Jeep is a brand better known for producing vehicles with considerable off-road pedigree having done so for 77 years and it’s flagship SUV the Grand Cherokee, for the most part, is no different. This unadulterated Trackhawk version, however, follows a completely different recipe. It’s a frothing American muscle car with an aggressively styled SUV suit covering the brutish mechanical innards. It looks utterly sinister in a Hannibal Lecter sort of way even when coated in unassuming Bright White paintwork. The gaping seven-slot front grille is flanked by eye-piercing adaptive bi-xenon headlamps and the lower bumper does away with the foglights to optimize airflow into the bespoke induction system. Exposed bonnet cut-outs are functional and act as much needed heat extractors. The profile is low and aggressive thanks to an exaggerated body kit and side skirts with ‘no step’ warnings written on the inside. Bold flared wheel arches house the massive titanium wheels and round the back sit a quartet of cannon-like exhaust tips finished in black chrome. It’s not all show and no go.
The Monster Within
Underneath the swollen bonnet is a gargantuan lump of good ‘ol America, the supercharged 6.2-litre V8 is a massive third digit salute to the likes of the blisteringly fast and all-electric Tesla Model X SUV. The Trackhawk shares the same engine from the franticly quick Dodge Demon and Challenger Hellcat available in the United States. This hotted-up Jeep that we South Africans are lucky enough to get locally has been designed to be one of the fastest accelerating SUV’s in the world and packs a neck-straining 522 kW and 875 Nm. The grunt is sent to all four wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission and the result is a claimed 0-100 km/h sprint time of 3.7 seconds and it’ll cover the quarter-mile drag in a supercar baiting 11.6 seconds. If given the space to run free the Trackhawk will run on to a top speed of 290 km/h.
When handed the keys to such a serious machine there’s no time for mucking about. On the very same day that the Trackhawk was delivered, I headed out to one of my favourite roads to see how all that V8 power translated to the road. The Trackhawk demonstrates physics-defying acceleration teamed with immense theatre. The large 2 380 cc supercharger produces a maximum of 80 kPa providing instant engine response. Gently feed the throttle in and the rear purposefully squats while the nose lifts itself towards the horizon as the motor burbles away.
Mash the throttle to the carpet, however, and the Trackhawk transforms into an SUV shaped teleportation device. It furiously devours straight sections of road with eye-widening pace. The noise it produces while doing so is booming and chaotic as the V8 climbs through the revs. A frenzied scream from the supercharger plays the treble to the 6.2-litre engine’s bass. It all crescendos with a deafening whip-crack from the exhaust on upshift allowing for the spectacular aural performance to start all over again.
Once the first corner arrives way sooner than expected the high-performance Brembo brakes are put to the test, they are the largest fitted to any Jeep in history and are necessary additions. Tipping the scales at over 2 500 kg, you feel the mass transfer from back to front and from left to right, however, it’s the lateral weight transfer that causes for concern. The Trackhawks uprated suspension does its best to mask the weight but riding on all-season Pirelli Scorpion Verde tyres and overly-light steering make for a recipe that can only end in disaster. Mid-corner understeer is followed by oversteer on the exit as in Sport mode the stability control is dialled back and the four-wheel-drive systems are set to a 35/65 torque split. It’s exceptionally fast and you laugh at how it does what it does out of fear rather than fun.
Once the mayhem of the Trackhawk driving experience has subsided and my hands stop shaking from the adrenalin it’s time to see what the Alfa Romeo is all about and first impressions couldn’t be any more different.
Beneath the beautifully sculpted carbon fibre bonnet of the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio lies a fizzing 2.9-litre twin-turbocharged V6. It’s effectively a Ferrari 488 motor with two cylinders chopped off. From the relatively small capacity engine, a potent 375 kW and 600 Nm is generated and is sent to all four wheels via an eight-speed ZF transmission. The all-wheel-drive system has been designed for dynamic driving rather than optimal traction in inclement weather conditions. The Stelvio is effectively rear-driven with the front axel engaged only when needed, and it feels it. In regular driving conditions, the system can send up to 100% of torque to the rear wheels and this makes all the difference when going for an enthusiastic drive.
