Family car? Check. Sport utility vehicle? Check. Drag racer? Check.
That sums up the 2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk. After a week in this wild mashup of useful buffoonery, we came away wishing we had another one. Copious amounts of muscle in a package that cannot be poo-pooed by the more practical mindset is just genius. Therein lies the edge-of-madness thinking of Fiat-Chrysler’s SRT brand.
The 2018 Dodge Durango SRT is a perfect example of what happens when the right amount of everything is put together into a package worth selling. Its beastly 6.4-liter V8 engine and family-smart design are a great combination. When performance matters more than daily use readiness, though, the SRT engineers get more Trackhawk in their thinking.
The 2018 Grand Cherokee Trackhawk drops the third row of seating and a few other passenger ergonomics in favor of a lot more horsepower and more performance-focused design. The GC Trackhawk is basically a Hellcat in Jeep form, and while that might seem just ludicrous, it’s actually pretty genius. In a Mad Hatter kind of way. Which happens to be how a lot of geniuses operates, it turns out.
The Hellcat’s 6.2-liter V8 with its supercharged output of 707 horsepower and 645 pound-feet being channeled to the drivetrain. That drivetrain is all-wheel drive by default and those who push down the throttle and listen to the grumble of that big engine and the screeching tire results will be glad for that. The Trackhawk, with its greater weight and AWD, is far easier to control in a straight run than is the Challenger Hellcat.
This means 0-60 mph times of 3.5 seconds are possible with the Grand Cherokee Trackhawk, despite its hefty 5,400 pound curb weight. Impressive! Even more impressive is the stopping distance from 60mph of just 114 feet. That comes thanks to the oversized Brembo brakes and grippy P-Zero tires mounted on the big Trackhawk.
The 2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk is tuned for track performance, as its name implies, but the bulk of the Jeep simply cannot be ignored, regardless of how much thought went into the suspension and chassis tuning of the big SUV. The Trackhawk does well in the corners, but there are limits to the single-speed transfer case used to churn the front wheels and physics involved in the big Jeep’s bulk. Even with those, however, the Grand Cherokee Trackhawk will corner wonderfully at speed, provided the driver is willing to let the gut tickle with an anticipated rollover and push limits. The Trackhawk is not a coupe.
What’s really great about the 2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk, as with any Dodge-Jeep vehicle, is its everyday comfort despite its roaring musculature. The Jeep Grand Cherokee is comfortable and somewhat sedate in most daily drive situations. Provided the driver can keep a light foot and doesn’t mind the hood-shaking rumble of the big 6.2L. Outside of the small Trackhawk badge on its tailgate and the “Supercharged” signature across the lower panels, the Grand Cherokee Trackhawk looks like any other Grand Cherokee on the road. More or less.
The huge wheels, fat brakes, and barely contained shakiness of its idle are giveaways too, but only to those looking for such things. It doesn’t take long for the kids to get their V8 legs and adapt to that motion at idle when getting in and out of the big Jeep.
The 2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk is $90K of crazy awesome. It makes family hauling a new-level experience. We do not, however, recommend laying stripes of rubber from the school dropoff zone or out of the library parking lot. That’s just bad form.
Review: 2018 GMC Canyon Denali
There are fun times.. and then there are fun times with class. Somewhere in between chugging beers on the beach and sipping champagne on the terrace lies the GMC Canyon Denali. This midsize pickup truck has plenty of style, good capability, and rugged comfort.
We recently spent a week in the 2018 GMC Canyon in its Denali trim, the top-most trim level in the Canyon’s lineup of five trim options. Highlights include multiple cab configurations, two bed length options (we had the short bed), and both rear-wheel and four-wheel drive. GMC has added trailer hitch guidelines to the backing camera on the Canyon this year, which proved to be surprisingly useful, and made the infotainment screen larger as standard.
The 2018 Canyon has a lot going for it. It’s by far the best-looking truck in the midsize pickup truck market and it’s the only one with a diesel engine option. But it has some downsides too, including less off-road capability compared to like-priced options from Toyota and its larger size when compared to the Toyota or Nissan competitors in this category. But these points aren’t likely to dissuade people who are shopping the 2018 Canyon Denali, which is definitely the most upscale option in this market.
Visually, looking at the GMC Canyon Denali, one gets the overall impression that this truck is robust and ready, while also giving off a hint of sport and fun. It doesn’t have that big-rig muscle and chrome of larger full-sized pickups, but keeps the appearance of capability. It’s a good design that really gives the Canyon an edge.
