twenty-five!

And of course there’s the sound.  Big pushrod V8 growl with the high pitched whine of the supercharger pushing twelve (11.6 for you anoraks) pounds of boost.  If your wallet can afford the gas, you’ll put your foot into it at every opportunity.  Yes, it’s that addictive.  But it’s just a one trick pony.

Photo credit @stevenphamphoto

But here is the real question; why?  At 5,400 pounds, the Grand Cherokee Trackhawk is too heavy and too tall to be any kind of real “performance” vehicle.  If you need the room for five people the Hellcat Charger offers all the same space, better driving dynamics, and 1,000 pounds less curb weight.  At $90,000 there are better performance vehicles on the market, and if you “must” have a performance CUV (insert your favorite oxymoron joke here) there are others on the market with far superior interiors and general build quality at the same price, but sure, none of them have a Hellcat engine.

I think performance CUV/SUV’s are dumb.  Elephants on ice skates are the best way to describe them.  However, trying to argue against the stupidity of the market is about as useful as an old man yelling at the clouds.  Crossovers and SUVs are here to stay  and dominate the market.  Is the Trackhawk one of, if not the best, stupid vehicles you can buy today? Probably.  Why did FCA build it and why should you buy one?  The same answer for both questions is “because we can.”

Photo credit @stevenphamphoto

26 Comments

  1. You’re preaching to the choir here, but I am afraid that US manufacturers are building themselves into an ugly corner they know all too well. History likes to repeat itself and we’re still laughing about the last iteration of the same trend:

    https://i0.wp.com/www.curbsideclassic.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/1978-Chrysler-02-03.jpg?resize=620%2C273

    The rest of the world, minus Russia, has accepted climate change as a fact, and that has implications for vehicle manufacturing, too. GM seems to double down on EV’s, but Chrysler seems to accelerate towards a wall that will hurt to hit. How often will the public accept the saving of huge private manufacturers with everybody else’s money?

    1. “How often will the public accept the saving of huge private manufacturers with everybody else’s money?”

      The cynic’s answer is “probably for 20 more years or so”. The reason for this answer has nothing to do with the viability of the “Big Three” Automakers per se, and everything to do with their pension liabilities. You see, the U.S. has a thing called the “Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation”(hereafter PBGC). https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pension_Benefit_Guaranty_Corporation

      It exists to make sure that workers are not left without a pension when a company goes bankrupt or otherwise ceases to exist. All Companies with pension funds pay in a (tiny) percentage of the amount of their pension contributions into a fund, and the accumulated amount is used to pay pensions (up to a defined limit) if a company can’t. Thus, when Pop’s Pickle Plant®️ goes sour, the fund steps in and all 15 pickle-packers are paid their pensions.

      However GM has had a huge workforce for decades with ‘Cadillac’ pensions. There are close to a million well-pensioned retirees. If GM were to have to gone under in 2008 and dumped its obligations on the GPBC, it would have bankrupt the fund, even using the limited maximum payout. This would have required its own bailout by the taxpayers. While there would be a bailout either way, the difference, of course, would have been that all the GM workers and their suppliers would also have been out of jobs, painfully kicking the entire economy in its nuts slowing the economy severely, AND requiring a bailout of the unemployment funds too. So, it was cheaper and better for the country to bail out the company. The same would be true, although to a lesser degree of disaster for failure of Ford and Chrysler. *[Editor’s note: insert identical paragraph below, substituting ‘healthcare’ for pension’ and making appropriate detail changes]

      https://www.epi.org/blog/by-saving-billions-in-retiree-health-and-pension-benefits-auto-bailouts-were-an-even-bigger-success-than-acknowledged/

      Now these companies are growing smaller, and their future pensionliabilities are getting smaller as the workforce shrinks, but until all the obligations to the Babyboomers are ended by uh, ☠️their ceasing to draw pensions ☠️ the cost of a failure remains too large for the economy to comfortably swallow.

      So, it will probably be 20 years or so until the obligation gets small enough for the economy to comfortably swallow, even if GM never makes another car.

      1. Thanks for taking your time. It’s certainly not an easy thing to let a huge company crumble, and they might be too big to fail. It would also be easier for the economy to swallow that if it happened in good times, true creative destruction.

