Auburn Hills, Michigan – Be afraid, AMG, be very afraid. This, according to Fiat Chrysler Auto, is the quickest, most powerful standard production SUV on the planet.
It’s the 2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk, due to make its world debut at the New York motor show on 14 April and, in concept, it’s quite simple. It’s a Jeep Grand Cherokee with a supercharged, 6.2-litre Dodge Hellcat V8 rated for 527kW and 875Nm under its bonnet, driving all four wheels via an eight-speed TorqueFlite automatic transmission and Quadra-Trac all-wheel drive, complete with an electronic limited-slip rear differential and a single-speed active transfer case.
That’s good enough, says the maker, to take this 2433kg beetle-crusher from a standstill to 100km/h in 3.6 seconds, kill a quarter-mile in 11.6 seconds at 185km/h and top out at 288 km/h.
Like all Hemi V8s, the Hellcat engine is an odd mix of old-school and state-of-the-art technology, with a cast-iron block, a forged-steel crankshaft, powder-forged conrods, forged-alloy pistons and specially heat-treated aluminium-alloy cylinder heads.
The twin-screw supercharger – overdriven by 2.36:1 to a maximum of 14 600rpm has built in charge-air intercoolers and an electronic waste-gate that limits boost to a surprisingly mild 0.8 bar, fed via a 92mm throttle body from a cold-air scoop in the front bumper where the driver’s side fog-light is in lesser Grand Cherokee models.
The rear drive shaft, differential and half shafts have all been upgraded to cope with the extra power, and launch control is standard, as much to protect the drivetrain, we suspect, as to improve take-offs.
The Selec-Track system offers five drive modes: Auto defaults to a 40:60 front/rear torque split but adapts seamlessly to deliver up 100 percent of torque to either end as required.
Sport reduces shift times by half, defaults to a 30:70 front/rear torque split , enables paddle shifts, tightens the suspension, and resets the stability control and steering for enthusiastic driving.
Track mode uses a 35:65 front/rear torque split, reduces shift times a further 18 percent to 160 milliseconds, and tightens all the chassis settings to the max for smooth, dry surfaces.
In Tow mode, with a 60:40 front/rear torque split, torque delivery off the line is smoothed out and the suspension is adjusted to combat pitch and yaw for maximum towing performance up to a towing weight of 3273kg.
Snow mode maximises traction with reduced engine power and a 50:50 front/rear torque split – and of course, there’s a Custom mode that lets you set all these parameters to suit the terrain and your driving style.
The Trackhawk runs the biggest standard front brakes yet on a Jeep – 400mm vented front discs with six-piston Brembo callipers and 350mm vented rear discs with four-pot Brembos, behind special 20 inch rims and new Pirelli 295/45 Scorpion Verde All-Season or P Zero three-season tyres.
It rides 25mm lower on its Bilstein adaptive suspension than non-SRT grand Cherokee models, with body-coloured wheel-arch flares, side sill cladding and a sculpted bonnet with dual heat extractors.
The flight deck is centred on a 180mm instrument cluster with the rev counter in the middle and the 320km/h speedometer on the left; the centre stack houses a 215mm touchscreen with special performance pages, including an engine dynamometer screen that measures instantaneous horsepower, torque and current transmission gear – with a snapshot function so you can record your hotshot readings on a USB for bragging rights.
Standard trim is a mix of nappa leather and suede, with full leather in black and dark red as an option.
Driver aids include a trailer hitch camera view so you can keep an eye on your cargo while on the move, and a ‘valet parking’ mode for when somebody you don’t know is driving your Trackhawk.
This limiteds the engine to 4000rpm, locks out first gear, upshifts earlier than normal, disables launch control, manual gear-shift, paddle shift and drive modes, resets traction control, steering and suspension to Street settings, and the electronic stability control to full-on. And you need a four-digit PIN to unlock full tilt boogie mode again.
Jeep has promised right-hand drive versions; we’re waiting on a replay from Fiat Chrysler Auto SA as to when they’ll be released in South Africa.