How to steal the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT's thunder with a Trackhawk
A video of the Trackhawk in action on the track after its launch in April 2017.
It was all going so well for the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT, too.
A bunch of Australian journalists had crossed the ditch to Auckland, to attend the Aussie launch of the entire facelifted Grand Cherokee range. A few Kiwis were there as well - primarily to drive the SRT model, as the rest of the range had been launched here several weeks earlier.
The writers toured the fleet of Jeeps to Karioitahi Beach west of Waiuku, then split into two groups - one group experiencing the 4WD off-roading excellence of an all-new Trailhawk version of the Grand Cherokee, the other group taking the SRT on to the beach itself for a run towards the mouth of the Waikato River, returning across some reasonably tough sand dunes.
Fancy pounding down one of the North Island's famous black sand beaches in a $114,990 SUV that, thanks to its 6.4-litre Hemi V8, can sprint to 100kmh in just 4.5 seconds.
It was fun. But not as much fun as that afternoon, which was spent at the Pukekohe motor racing circuit where Jeep Australia offered the opportunity to fully experience the SRT's potency via having a go with the vehicle's on-board launch control, and hot laps around that notoriously lumpy circuit.
SRTs - you've got to love them. They're the product of Street and Racing Technology, which is an offshoot of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles that produces high-performance versions of Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep vehicles.
Most of the vehicles to get the SRT treatment are sedans and coupes such as the Dodge Challenger, Charger, and soon the very exciting Demon. At present the only SUV to get the works - in Australasia anyway - is the Grand Cherokee.
But what a vehicle. Powered by a 6.4-litre Hemi V8 that develops 344 kilowatts of power and 624 newton metres of torque, it is one of the fastest SUVs in the world.
It has a unique chassis setup with SRT-tuned adaptive dampers, brakes are big Brembo race units with six pistons up front and four at the rear, and it features the launch control system and limited-slip differential.
The big SUV also has a Selec-Trac system which allows the driver to customise engine, transmission and accelerator mapping via several different modes - Auto, Sport, Track, Snow, Tow, and Eco. There's also a Custom mode which allows the driver to personalise various settings to suit.
The Track mode is something new, and it does such things as reduce transmission shift times, and set the stability control and steering systems for really hard driving.
And then there's the launch control, which electronically brings the engine, transmission, driveline, stability control and suspension into line for launch from a standing start.
What you do is push a centrally-located launch control button, stand on the brakes, floor the accelerator pedal to get the big V8 to maximum revs - then lift off the brake pedal. Before you know it you are going like a rocket, and at Pukekohe this meant quickly slowing down to take on the right-hand corner and then S-bends at the end of the pit straight.
It was a fun afternoon that underlined the sheer performance qualities of this freshly-facelifted performance Grand Cherokee. And then Fiat Chrysler Australia went and ruined it all by announcing we'll soon be getting another Grand Cherokee that will eat the SRT.
Well, they didn't really - ruin things, that is. But there was no doubt that news of the new model, called Trackhawk, stole the SRT's limelight. But how could it not? This one will be powered by a supercharged 6.2-litre V8 that will deliver an awesome 527kW and 874Nm, will be able to get to 100kmh in 3.6 seconds and cover the standing quarter mile in 11.6 seconds, and will have a top speed of 290 kmh.
Built in Detroit, the Trackhawk will be delivered to showrooms in USA in the fourth quarter of this year, and is expected to arrive in New Zealand and Australia before the end of the year. No prices have been forecast.
Jeep Australia president and CEO Steve Zanlunghi told journalists: "From the moment the Trackhawk was revealed at the New York Auto Show in April, we knew we had to get it. Public interest in the Trackhawk has been incredible - barely a day goes by when I'm not asked if it is coming. Now we can confirm it."
Zanlunghi added that the Grand Cherokee SRT is very popular in Australia and New Zealand - Aussie is the SUV's second-biggest market behind the USA - and he is confident the Trackhawk will simply add to that popularity.
So with all that in mind, the Aussies-in-New Zealand launch of the facelifted Grand Cherokee SRT had to be regarded as a tasty entree to what will be a very high-performance main course at year's end. We can't wait.