As Americans, we have a reputation for being loud and boisterous. We rock boats and break the law, we're rebels. Driving a car from Dodge - or in this case, Jeep reminds me of everything great about this country because it's about pushing the limits of power and design. Sure, most of the Jeeps sold today are road vehicles designed for soccer moms and that's ok. But the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk is something special. While you have some fine SUVs Chinese, Indians, Germans, and Italians - no other country has the balls to take luxury SUV and drop a 707 hp motor in it and still keep the price affordable. That's what's great about this country and why I love driving the Grand Cherokee Trackhawk every chance I get!
So on this adventure, I was heading up to Temecula, California - a wine region located about halfway between San Diego and Los Angeles. It's got some fun windy country roads and luxury estates. The original vehicle was to be the very nice Alfa Romeo Stelvio and on the surface, that vehicle paired nicely with a weekend surrounded by olive trees and vineyards. When you dig deeper though, you realize that despite the superficial homage to Italian tradition and architectural design here - Temecula is about American innovation and luxury living. So is the Grand Cherokee Trackhawk.
This vehicle is an interesting beast that as a guy who loves horsepower and the roar of a giant V8 engine immediately draws you to slam your foot on the accelerator and take off as fast as possible. To experience the full potential of this vehicle, you need to bring it to the track and let it run. However, unlike most "muscle cars" - it is equally fun to drive on twisty country roads and on the highway. With the exception of the Trackhawk Dashboard and various Performance Pages / track apps, inside the car is essentially identical to the standard Grand Cherokee. It's got leather everywhere, a big panoramic sunroof, and all the standard safety features.
What's interesting about this vehicle is that while it is clearly not a supercar and there are significant physical limitations to how fast you can take a 5,363 pound car around a corner - acceleration is instant and virtually limitless. In some vehicles when you slam the accelerator down, there's a lag and then often you lose power by peeling out. On this vehicle though, the burst of power is immediate. In part, this is because it is a four-wheel-drive vehicle and so you don't have the rear wheels searching for traction. However, it's also a testament to how well balanced this SUV is and just how powerful 707hp with 645 lb-ft of torque really is.
In practicality, what this means is that with the exception of a Lamborghini you are going to beat anybody off the line at a stoplight. More practically it also means that when you are on the highway you can hit that opening between two cars immediately. You can pass any car you want to and get around them effortlessly without ever wondering if your engine will allow you to make it around them before the gap closes. This is the part of this vehicle that makes it a pure pleasure to drive.
While I enjoy time on the track ... I'm never going to buy a $93,000 vehicle (as equipped) with that purpose in mind. What I want is a vehicle that makes me feel like the coolest guy in the carpool, the baddest of the badass dads in the pickup line at school, and still be able to have a car that my wife enjoys driving conservatively to do errands around town. One thing that is surprising about this car is that while it has all the power you would ever ask for - it's generally very conservative looking and sounding ... until you want to turn heads. If you have a light foot, most passersby would not be able to tell the difference between this and a standard Grand Cherokee, aside from the Trackhawk badge on the back and "Supercharged" under the Grand Cherokee logo on the sides.
There are other cues for those in the know - four exhaust pipes with a telltale "lub lub lub" exhaust notes while idling, the unique hood scoop, and the gigantic 15" brakes with yellow calipers of course. That's part of the beauty of the Grand Cherokee Trackhawk. While I'd love to see a bright yellow or flaming red paint option ... silver works great because part of luxury and freedom is the fact that you know you have something special and feel comfortable enough not to shout it out to everyone.
So, as the weekend progressed and I began learning more about Temecula and the wineries there I started to appreciate both that region as well as why Jeep created the Trackhawk.
In both instances, the heritage of craftsmanship an innovation goes back generations. People have been producing wine in Temecula for more than 200 years and for Jeep it too is a brand with heritage going back generations. Today though, both are in a crowded marketplace. The Temecula winemakers are faced with a challenge - do they chase the tried and true "signature grapes" (Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc for instance) or do they focus on what makes Temecula unique. Temecula vintners are obligated to produce these popular varietals - just as Jeep must produce mid-sized SUVs and both do a good job at it. However, when allowed to produce what they are best at ... the result is extraordinary.
For Temecula wineries, it's Rhone Valley and Mediterranean varietals that shine here - Viognier, Syrah, Pinot Gris to name a few. With competition from Napa and Sonoma as well as other regions, Temecula can't simply just produce good wine. They need to focus on these varietals that are unique compared to Northern California. Along with that, it's tourism - building experiences for guests to excite and entertain them and also offer other Mediterranean specialities such as olive oil. They need to experiment and specialize in creating innovative products such as how Carter Estate Winery is dedicated to a wide spectrum of fabulous sparkling wines that are some of the best in the industry.
For Jeep it's building a vehicle like the Grand Cherokee designed for the road that elicits the same spirit of freedom and adventure that you can get going off-road in a Wrangler or one of their many vehicles wearing a Trailhawk designation.
The thrill of the Grand Cherokee Trackhawk isn't just found in the numbers. Instead, it is found in that special place in your heart where you know that you are driving something special representing freedom from the ordinary.
Only an American company would dare to break the rules. A mid-sized luxury SUV shouldn't have this much power and handle this well. If it did ... it surely shouldn't be available under $100,000. But they did ... and it is!
God Bless America ...