Under the 2018 Canyon’s hood can be any of 3 engine choices. The base engine is a 2.5-liter four-cylinder that outputs 200 horsepower to a six-speed manual transmission, which can be upgraded to a like-geared automatic. We’d recommend upgrading that to either of the other two engines, which give more power and capability as well as useful towing numbers.
The upgrade V6 is a 3.6-liter that outputs 308 hp and 275 pound-feet of torque. We drove the Canyon Denali with this engine and found it to be a perfect match for the truck. The engine has a predictable, relatively long power band that is well suited to the automatic transmission.
The final option is also a recommended upgrade, a 2.8-liter turbodiesel. This turbo-four puts out 181 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque. Balancing power and economy, this engine is made for torque delivery to get a load moving, offering a 7,700 pound maximum tow rating for best-in-class trailering. We drove this model last year and found it very well done.
The main differences between the 2018 Canyon’s V6 and the diesel option are in everyday driving. The V6 offers faster acceleration and a good about-town and off-pavement presence, but doesn’t have the high towing capability or fuel economy of the diesel. The diesel has those things, but takes longer to get up to speed and its turbo lag is very noticeable around town. So the choice really comes down to which fits what needs better.
The four-cylinder gas option for the 2018 Canyon is EPA-rated at 20 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway. The V6 lowers those numbers to 18 in the city and 25 highway. That’s not much of a tradeoff for a much better engine. The diesel rates at 22 mpg city and 30 mpg highway. Nobody else can claim those kinds of MPG returns. These numbers are for rear-wheel drive models. Adding in 4×4 capability drops them by about a point each. In the real world, the diesel returned very close to those EPA ratings while the V6 was slightly lower, likely due to our higher altitude (5,400 feet).
Another huge difference between the 2018 Canyon and its rivals, especially in Denali trim, is in interior comfort. This is where GMC focuses its premium brand name, putting together an excellent interior. Seating is excellent with a lot of room for the front passenger and driver. The rear seats are good too, but they have less legroom (even in the crew cab) than expected. Adults can still fit back there, but the center position on the rear bench is really just for kids.
We also like the infotainment system in the 2018 Canyon. With the full upgrade, the 7-inch touchscreen grows to 8-inches, and the base model’s Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are augmented with GM’s IntelliLink system with its quick responses and easy-to-understand menu tree. We’d like to see more redundant buttons for quickly jumping from one thing to another (say from maps to radio), but once a few of the more advanced controls are learned, those things come quickly. Swiping to the side, for example, switches between main menu elements immediately, allowing a move from the NAV screen to the radio in one gesture.
Speaking of navigation, the built-in system for the Canyon is workable, but it’s not that great. Plugging in a phone and using its NAV (which can cast to the screen) is a far better option. Additionally, voice control of the GMC’s infotainment is really only useful for making phone calls. It’s otherwise iffy on getting commands right. Again, hold the VC button for an extra second and use your phone’s voice controls instead.
The 2018 GMC Canyon Denali is the top-most midsize pickup truck package available on the market today. It’s a strong goer and fun to drive. We took it around town as a daily drive and then out and about on and off the road for fun times here in Wyoming. The Canyon with its V6 is confident and well-mannered with a surprisingly quiet cabin on the highway. The 4×4 package will get you where you want to be without a lot of trouble, so long as the request is reasonable. The Canyon isn’t a hardcore rock climber or mud digger.
We also found that when towing a trailer matched to the Canyon’s capabilities, it does pretty well. It’s more than capable of pulling toys to the lake, getting a few things from the home improvement store, and hauling gear for camping or riding.
The 2018 GMC Canyon Denali is a great little truck with a lot of fun factor built in. The Denali trim starts at $39,600 plus delivery and rang in at $46,400 with delivery as we drove it.
All-New 2019 Jeep Cherokee Is Still A Jeep But Way Prettier
Jeep decided to completely revamp the Cherokee for the 2019 model year. They’ve kept most of the things that made the previous-generation Cherokee a winner, but gave it a serious makeover to get rid of the ugly. We spent a week with the rig and thoroughly enjoyed its new design.
Surprisingly enough, the Cherokee is Jeep’s best-seller. So much so that Fiat Chrysler decided to drop the Chrysler 200 and Dodge Dart from their lineup in order to free up production lines to make more Jeeps. This despite the beating the car took from the automotive press over the 2015-2018 Cherokee’s beak-nosed design. Buyers were won over by the Cherokee’s excellent dynamics, Jeep-worthy off-road credibility, and smoothly upscale interior.