        As amazing as these huge vehicles are, “autoboats” are also the regulators fault. Can’t really wrap my head around how there is no incentive towards more efficient vehicles in taxation or anything other than gas prices.

  2. CUVs and SUVs don’t have as tight of emission regulations nor fuel economy standards… they can actually make money on these, unlike traditional passenger cars

    There you have it. It’s not consumer demand that’s driving the market this way. As usual the buyer is being led by the nose by the sales department, who are out to broker the best profit margin they can. Redefine ‘trucks’ as two seaters with more than 1/2 ton of carrying capacity, and SUVs as sedans and you’ll be reviewing the all new Crown Victoria within a year.

    1. I follow what you’re saying, and agree. I get lost on this scentence; “Redefine ‘trucks’ as two seaters with more than 1/2 ton of carrying capacity, and SUVs as sedans and you’ll be reviewing the all new Crown Victoria within a year.” Can you clarify what you mean?

      1. “Light Trucks” are held to a less stringent standard for fuel and emissions standards, so they require less innovation and less R&D to keep in production, so are less expensive for the manufacturer. Producing cheap work trucks would keep the economy thriving, I think was the theory, and fleets made up a small percentage of the overall market.

        That’s fine if your “light truck” is a 1/2 ton shell van or standard pickup truck, but when every soccer mom is driving a “light truck” with power sliding doors and three row seating, and middle management bros have “light trucks” with 4 doors, a vestigial bed and seatback DVD players, the exemption starts to look like a loophole.

        If CUVs and SUVs became just as research intensive to keep in production as sedans and compacts, that is, if they had to meet ever increasing standards, the profit margin will go away (and maybe the air will be a bit cleaner, whatever) and Mwah-ha-ha-ha! Our beloved Crown Victoria might make a comeback.

        To do that, I think you would have to define a ‘light truck’ or fleet vehicle or commercial truck as not just something under 10,000 lbs, but 2-seats and no frills.

        1. …not likely though that any regulator will touch the subject? Fuel efficiency guidelines are one thing, but apart from that, there’s nothing really pushing the US auto market towards a more sensible approach?

          1. Actually the opposite is happening: because tall vehicles such as SUVs and pickups became so popular, side impact testing was changed to better represent a heavier, taller-front vehicle crashing into the car. Which of course requires higher beltlines and heavier cars to better resist the heftier impact. So even sedans have gained a lot of weight, making them less efficient (and some would say: less agile in trying to avoid the crash in the first place).

  3. I’m probably (definitely?) on the outside of this opinion, but I do truly like performance CUV/SUVs. Fast cars are fun, but for those who only have space for one vehicle and still want to go fast (or who can’t physically deal with ingress/egress on a low-slung car) they’re a great answer. Plus, it’s sheer pointless badassery to hear Hellcat power coming out of a Jeep or watch an X5M blow the doors off something most would think much faster. And those are just the tip of the iceberg, obviously.

    Is the driving involvement the same as that in a dedicated sports car? Absolutely not. But the slew of fast utility vehicles is something I like because it’s the best of a lot of worlds. The worst, too, but it’s a mastery of engineering and a concoction that is so pointless it’s laughable. I love them.

  4. In the course of the week I had the Trackhawk in for review, it came with a full tank of gas, and I put just over $120 of gas into it while driving less than 500 miles.

    I get the feeling that the test drive was not as much 500 miles as it was 2000 quarter miles. Of course you aren’t going to match EPA numbers driving like that.

    1. I agree with you on this. I’m fortunate enough to have the space and the ability to own multiple vehicles… one a small SUV… excuse me, SAV. But, if my environment changes and I just downsize to one, I’ll be driving one of these types of vehicles.

    2. But wouldn’t that more accurately reflect real-life driving for this vehicle? I would imagine it being boring to drive unless you’re living your life a quarter mile at a time, and who wants to drive a $90k vehicle in a boring way?