The torque peak of 600 Nm is available through 2 500 to 5 000 rpm, this ensures that all occupants are pinned to their seats under hard acceleration. Standstill to 100 km/h is over in a claimed 3.8 seconds and the 2.9-litre motor excels at is pulling hard to the redline. Where many highly strung turbocharged motors run out of puff the Stelvio gets a second wind. It revs so quickly and cleanly that when in manual mode working those one-piece aluminium paddle shifters you’ll find yourself often running into the rev limiter sooner than expected.
There is no denying that for the money the Alfa’s interior quality does disappoint, however, on the road the way it drives more than makes up for its shortcomings. The wheel is wrapped in a combination of leather and suede and is a pleasure to hold the steering setup is incredibly sharp and accurate. On a tight mountain road, it’s refreshing not needing to grab large armfuls of steering lock when negotiating hairpin bends. It feels confident in putting the power down even with the traction control turned completely off. The gearbox offers short ratios to bang through and this means that you can experience the full fury of that V6 motor up until third gear before you start to exceed the speed limit of most urban roads. On bumpy stretches of road, the active suspension works really well at ironing out road imperfections while keeping body-roll in check. It’s the combination of all of these characteristics that make the Stelvio Quadrifoglio feel like a thoroughbred rather than a hot-rod.
Although the driving experience is balanced and engaging the Stelvio Quadrifoglio has one major let down is the lack of a customisable driving mode. If you want the full-bore rasp and infantile yet highly amusing crackle and bangs from the exhaust you have to have the car engaged in Race mode. This is where the gearbox and engine are set to their most alert configurations and it’s simply too eager for regular traffic conditions. The drivetrain feels as though it’s straining at the leash and for a sportscar that can be forgiven, but for what is essentially a family SUV, it can get a little too much. This go big or go home strategy may not suit all, but it’s not enough to detract from what a special car the Stelvio Quadrifoglio is.
Summing up the fire and fury
The Jeep Trackhawk and Alfa Romeo Stelvio QV are not direct competitors and do not speak to the same audience. They’re both comparatively expensive but are not in the same price category as the Jeep is some R524 900 more. They do, however, set out on achieving similar goals by offering ballistic performance in a practical SUV body. The Trackhawk has a deeply rich leather interior that is peppered with standard features that put its German rivals to shame. It, unfortunately, feels old and is a blunt instrument albeit a highly effective one at simultaneously exciting and scaring all onboard. That whopping supercharged 6.2-litre engine is a celebration of the internal combustion engine that cannot be ignored and is certainly one of the last of its kind.
The Alfa Romeo on the other hand is a revelation. It demonstrates how well a tall-riding SUV can handle when people who enjoy driving get involved during the engineering and calibration processes. The Alfa has an appreciated dual-personality where with its supple suspension it can play the comfortable cruiser and with the flick of the rotary dial on the centre console the wickedly characterful drivetrain and incredibly quick steering come together to offer a sportscar feel. Driven back-to-back on the same road it’s the Quadrifoglio that’s left us with a lasting impression.
In a nutshell
Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk
The epic supercharged V8 engine with its apocalyptic soundtrack dishes out laughs by the boat load
All-season tyres make it feel downright dangerous to drive quickly when the road gets twisty, it costs as much as a Porsche Cayenne Turbo
6 166 cc, 8-cylinder, supercharged
522 kW @ 6 000 rpm, 875 Nm @ 4 800 rpm
2 515 kg
0-100 km/h in 3.7 sec (claimed)
295/45/R20 Pirelli Scorpion Verde All Season
16.8 L/100 km (claimed)
R 2 199 900
In a nutshell
Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio
It feels pleasingly agile and genuinely fast for a vehicle of its ilk and offering a very unique proposition
Interior quality is not great and the lack of a customisable drive mode is an oversight
2 891 cc, 6-cylinder, twin-turbo petrol
375 kW @ 6 500, 600 Nm @ 2 500-5 000
1 859 kg
0-100 km/h in 3.8 seconds (claimed)
255/45/R20 (front), 285/40/R20 (rear) Pirelli P Zero AR
9.8 L/100 km (claimed)
R1 675 000