Jeep’ Moab Concepts: A drive on the wild side
Moab draws off-roaders with its challenging slickrock trails and stunning beauty. The peak time for both, and for a family-friendly experience, is the Easter Jeep Safari, when thousands of people descend on the small Utah city in Jeeps, trucks and other off-road vehicles, ready to try their hand at tackling some of the most scenic and difficult trails in America. Jeep is a huge supporter of the event put on by the Red Rock 4-Wheelers club since 1966, and every year, the SUV pioneer brings along some of its coolest concepts. This year marked the 50th anniversary of Easter Jeep Safari and the 75th anniversary of Jeep. As a result, Jeep celebrated with a slew of interesting one-of-a-kind Jeeps, which not only showcased the rich imagination of Jeep's design and engineering teams, but also paid homage to the brand’s heritage. And they aren't cool static displays, either: we had the unique opportunity to take them out on the trail.
The first time the Comanche name was on a Jeep, it was in the 1980s on a pickup based on the Cherokee compact SUV. This time around, the Comanche concept is a pickup based on the Jeep Renegade subcompact SUV, with a lengthened wheelbase and regular-cab layout. But it wasn’t just any Renegade: it started out as a foreign-market Trailhawk, complete with a 2.0-liter turbodiesel mated to a 9-speed automatic. Diesel engines seem to be made for the trail, as its 229 lb-ft of torque is available at low revs, allowing you to crawl up and over obstacles at steady low speed and with consistent throttle input. You can chug your way over a boulder or a hill, focusing more on picking the right line than worrying about hard acceleration. The Comanche concept doesn't have the off-road chops of a Wrangler, but is considerably more capable than you’d think.
Fun Features: "Beige Against the Machine" paint color, bed-mounted spare tire, vintage military gas can, soft top, canvas seat covers, cool designer's logo on fender.
Should They Build It: Yes. We're ready for true compact trucks to come back, something below the now-midsize Chevy Colorado, GMC Canyon and Toyota Tacoma. A Renegade pickup might be just the truck the market is looking for. We didn’t get to drive the 134-horsepower 2.0-liter turbodiesel at freeway or street speeds, so we can't say if that would be the ideal engine on-road, but it sure was nice on the trail.
Jeep Crew Chief 715
Based on a Jeep Wrangler Unlimited, the Crew Chief 715 concept has a custom nose inspired by the Kaiser 715 3/4-ton military truck. This heavily modified Wrangler has a 23-inch longer wheelbase bolstered by some serious off-road mods including 20-inch wheels, 40-inch tires and an onboard air compressor system. The Crew Chief's ride was fairly soft, better than we'd expected, but the added weight and size of the truck taxed the Wrangler's 3.6-liter V6. The Crew Chief was a slow ride with a massive turning radius. But it was ultra-cool and a monster on the trail.
Fun Features: Kaiser grille, steel bed with vintage military gas cans, nautical compass on the dash, green Army guy toy on the license plate frame.
Should They Build It: No. While we would love to see a Wrangler-based pickup, we felt this concept was more about cool fun and taking a Wrangler to the extreme. But put those features and design cues on a larger production truck with more power would change its character.
Willys built Jeep Forward Control trucks from 1957 to 1965, based on the CJ-5 chassis. The FC-150 that Jeep brought to Moab is a resto-mod; they took an original 1960 FC-150 (the 150 signifies the truck's 150-inch wheelbase), and placed it on a previous-generation Wrangler (TJ) chassis, modified to fit the untouched body. This is a tiny truck. The cab is five feet long and the bed is six feet long, and you sit very high and far forward. While the modern-day 4.0-liter inline-6 adds more power, driving the FC feels like driving agricultural machinery. The driving position is unlike any modern truck, and the large, thin steering wheel is mounted more horizontally than today's upright wheels, which also causes you to lean forward a bit as you drive. Going uphill is not too bad, but heading downhill, you start to think the truck may tip forward. Yet it doesn't. The pedals are very close together, both sitting to one side of the steering column in a very small footwell. It meant accelerating and braking had to be carefully planned, because it would be easy to step on the wrong pedal. The FC was the charmer of the group, its flat nose and short body making it look like a pug. But don't let its likeable looks fool you. Most FCs spent their days as tough, hard-working machines on the ranch.