The 2019 Jeep Cherokee keeps those high points for the crossover, but ditches the beak nose for a more Jeep-contemporary flat face to house the vertical slotted grille. This puts the Cherokee more clearly into the lineup of Jeep crossover-SUVs, where it rides beneath the larger Grand Cherokee and above the smaller Compass. It’s no longer the odd man out in the Jeep family.
Also added for the new 2019 Cherokee are new powertrain choices. A new turbocharged four-cylinder engine is now offered, as is the venerable and well-vetted, basic 2.4-liter four and the smooth 3.2-liter V6 upgrade. The turbo-four is meant to split the difference between the 2.4 and the 3.2 and does a very good job of it. So much so that we’d say it’s our preferred engine for the Cherokee.
The base model’s 2.4-liter four-cylinder “Tigershark” engine has been with the Jeep (and Chrysler) lineup for years as a steady puller in a lot of vehicles. It offers up to 30 mpg on the highway, per the EPA. The V6, on the other hand, has been the go-to for Cherokee buyers who want more oomph and better towing capability. It’s rated at 271 horsepower and 239 pound-feet of torque and receives an EPA fuel economy estimate of up to 24 mpg on the highway.
Enter the new 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, which outputs an impressive 270 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. The EPA rates this engine at up to 31 mpg on the highway. That beats the base model’s highway rating and adds more torque than the V6. Power outputs in the 2.0L are quicker on the draw, coming at lower RPM, and the towing capability between the turbocharged four and the V6 is a mere 500 pounds. All for an upgrade price that is only about $500 over the six. The punchier responses, better fuel economy, and strong torque output while off-road are all good reasons to think of the 2.0L turbo-four as the best engine option for the 2019 Cherokee. Until Jeep decides to make a Trackhawk or diesel version, that is. Then bets are off.
Going inside the new 2019 Jeep Cherokee, we assumed that with all of this opportunity for Jeep to screw things up with the Cherokee’s upgrade, this is where they’d do it. We were disappointed. Jeep kept the upscale interior and smart design of the previous-generation Cherokee largely intact with this new one. They even made it better. The center stack has been redesigned to be less bulky and the cargo area has been tweaked to add more usable space. Our greatest complaint from the previous-gen Cherokee (and all Jeep models) was the continual use of monotone (usually black) colors in the cabin. That’s also changed, with Jeep adding more trim items to give offsets and contrasts for a more interesting look.
The interior of the new 2019 Cherokee isn’t roomier on paper, but it feels more open and spacious thanks to the changes made. New details like the padded slot under the infotainment screen and above USB plugs for a phone or MP3 player and the larger door slots are upgrades in ergonomics too. Remaining are the well-done seating up front and the truly three-across rear seat for the Cherokee.
Infotainment is still the best-in-the-business Uconnect system, of course, which now features Android Auto and Apple CarPlay as standard. The crisp graphics, text-to-speech capability, and available Wi-Fi hotspot option are all great things that go along with the easily-understood menus and crisp graphics.
Cargo space in the 2019 Cherokee is measured at 25.8 cubic feet behind the second row, expanding to 54.9 cubes with the second row folded. Which it does in a split-fold as standard. Tie-down points in the cargo area are standard in the Cherokee and side pockets behind the wheel wells are now deeper and more accommodating for milk jugs and the like.
During our week with the 2019 Jeep Cherokee, we drove it on the road, off the road, and off the map. Because #JeepThing. We had kids in it, ran it solo, took it as a couple’s drive, and more. In every way it was a good drive. Ours was equipped with four-wheel drive and the Freedom Drive II transmission option, which has deeper low gears and more off-road capability. Other options would include front-wheel drive and the lighter-duty, more mainstream all-wheel-drive-like Freedom Drive I. For most buyers, FD1 is more likely to fit needs and leaves plenty of off-pavement capability intact in the Cherokee.
The 2019 Jeep Cherokee starts at $23,995 and we drove it at a near range-topping $39,799. Most buyers will be getting one just below the $30,000 mark, well-equipped.
Learning About Towing Fundamentals With The GMC Sierra Denali
The first time I had a chance to drive the 2018 GMC Sierra Denali, I enjoyed the experience, but it felt like something was missing – a trailer loaded with toys. What I didn’t know at the time was that GMC is only major manufacturer that has towing as part of it’s DNA from their smallest SUV (Terrain) to their largest truck (Sierra HD).
We recently spent some time with GMC learning more about towing fundamentals and why the GMC Sierra makes a great choice for anyone who’s weekend plans might involve heading out into the wild to go boating, biking, or exploring with a UTV. While this wasn’t my first time towing, I learned quite a bit here, which I’m here to share with you guys.
