Come along for the ride as we get behind the wheel of two manic sport SUVs
Jeep is better known for producing vehicles with considerable off-road pedigree, but the unadulterated Trackhawk version of the Grand Cherokee, however, follows a completely different recipe. It’s a frothing American muscle car with an aggressive SUV suit. It looks utterly sinister in a Hannibal Lecter sort of way, even in unassuming Bright White paintwork. The gaping seven-slot grille is flanked by eye-piercing adaptive bi-xenon headlamps and the lower bumper does away with foglights to optimise airflow into the bespoke induction system. Bold flared wheel arches house massive titanium wheels and round the back sit a quartet of cannon-like exhaust pipes finished in black chrome. It’s not all show and no go though.
The Monster Within
Underneath the swollen bonnet is a supercharged 6.2-litre V8 – a massive third-digit salute to the world. The Trackhawk shares the same engine from the franticly quick Dodge Demon and Challenger Hellcat. This hotted-up Jeep is one of the fastest accelerating SUVs 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 sec. 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. The Trackhawk demonstrates physics-defying acceleration teamed with immense theatre. The 2 380 cc supercharger produces a maximum of 80 kPa providing instant engine response. Gently feed the throttle in and the rear purposefully squats down while the nose lifts itself towards the horizon. At this point it morphs into an SUV-shaped teleportation device, furiously devouring 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 V8’s bass. It all crescendos with a deafening whip-crack from the exhaust on upshift, before the spectacular aural performance starts all over again.
Its high-performance Brembo brakes 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 left to right; however, it’s the lateral weight transfer that is cause for concern. Uprated suspension does its best to mask the weight but riding on all-season Pirelli Scorpion Verde tyres means mid-corner understeer is followed by oversteer on the exit when Sport mode dials back stability control and the four-wheel-drive system defaults to 35/65 torque split. Keep it on the black stuff and it’s exceptionally fast; however, and you laugh at how it does what it does out of fear rather than fun.
Once the mayhem and adrenaline of the Trackhawk subsides, it’s time to see what the Alfa Romeo is all about. Beneath the beautifully sculpted carbon fibre bonnet of the Stelvio QV 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 that’s sent to all four wheels via an eight-speed ZF transmission. The all-wheel-drive system has been designed for dynamic driving, meaning the Stelvio is effectively rear-driven, with the front axle engaged only when needed, and it feels it.
The torque peak of 600 Nm is available from 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 sec, and the 2.9-litre motor excels at pulling hard to the redline. Where many highly strung turbocharged motors might run out of puff, the Stelvio seems to get a second wind. It revs so quickly and cleanly that when in manual mode working those aluminium paddle shifters, you find yourself running into the rev limiter sooner than expected.
For the money, the Alfa’s interior quality does disappoint. However, on the road, the way it drives so dynamically more than makes up for its shortcomings. The wheel is wrapped in a combination of leather and suede and is a pleasure to hold. On a twisting mountain road, it’s refreshing not to grab large armfuls of steering lock when negotiating hairpin bends. It feels confident in putting the power down even with the traction control dialled back. The gearbox’s short ratios means you can experience the full fury of that V6 motor. On bumpy stretches of road, the active suspension works well at ironing out 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 QV has one major let down, which is the lack of a customisable driving mode. If you want the full-bore rasp and infantile, yet highly amusing, crackle from the exhaust, you have to have the car in Race mode. This is where the drivetrain is set to its most-alert configurations and is simply too eager for regular traffic conditions. For what is essentially a family SUV, this can get a little tiresome. This go-big or go-home strategy may not suit all, but it’s not enough to detract from what is still a special car.
Fire and fury
The Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk and Alfa Romeo Stelvio QV are not direct competitors, nor do they speak to the same audience, nor are they in the same price category – as the Jeep is some R524 900 more expensive. They do, however, offer ballistic performance for practical SUVs. The Trackhawk, despite all its character, unfortunately, feels old and something of a blunt instrument – one that’s highly effective and exciting and scary in equal measure. That whopping supercharged 6.2-litre engine is a celebration of the internal-combustion engine 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 phase. The Alfa has a wonderful dual personality – where its supple suspension can play the comfortable cruiser, and with the flick of the rotary dial the wicked drivetrain and quick steering come together to offer a sports-car feel. Driven back-to-back on the same road, it’s the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio that leaves the longer lasting impression.
In a nutshell – Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk
Epic supercharged V8 engine with apocalyptic soundtrack dishes out laughs by the boatload
All-season tyres make it feel downright scary to drive quickly. Also costs as much as a Porsche Cayenne Turbo
Engine – 6 166 cc, 8-cylinder, supercharged, Power – 522 kW @ 6 000 rpm, 875 Nm @ 4 800 rpm, Weight – 2 515 kg, Performance – 0-100 km/h in 3.7 sec (claimed), Top speed – 290 km/h, Tyres – 295/45/R20 Pirelli Scorpion Verde All Season, Economy – 16.8 L/100 km (claimed), Transmission – 8-speed auto, Co2 Emissions – 385 g/km, Price (from) – R 2 199 900
In a nutshell – Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio
Pleasingly agile and genuinely fast for a vehicle of its ill
Interior quality not great and lack of a customisable drive mode is an oversight
Engine – 2 891 cc, 6-cylinder, twin-turbo petrol, Power – 375 kW @ 6 500, 600 Nm @ 2 500-5 000, Weight – 1 859 kg, Performance – 0-100 km/h in 3.8 seconds (claimed), Top speed – 282 km/h, Tyres – 255/45/R20 (front), 285/40/R20 (rear) Pirelli P Zero AR, Economy – 9.8 L/100 km (claimed), Transmission – 8-speed automatic, Co2 Emissions – 227 g/km, Price (from) – R1 675 000
WORDS – Damian Adams // IMAGES – Peet Mocke