Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Jeep unleashes most powerful SUV in the world

By on September 17, 2017

Editor’s note: The following article originally appeared in the September 14 print edition of Caribbean Business.

PORTLAND, MAINE — The engineers in Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ (FCA) performance division, Street Racing Technologies (SRT), have the most evil minds in the automotive industry. They are always conjuring up ways to extract more power from engines that already are very powerful and take them to insane levels of potency. They take vehicles that are superbly fast and turn them into four-wheeled missiles.

The SRT’s most celebrated offspring are the Hellcat versions of the Dodge Charger and Challenger muscle cars, both with astounding 707 horsepower. Not happy with that, SRT kept tinkering with the Challenger Hellcat’s Hemi engine and took it all the way up to 840 horsepower. Possessed with this devilish version of the Hemi, the Challenger Hellcat is transformed into the Dodge Demon. Hail Satan!

The Demon is so wickedly powerful that it has been banned by the National Hot Rod Association. Imagine that!

The most recent model grasped by SRT’s claws is the Jeep Grand Cherokee. The twisted minds behind the project had the great idea of taking this comfortable, luxurious family vehicle and install the same, monstrous 6.2-liter, 707 horsepower, supercharged Hemi engine of the Hellcats. Equipped like this, Jeep’s largest SUV acquired the name Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk; not Trailhawk, like the 4×4 versions of the Jeep Renegade, Compass and regular Cherokee, but Trackhawk. Although it was not named “Grand Cherokee Hellcat,” it could be said that the Trackhawk is definitely the Hellcat of SUVs.

Another thing that can be said about this monster: It is the most powerful SUV in the world. There is absolutely no production SUV that even gets close to its 707 horsepower. Even the Bentley Bentayga, with its wondrous V12 engine, trails the Trackhawk by more than 100 horses.

Just prior to Hurricane Irma (I almost got stranded in New York on my way back to the island) and months before its arrival to the local market, Caribbean Business drove the hurricane on wheels, first on the highways and country roads of Maine, and then on a brand-new circuit track in the neighboring New Hampshire.

Maine’s expressways have a slightly higher speed limit than those in Puerto Rico: 70 miles per hour (mph). It’s more than enough for ordinary vehicles, but for a monster like the Trackhawk (and its driver), it is torture to stay at 70 mph or 75 mph. At that speed, the Hemi is just warming up. With roars and grumbles, it starts to demand more pressure from the right foot, willing to instantly increase its speed by tens of miles per hour in mere seconds. If allowed, and with enough road, it can reach a maximum speed of 180 mph. See why I describe SRT vehicles as missiles on wheels?

Luckily, part of the driving was to be done at New Hampshire’s Club Motorsports, a new membership track in Tamworth, about two hours west of Portland.

Like most of the best sports cars in the world, the Trackhawk has a system called “Launch Control.” It’s a very appropriate term because it is basically that—a system that launches the vehicle forward in a quest for perfect 0 to 60 mph acceleration. Accompanied by an instructor, I did this test following four very simple orders, starting with three: Activate the system, press the brake pedal with your left foot and floor the accelerator.

At this point, the Hemi spewed a roar that was probably heard in most of New England. Keep in mind that my left foot was activating the powerful Brembo brakes while at the same time my right foot is taunting the 707 horsepower, screaming beast. That’s when the instructor gave the fourth instruction: Let go of the brakes!

I don’t think either the bomb in Hiroshima or the one in Nagasaki released more energy than when I let go of that brake pedal. The acceleration felt nuclear. The same force that torpedoed the Trackhawk forward pushed me back into the seatback. In seconds, we had already reached three-digit speeds and, just as fast, we were running out of track.

I stopped and we read the Trackhawk’s built-in chronometer: 3.8 seconds. I had just achieved a nearly perfect 0 to 60 mph launch. A perfect launch would have been 3.5, and the instructor said that in the previous wave of reporters covering the event, someone got a 3.4.

These are numbers that belong in the exotic-car leagues where light, svelte machines made of aluminum and carbon fiber abound. So, this 5,363-pound full-size SUV has burst into the supercar party.

The Grand Cherokee has always been known for its rock-climbing, trail-vanquishing prowess. However, many of its off-road talents have been compromised in this super-power version. As its name implies, this is a hawk for the track and not necessarily for the trail. Still, the Trackhawk is not a mere high-speed, boy racer toy. Its all-wheel-drive system shows serious asphalt-grabbing capabilities both when having fun at the track and in not-so-fun situations, as on wet or snowy slippery roads.

One main quality of this sport-utility vehicle that was kept intact was the “utility” part of the term. As in the regular Grand Cherokee, the Trackhawk has an ample, luxurious cabin with room for five, plus the huge, 36.3-cubic-foot cargo area. And with a strong towing capability, once again, the Trackhawk proves it is not just a toy, but a very capable SUV that lets you haul your other big toys.

Spec Sheet

Model: Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk

Engine: Supercharged V8

Displacement: 6.2 liters

Power: 707 horsepower

Traction: All-wheel drive

Transmission: 10-speed automatic with manual mode

0-60 mph: 3.5 seconds

Maximum fuel economy: 18 MPG

Suggested retail price in Puerto Rico: $100,000 to $125,000

Pros: Devilish power, beautiful exhaust tone at idle, menacing engine roar at full throttle, lightning-quick acceleration.

Cons: Six-digit price, almost one-digit fuel mileage in the city.

Bottom Line: An obscenely powerful sports machine with all the virtues of a roomy, luxurious, family SUV…or is it the other way around?

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