Our journey began at the Red Mountain Resort in Saint George, Utah where we learned more about proper towing, before heading off on a road trip that included dune riding at Coral Pink Sands State Park and a road trip through Zion National Park. Throughout the experience it was clear that the Sierra was made for the job at hand!
According to GMC, 75% of all Light Duty truck owners tow – but 30% of those owners don’t know how much weight their trucks can haul. Similarly, outside of professional customers, very few consumers have a solid understanding for what features make one truck a better towing platform compared to another.
It’s Not Just How Much You Tow, It’s How Well You Tow
It’s easy to get lost in the number of max towing ability and think that’s the only thing that’s important. Frankly the 2018 GMC Sierra Denali holds its own there compared to peers, with a max trailer rating of 12,500 pounds (23,300 for the Sierra HD). However, there’s more to getting to the cabin or camp site than simply how much load you can pull. That’s a LOT of weight! Far more than most people will ever need to haul.
Max load limits today are absolutely enormous, and most people won’t even come close. For instance, our trailer contained two Polaris RZRs and it was still only 7,000 pounds.
The important factor is to make sure you can town that weight safely, quickly, and easily. That’s where having the right truck comes into play.
Key Features That Make The Sierra Denali A Great Truck For Towing:
Premium Trailering Mirrors – While I prefer the large compound mirrors on the larger Sierra HD Denali, I was pretty impressed with the smaller more compact ones found standard on the Sierra Denali. It allowed easy viewing of oncoming traffic as well as the end of the bed and I found it very easy to judge distances for passing vehicles. These mirrors are also heated to prevent icing in winter and contain LED rear guidance lamps when backing up.
Trailer Sway Control and Trailer Brake Controller – Sensors automatically detect a trailer that has begun to sway and applies both the trailer and vehicle brakes to restore proper towing control. You can also do this from within the cab to apply the trailer brakes manually.
Tow/Haul Mode – Provides more power to accelerate when hauling heavy loads by raising transmission upshift points.
Hill Start Assist – Sensors detect when your vehicle is at a 5% or more grade and holds the brakes until the accelerator is pressed so as to avoid rollback.
Auto Grade Braking – Senses when you want to slow the GMC Sierra and helps automatically maintain the desired speed.
Rear Vision Camera System – To help align the hitch with the trailer. GMC also offers a dealer-installed accessory produced by EchoMaster that provides multiple camera points to provide simultaneous views of your load all tied into the center console view screen. Unfortunately, that was not available on our model.
On the road, the Sierra performed great on the first leg out to the park. It hauled our load with ease while being nice and roomy for two “full sized” adult men. Inside, the Denali trim offered us the comfort of a Bose premium audio system, heated and ventilated leather seats, power step, and a driver alert package that included features such as Forward Collision Alert, Lane Keep Assist, and IntilliBeam Headlamps. The Sierra Denali is unapologetically a truck and it feels like it, however the ride is smoother in the Denali trim in part due to the Magnetic Ride Control which helps dampen bumps and rough road surfaces.
While the Sierra with trailer in tow isn’t going to win any speed competitions, it felt very stable with the “Max Trailering Package” that increases towing capacity and performance.
Specifically, the Max Trailering Package in our truck featured a 420hp 6.2L V-8, with a 9.76 ring gear, 3.42 8-speed axle ratio, trailer brake controller, enhanced cooling radiator, revised shock tuning, and heavier-duty rear springs to help support the load better.
Upon arrival at Coral Pink Sands State Park, it was time to unpack the RZRs and have some fun. The sand here was simply amazing, and photos don’t do it full justice. The dunes were created as wind blew through a notch between the Moquith and Moccasin mountains eroding the red Navajo sandstone over the past 15,000 years. As it eroded, sand was deposited on the valley floor and dunes formed.
While it is a state park, approximately 90% of the dunes are open for riding. Trails range from sandy paths through trees to wide open dunes where you can get pretty aggressive and even catch some air.
After a full day of racing around the dunes (and collecting sand in places sand should never collect) it was time to head home.
This time, we got to drive the Sierra Denali without a trailer to experience how it performed with out a load. Once again, I was very happy with the ride though it felt a bit stiff since it’s really most comfortable with a load pressing down on the suspension.
Despite that, it was a fun drive through the mountainous roads of Zion National Park as we headed back to Saint George. You certainly aren’t going to take tight turns at car speed but sitting above the action a bit and simply cruising down the road is where this truck excels.
All in all, it was a fun day in the desert learning more about the GMC Sierra Denali and the finer points of towing like a pro.
Photo credit: Isaac Brekken for GMC