Long before the 707 horsepower Trackhawk, Jeep built the forgotten Grand Cherokee 5.9. This hot-rodded Jeep was only produced for the 1998 model year and proceeded the fast SUV craze we’ve grown accustomed to. Today we expect manufacturers to build SUVs designed to best physics and deliver a sporty driving experience but in the late 90s, it was a new concept. It’s time for the Trackhawk to meet the SUV that made its existence possible.
The Trackhawk isn’t a new idea and to be honest it’s not even that radical. High-performance luxury SUVs are a dime a dozen today but in 1998 Jeep was inventing a new segment with the Grand Cherokee 5.9. Chrysler simply looked to their hot rodding past and threw in the biggest engine the SUV could accommodate. The 5.9 liter V8 they used produced 245 horsepower and 345 lb-ft of torque good for a 0-60 time of 7.1 seconds. These numbers seem laughable next to the new Trackhawk which halves the 0-60 time and almost triples the horsepower.
The 5.9 was an experiment. When it debuted there was no X5M, Porsche was building only sports cars, and Land Rover never heard of the Nurburgring. Today things have clearly changed and we can blame the 5.9 for creating this market. Combining the luxury and comfort of an SUV with extra horsepower turned out to be a winning formula.
Much like the new Trackhawk, the exterior was understated for its time. Jeep didn’t add tacky decals or unnecessary wings. Instead, there were a few exterior badges and larger wheels but the biggest give away are the hood louvers.
We can thank the Germans for the sports sedan and Jeep for the sporty SUV. Today used Grand Cherokee 5.9s are very difficult to find. They sold over 15,000 5.9s in 1998 proving the potential of this formula. Today the spirit of the 5.9 lives on in SUVs from around the world. But thankfully the Trackhawk carries on Jeep’s tradition of build SUVs far too fast for their own good.