Fun Features: Cup holder that's an actual cup, duck-print headliner, vintage CB radio, cooler disguised as a hay bale, original cab, original transmission shifter.
Should They Build It: No. Been there, done that. Still, the FC has earned Jeep cult classic status.
Jeep Renegade Commander
Based on the Jeep Renegade Trailhawk, the Renegade Commander shows what you can do with a Jeep’s newest model to make it more trail-ready than it is stock. Features like 29.5-inch BFGoodrich tires, a 2-inch suspension lift, rock rails and a skidplate kit add welcome toughness out on the trail. The Renegade doesn’t offer the same visibility over the hood as the Wrangler does, but if you take things slow and steady, the Renegade Commander does an admirable job out on the trail.
Fun Features: Topographic map of the area on the hood, fluorescent paint accents, Wrangler Rubicon wheels.
Should They Build It: No. If someone really wants to make their Renegade this trail-ready, many of the parts are readily available. We're guessing not too many Renegade owners are off-roading in Moab.
One of the most iconic models in Jeep's vast history is the CJ-5 (Civilian Jeep). It was the quintessential Jeep from 1955-1983, and it and the larger CJ-7 led to today's Jeep Wrangler. For the Jeep Shortcut, the designers and engineers took a current 2-door Wrangler, shortened it 26 inches, and added a bevy of off-road-capable gear. They took the doors off, bolted on CJ-5 front and rear bumpers and gave it a healthy dose of old-school charm. Driving the Shortcut was the purest form of Jeeping of all the concepts. Feeling the breeze and warmth of the morning sun created a truly special atmosphere. The Shortcut was light and agile, and the 3.6-liter V6 provided more than enough power. There was a tremendous amount of visibility in all directions. The easy power of the engine plus the capable 4-wheel-drive system encouraged us to find new obstacles to conquer on the trail. It's no wonder off-roading became such a sensation after Jeeps went on sale after World War II.
Fun Features: Plaid low-back seats, two bottles of Faygo Original Redpop soda in the cupholders, vintage cooler in the back, steel wheels, custom Shortcut badge.
Should They Build It: Yes. It wouldn't be a high-volume seller like the Wrangler Unlimited, but a smaller Wrangler would absolutely pique the interest of off-road-minded Jeep buyers.
By far the most ostentatious of the seven concepts Jeep brought to Moab, the Trailcat is a highly modified Jeep Wrangler that uses a 12-inch-longer wheelbase, a chopped windshield and cage, plus a 707-horsepower Hellcat engine under the hood controlled through a 6-speed manual transmission. When it starts, it sounds like a Hellcat-powered Challenger, and its Hellen Green and Satin Black paintjob stands out as much as a Sublime Challenger SRT Hellcat. Unfortunately, this was the only concept we didn't get to drive, but from all accounts, its ride was surprisingly compliant and it was easy to drive.
Fun Features: 707 horses of Hellcat power, wild green and black paint, custom tube doors, carbon fiber Viper seats.
Should They Build It: Maybe. This seems like a strange combination -- super high performance in a vehicle designed for low-speed trail rides -- but with the right tires this would be a blast in the sand. Not only that, but there are plenty of people that would buy a Hellcat-powered Jeep.
Of all the concepts at the Jeep event, the Trailstorm is the one a Wrangler owners would have the easiest time building on their own. Using almost exclusively Jeep Performance Products and Mopar accessories, the Trailstorm is a highly capable Wrangler. The paint job is actually a digital camo wrap, and the vented hood, 37-inch tires, Dana 44 axles, bumpers, winch, exhaust, half doors, hood and cargo management system are items a Wrangler owner can buy today. The components are well-finished and worked very well on the trail. The Trailstorm isn't as flashy as some of the other concepts, but it's extremely capable and realistic.
Fun Features: Cool black and orange interior, handy cargo management system, Jeep Performance Parts concept 17-inch wheels, concept fastback soft top.
Should They Build It: No. Like on the Renegade Commander, most of the parts are available to Wrangler owners. Unlike Renegade owners, however, the Wrangler crew is more likely to be Moab-bound.