Why the 2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk really exists

"But really, what do we do for Jeep? We listen to our customers, that's our job. We give them what they want. So the reason why is, they ask. Lots of them asked." – Darryl Smith

"Why not?" It's a simple-enough explanation and one that should resonate with any car lover who views the absurd and the gloriously pointless as fundamental principles of their passion. And putting a ridiculously powerful engine into a vehicle that would normally not have one is perhaps the pinnacle of that. It's the reason that so many of us view a Mercedes-AMG E63 wagon as far cooler than an SLS AMG with roughly the same engine.

With that in mind that we sat down with two of the men responsible for the 2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk, the latest entry into the absurd and gloriously pointless segment. We wanted to find out from Darryl Smith, director for SRT engineering, and Paul Mackiewicz, vehicle development manager, if there were actual market-based reasons for the Trackhawk's creation. Effectively, why'd they actually do it?

"Why not?" Smith immediately offered during an interview at the New York Auto Show, clearly possessing a similar mindset. "But really, what do we do for Jeep? We listen to our customers, that's our job. We give them what they want. So the reason why is, they ask. Lots of them asked."

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If "lots" of people are asking for a 707-horsepower, 645-pound-feet, off-road-capable, luxury-lined, five-person SUV, then perhaps we shouldn't be too worried about the demise of the human-driven automobile after all.

"There is a very defined customer base out there that want a sport SUV," Mackiewicz said. "They want a sports car with the capabilities of having an SUV, of being able to tow, of being able to drive their sports car all year round. And that's what this car enables. It is ultimate performance, all year round, in any condition."

If BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, and even Maserati can produce high-performance SUVs, doesn't it seem fitting that the father of all SUV brands should top them all under the hood?

Of course, expanding the 6.2-liter Hellcat engine beyond the Challenger and Charger is clearly a smart business case in the current SUV-obsessed marketplace. FCA had a lust-worthy engine, and it had a solid performance base in the existing Grand Cherokee SRT, so it can be argued that marrying the two made sense and that it could be done with minimal fuss — even if in practical terms, it's absurd.

"All the [Grand Cherokee] components were changed to accommodate the engine, not the other way around," said Mackiewicz, so a customer will still be enjoying the same Hellcat glory but in a bigger, more functional vehicle.

Only the exhaust manifold and front thermostat housing were changed for packaging reasons. Meanwhile, the drive shaft, half shafts and transfer case were swapped out for stronger parts to better handle the much higher torque. The eight-speed ZF transmission is also upgraded to a stronger "HP95" unit (the Hellcats have a "HP90" unit that doesn't have to work with a transfer case).

Changes elsewhere are light, as much of the Trackhawk carries over from the Grand Cherokee SRT model that will continue to be produced. In fact, the Trackhawk's stickier tires will trickle down to the SRT to minimize complexity.

Before we wrap up, Smith points out another area of the Trackhawk that could otherwise seem a bit silly: the multiple "pages" in the touchscreen dedicated to cataloging the Trackhawk's performance at any given moment (including an on-board dyno page) as well as your driving exploits. Are people actually using that?

"It's something our customers ask for over and over. You can save it and Snapchat it, so you know exactly what you were doing and can learn from it," Smith said. "It can also be saved to a USB."

Someone who's old enough and therefore wealthy enough to buy a Trackhawk using Snapchat in the first place honestly seems a little farfetched, but then again, why not?

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