  5. I don’t rail against the concept of the Trackhawk, but I certainly don’t covet one– especially at that price. I don’t think that high-output V8s are that much more expensive to design and produce than 4-cylinders, and I see little reason why the cost is so much higher. The $86k Trackhawk may have a phenomenal powertrain, but the car around it isn’t much better than the one that costs FIFTY GRAND LESS. It’s an artificial marketing inflation for which you can’t really make reasonable sense of the numbers.
    There’s also the argument that crossovers like the JGC have much more room, but the last time I was in a Grand Cherokee (or a Ford Explorer, etc.), I was disappointed in how tight they felt on the inside, compared with their apparent size outside. I’m thinking the “C” in CUV stands for claustrophobic. Some of these “SUVs” provide less practical space than a Honda Accord. Perhaps there’s an advantage for older folks who find ease of entry more palatable, but beyond that, these are just stilted mid-sized cars– ones that are pricier, less roomy, less agile, and often less frugal than if you just bought a station wagon.

    1. The spread between a bottom-trim Grand Cherokee and the one with 700 horses is about the same as the difference between the base Challenger and the Hellcat. Also the Hellcat only needs to beef up the drivetrain to two wheels.

      And because the Trackhawk has the extra benefits of being classified as a SUV heavier than 6,000 lbs GVW, it gets better treatment than the Challenger at tax time.

      1. OK, but that doesn’t negate the argument that the “spread” comes at a ridiculous markup. Horsepower isn’t expensive to engineer, only to buy. Even the stupid GVWR tax laws don’t make up for that.

        1. Yes and no. They’re not just engineering the same car around a more powerful engine–lots of things need to be upgraded to give the vehicle a shot at surviving physics and the warranty. So bigger wheels to hold bigger, better brakes and shod with beefy 180+ mph tires that aren’t cheap to buy. Active suspension to help keep the shiny side up at speed. Driveshaft, axles, transmission, and transfer case that won’t turn into pretzels upon application of severe torque. A spoiler (or maybe that should be in the next category). And those are on top of a supercharger, beefy forged internals, and the other parts needed to stuff the extra horsepower under the hood.

          Then there are some trim level upgrades that aren’t necessary for performance, but make the driving experience better. Those are standard on the Trackhawk and NA or optional on lower models. Multiple zone climate control, auto dimming mirrors, heated seats, and stuff like that. They may come at a steep price, but they make the $50K upcharge apples-to-oranges when comparing models. Certainly there is a lot of profit in those items.

          Finally, there are the blatant cash grabs. Some people want all the options, regardless. I don’t know why red seatbelts would cost more, but they do, if you’re the type of person to check all the boxes. And $495 extra for a single-disc CD player to be added to the 800-watt stereo that’s already there–does this Trackhawk take you back in time to 1985?

          1. I completely agree with you that the drivetrain and suspension, etc. need to be stronger to handle the engine output, and I expect those things to cost more. But I can’t understand how it amounts to $50k more than what you’d find in the base model. I can almost buy a new Porsche Cayman for the difference between a Laredo and a Trackhawk.
            The vehicle tested above is powerful, yes, but it’s not “nice”. It’s just a somewhat dolled-up (and very fast) version of a relatively inexpensive vehicle. There’s nothing wrong with that– I like the wolf-in-sheep’s clothing thing. I just don’t like it with such a steep markup.

          2. The Trackhawk is more significant than many people realise, with AWD meaning it won’t just spin a tyre to release torque from the drivetrain and the potential to use more power when towing in mountains and put more heat into the cooling system than the Challenger/Charger could ever do.

          3. I think you nailed it there. FCA knows people will pay more, so they jack up the sticker. It doesn’t truly cost that much more to produce the Trackhawk, but if you inflate the price and don’t oversupply the market with them, then you stand to make a killing.

          4. Yup, similarly the leather and nicer trim don’t add much extra real cost yet an F-150 Platinum is vastly more expensive than the base models. That’s why car manufacturers love people who buy top of the line vehicles.

            It’d be much cheaper to buy a base model F-150, and then add aftermarket seats, trim, and a grille.

    1. If you follow convention from cars, it would either be a SuUV (super utility) or a HUV (hyper utility). But FUV admittedly has more panache.

  6. The base price is $86,200. As tested here (and with delivery charge) the total is $91,530…

    For context, a base 4×4 Grand Cherokee Laredo starts at just under $34,000.

    Crackpipe

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