ON THE ROAD

Trackhawk is quick, powerful

AL HAAS

AL HAAStrue

Accelerating from zero to 60 in the 707-horsepower Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk is the automotive equivalent of a ride in the Orgasmatron employed in the early Woody Allen comedy

Sleeper.

To evoke that sensation from this high-performance luxury SUV: Put the driving mode selector on “Track,” press hard on the brake pedal with your left foot, hit the “Launch” button on the console, let the electronics do their Merlin act on the supercharger and the rest of the intake system, then nail the gas and release the brakes.

The result is something akin to a space vehicle bursting free from the fiery bowels of a missile silo. An unseen wall of power shoves you back in that lovely leather seat. A wall of sound accompanies the blast-off. Zero to 60 is accomplished in about 3.5 seconds. (That’s Jeep’s number; a Motor Trend writer reported doing it in 3.4.)

Is that quick? Do bears picnic in the woods? That number makes the Trackhawk the quickest production SUV on the planet — for the moment, at least. Indeed, it would take an exotic sports car costing three or four times as much to rival or exceed that sort of stoplight skedaddle-and they wouldn’t be dragging around over 2.5 tons and providing expansive cargo space, off-road prowess, and the ability to tow 7,200 pounds.

Power for the Trackhawk is courtesy of a supercharged, 6.2-liter Hemi V-8 that distributes trailersful of horses and torque to all four wheels via a beefy, eight-speed automatic. This is the engine that debuted in the Dodge Challenger Hellcat. The engineers say the Hellcat-equipped Grand Cherokee does a bit better launching job than the rear-drive Challenger Hellcat by virtue of its 4WD system.

In addition to beefing up the engine to deal with the additional power engendered by the supercharger, myriad changes were made to the Grand Cherokee’s suspension, brakes and front-end design to keep pace with

the higher engine performance.

Standard brakes were replaced by huge Brembo high-performance binders, sporting six calipers per wheel up front and four aft. (I’ve seen precious few sporting machines with that many brake disc squeezers.) The result is a system that brings the portly, 5,300-pound Trackhawk from 60 to rest in just 114 feet.

The Trackhawk is also an inch lower than a standard Grand Cherokee and employs a Bilstein adaptive damping system that keeps things flat and poised in the corners when in the firm “Track” mode — and more comfy in the “Auto” setting.

The Trackhawk’s body is fitted with anumber of unique design elements. Some of them are practical, like substituting cold air intakes for the fog lamps to increase the supercharger’s oxygen ration. Others, like the four-outlet exhaust, supercharger badging, and front-end styling changes, are cosmetic.

The handsome Track-hawk body cohabits with an interior as gorgeous as it is rich. The tester had a dark red and black cabin that featured lovely, supple leather seats and eye-capturing carbon fiber accents.

An interesting thing about driving the Trackhawk is the unexpected comfort and civility afforded by a vehicle with so much raw power. In “Auto” mode, it is quite comfortable, even docile in urban settings.

Predictably, given its power and weight, the Track-hawk doesn’t consume fuel with baby’s first spoon. It has EPA ratings of 11 city and 17 highway, which aren’t going to earn it a prize from the Sierra Club.

And at a base price of $85,900, it’s certainly exceeded this baggy-pants newspaperman’s ability to pay. alhaasauto@aol.com