On the banks of the Colorado River, with Utah's iconic rock formations serving as a backdrop, you could be forgiven if you imagined Duke Wayne (or Jeff Bridges - your pick) ambling into the foreground. This, however, is a Jeep press event commemorating the brand's 70th anniversary- and not a (John) Ford western. Admittedly, the history of Jeep is no less epic than a Ford-directed script. And when an established automotive icon has a birthday the event leads to - as Mike Manley, Jeep's President and CEO put it - the introduction of "stunning, premium special-edition models of each vehicle in our lineup."
Jeep's executive team corralled some thirty European-based writers and videographers ("Imported from Europe...") at the Sorrel River Ranch, just outside of Moab, for an overview of what makes Jeep "Jeep." The assembled off-road inventory included a historical retrospective from Chrysler's automotive archives, along with representative examples of Jeep's Grand Cherokee, Wrangler, Liberty, Compass and Patriot. When finished in Jeep's oh-so-unique Bronze Star exterior finish, the visual juxtaposition of the anniversary lineup and Moab's red rocks would have made -- we think -- the Duke get absolutely misty-eyed.
Were it not an anniversary, Jeep might have had a party just to celebrate its recent sales figures. The division's parent - Chrysler - is on a roll, and Jeep's '11 lineup is contributing significantly to its collective success. The redesigned Grand Cherokee has earned wide acclaim from the automotive media, and that love seems to have spread to the showroom and suburban driveways. And despite some early skepticism by that same media, buyers have embraced the freshened Compass and Patriot, which were initially launched during the dark days of Cerberus (Chrysler's previous owner group).
Given that it's the "halo" of the lineup, the new Grand Cherokee was front and center. As an upgrade from the Laredo X 4X4, the Anniversary Edition adds polished 20-inch aluminum wheels with "Mineral Gray" pockets, anniversary badging, dark olive leather seats with chestnut accents (black/dark olive is also available), more dark olive on center console and armrest, and more chestnut on the binding of the Berber floormats. The instrument cluster receives a unique cluster overlay and needles, while the radio screen - when turned on - is preceded by the 70th anniversary logo. You enjoy all this for but a $3K bump - to around $36,500 with destination - from the more pedestrian Laredo X. Of course, if you don't like dark olives that may be the way to go...
Similar mods are provided to the "Anniversary" Liberty (starting at just over $25K), albeit with 18-inch wheels; Compass, with a base of just under $25K and dark slate seating; Patriot (starting at under $23K), with 17-inch aluminum wheels; and Wrangler, in either 2-door (roughly $29,500) or 4-door Unlimited (just over $32K).
Both variants of the Wrangler receive their own 18-inch wheel, dark olive seating, similar Berber mats and Mopar brushed aluminum sill plates. On all models the functionality remains the same, with enhanced on-road refinement and all of the Moab-worthiness for which the Jeep brand has become famous.
Notably, the V6-equipped Grand Cherokee seemed very responsive on Moab's Fins 'n Things trail, even with three adults and 4,500 feet of elevation. The Wrangler Unlimited, with the "old" 3.8-liter six, seemed merely adequate. For this writer the real celebration takes place when the Wrangler has the Grand Cherokee's 3.6 Pentastar, reportedly coming this fall.
Thankfully, in its rush to refine its offerings, Chrysler's Fiat management hasn't forgotten what got them to this particular dance. And as the Duke (probably) once said, "dance with the one that brung ya'."