JEEP CONCEPT VEHICLES
Every year at Easter Jeep Safari, Jeep unveils a handful of concept vehicles to keep everyone interested and on their toes. The Jeep Underground, an officially unofficial group of engineers and design team members within FCA, and Mopar’s aftermarket division are turned loose to build some really neat stuff. We’ve seen cleverly disguised sneak peeks at future design elements in several past concept vehicles, and the concepts themselves are usually pretty cool. Editor Hazel had a chance to get up close and personal with this year’s concepts, and here is his take on each one.
It’s super-lightweight. That’s awesome. The lighter a 4x4 is, the better it usually wheels in our opinion. When you’re driving a lighter vehicle you feel more like part of the machinery and less like you’re on a worn-out trampoline with a dead elephant on your back. The 4Speed achieves its lifted status not by spacers or longer springs, but by simply shedding weight, relieving the stock springs of roughly 900 pounds of bulk to deal with. This lets the little turbo 2.0L feel like it has much more power than it does. The clipped frame is right in line with Verne Simons’ Shrink Ray TJ that we built at Jp Magazine many years ago, so that’s obviously something we are in tune with. And while I’m not a huge fan of the snowboard jacket seat cover material, the minimalist rollcage, lack of carpet, seethrough tailgate, and carabineer clips on the rear downbars are right on point.
I absolutely love it when the Underground takes a vintage Jeep that has such a strong connection with the brand’s heritage and does a modern take on the design. They are masters of this. You look at the Wagoneer Roadtrip with an untrained eye and you might just think it’s a nicely restored Wagoneer that somehow looks way better than any restored Wagoneer you’ve seen before. Until you realize that the wheelbase was pushed back 5 inches in the rear, both improving the rear wheelwell opening and reducing the exaggerated Kardashianesque factory overhang. The contour of the fender flares was reconfigured, the rocker shape tweaked, and several Ford replica bumpers flipped upside-down, cut, and rewelded to achieve the classic one-piece front bumper look instead of the traditional FSJ three-piece bumper. The boxed factory Wagoneer frame was treated to a front and rear coilover suspension. There are so many over-the-top design “fixes” to the classic FSJ styling that we can’t cover them here, and the same holds true for the rest of the build. Examples: a 5.7L Mopar crate Hemi and a four-speed auto that’s toggled by the vague factory column-shifter, Dana 44 crate axles with electric lockers actuated by extra light switches mounted in the dash, oxblood-vinyl bench seating for six, a beachy headliner, campy road-trip maps, a leather luggage cooler, and a Tornado valve-cover toolbox. This build is just too damn cool for Jeep school! For me, without a doubt, this is one of the sweetest vehicles to come out of any Jeep plant in several decades and underscores in screaming avocado-colored letters that the connection to Jeep’s heritage, which made the brand what it is today, is still alive and well within the halls of the corporate headquarters.
Wait—the Mopar folks are chopping and raking back windshields and modifying hard tops to pay homage to iconic Jeeps of the past? Watch out, Underground! Seriously, though, the Mopar Jeepster really does conjure up visions of the late 1960s/early 1970s C-101 Jeepster that is so beloved by most. The swooped white-on-red paint scheme, fastback-styled hard top, custom rollcage, and laid-back cargo-mounted tire carrier freeing up the tailgate are the icing on what is an otherwise really nice 2.0L-powered two-door JL Sport cake. Even though the Jeepster is sans lockers, its 2-inch lift, 37-inch tires, stubby Mopar winch bumper, and twin fluid containerholding tailgate would be welcome additions for a long day on the trail. I really like this one and tip my hat to the Mopar folks for going the extra mile on this vintage-vibe build. Nailed it.
If you want a modern Wrangler to have upperlevel capabilities in the rocks, many suspensions will more than fit the bill. But if you want it to excel in the rarified world of high-speed rock racing, combining prerunning with desert racing, Mel Wade at Offroad Evolution is your man. Underground dropped off a bare chassis at Offroad Evolution to have a rolling chassis built, complete with chromoly long-arms, bypass shocks, and coilovers at each corner to achieve 14 inches of front and 18 inches of rear travel as well as a massive pair of Dynatrac ProRock axles. Then the Underground took it back home and finished up with racy body bits, a stupid-powerful 6.4L Mopar crate Hemi backed by…wait for it…a six-speed manual transmission, and all the other go-fast stuff. Sandstorm is one seriously fun go-fast machine—and I kinda got the vibe that Jeep plans to enter it in the 2019 King of the Hammers. We’ll see.
The Renegade isn’t for our hardcore market, but it has a place in the Jeep lineup. Unfortunately, during our media day that place was broken down halfway through our trail loop. The hood treatment of the B-Ute gave it a more serious expression than the “Hi guys, wanna play?” look of the normal Renegade. We found it a welcome improvement. Put it in the next-gen Renegade. I can see equipping one of these things the way B-Ute was configured, with the roof rack and other light-overlandy elements, but the military-themed Lt. Jenkins reference is a bit hackneyed. I guess it’s a vehicle for millennials, and things like that appeal to millennials, but I’d rather see a Tide Pod dispenser than a silly video game reference that has to be explained to a majority of the off-roading community who don’t live in their parents’ basement.