Over the past decade, Jeep has used the annual Easter Jeep Safari (EJS) gathering in Moab as a launch bed for the company’s latest concept vehicles and aftermarket components. While other “car” manufacturers are busy inside with city-slickers at the New York Auto Show (dates overlap with EJS each year), Jeep is playing in the dirt with the rest of us. Some years, Jeep hits it out of the park. Other years, well, we won’t talk about those years.
Despite what you may believe, Jeep doesn’t actually advertise in our magazine. Go ahead—flip through the pages (or look around for banner links if you are on the website). Sure, we wish we had the ad dollars pumped in, but it wouldn’t make a difference either way if we did. If it’s a dud, we will call it as such. We get just as excited as you when we see the concept rigs and equally as disappointed when they don’t make it to market.
This year, Jeep rolled out seven concept rigs. For those that followed our Moab Experience coverage on fourwheeler.com, you’ve already read about them and hopefully watched the videos we drummed up with them as well. Yes, we got to drive them, but we won’t pretend that it was an un-chaperoned dance. Some of the paint was still drying on a few of the concepts, so we could only let loose so much. We definitely got a feel for each, and despite most of them being based on the Wrangler Unlimited platform, each had its own personality.
It’s a diesel Wrangler! We knew it! They built it! OK, OK, it’s the old 2.8L diesel that’s been available overseas since the JK was first launched in 2007. Don’t expect to see that diesel engine under the hood of any U.S.-offered Jeep any time soon. So, if the diesel engine isn’t the big story of the Africa, what is?
That would be the extra 12 inches added to the back. The 116-inch wheelbase remains intact, but the cargo area is greatly expanded. A fixed and raised safari-themed roof help create the custom look, which definitely has a resemblance to the old Land Rover Defender 110. Wait, did you just read fixed roof on a Wrangler? Grab the pitch forks!
The 35-inch fullsize spare is actually mounted under the cargo area, so don’t worry, Jeep didn’t miss the mark there. The Unlimited-based platform is served with an automatic transmission, Dana 44s and 2-inch-lift suspension system, all sourced from the Jeep Performance Parts division. This concept checks so many boxes, but does it show that the future of the four-door is a non-removable top?
Renegade Desert Hawk
Don’t shoot the messenger! We debated whether or not to include this pint-size Jeep. We get it. The Renegade is a necessary evil for Jeep. In order to build vehicles you like (i.e. Wrangler), the company has to have more fuel-efficient and modern offerings in its portfolio. Some of you may be pulling your hair out over the Fiat-sourced platform, but it’s really not all bad.
Is the 2.4L Tigershark engine impressive? Not really, but most of the powerplants in the Renegades’ segment are nothing to write home about. We’ve tested the Renegade in its Trail Hawk offerings, and it does very well in sand and snow. It’s just not much of a rockcrawler. Rock rails, a skidplate kit, and a hood decal of the Fins and Things Moab trail all make the Renegade Desert Hawk stand apart. Give us a turbo and a low-cost MSRP and we might start to warm up to the newest Jeep.
Ford, Chevy, and Dodge have all paid homage to their respective muscle-car roots with the Mustang, Camaro, and Challenger. The Chief is Jeep’s tribute to the ’70s fullsize Jeep Cherokee. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen the nostalgic front clip as it was donned on the Nukizer truck concept a few years ago. Not surprisingly, the classic concept is centered on a modern Wrangler Unlimited chassis. The ultra-smooth lines of the Jeep flow inside and out, with its surfer-themed interior and French-bead roof.
In terms of function, it’s got plenty. A cold-air intake was added to the 3.6L Pentastar V-6, which was mated to the six-speed manual transmission. Rubicon-edition Dana 44 axles are controlled by a 2-inch-lift suspension system that uses Fox shocks. The 35-inch BFG KM2’s on 17-inch slotted mags also add a nice finishing touch. If you look close, you’ll see that there are functional rear passenger doors as well as backseats. We’re thinking it would be easier to make the case to build this over a Jeep pickup. Yes. We can’t believe we said that either.
Cherokee Canyon Trail
The small or mid-sized SUV market is big business and the Cherokee is steadily gathering market share. Again, it’s another “shared” Fiat/Dodge/Jeep platform, but at least it has real chops. A selectable rear locker, Jeep Performance Parts (AKA JPP) rock rails, full underbelly skidpates, and BFG All-Terrain tires give it real points on the trail. The color and theme is similar to that of the Renegade.
Here too you will find a map stuck to the hood, but this time its Moab’s famous Hell’s Revenge. This concept was equipped with the 2.4L Tigershark, which we would have gladly exchanged for the more powerful V-6. At the end of the day, it’s still more capable than anything in its class and feels less hippy-ish than a Subaru.
Grand Cherokee Overlander
We think Jeep must have caught wind of Technical Editor Ali Mansour’s Ali-Lander and wanted to show up with a more refined example of an Overland vehicle. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a diesel Grand concept, but it is the first one fit with the optional air suspension system. The 3.0L EcoDiesel engine purrs and pumps out plenty of power. Mated to the eight-speed transmission, it had plenty of control in the dirt.
The basic concept behind overlanding is camping and off-road exploration. This Grand hits the mark on that front and beyond. It’s de-blinged, which means no more chrome. A two-person hard-shell rooftop tent keeps space for gear inside open and rock rails and skidplates mean it’s more than a standard mall crawler. Much of what you see here is somewhat replicable, but the initial cost of a diesel Grand isn’t going to be cheap. Overall, it was a clean example of what we expect to see people eventually doing with the WK2 platform.
Wrangler Red Rock Responder
Do you remember the Discount Tire RESQ1 rig we built a couple years ago? Apparently, Jeep does! The Red Rock Responder started off as a Wrangler Unlimited with the 3.6L V-6 and automatic transmission. Since this concept is part of the Jeep Performance Parts side of the business its drowning in JPP wares. These parts include a JPP 4-inch suspension lift, Wrangler Rubicon 10th Anniversary bumpers, 8-lug, full-float Dana 60 axles, and high-top fenders which are now in production.
The side cargo boxes are filled with recovery gear, tools, and an assortment of off-road accessories. There are also dual air compressors and additional space for storage. Sitting atop 37s and stretched beyond the normal confines of a JK Unlimited, the Red Rock Responder is a heck of Jeep. Off all the concepts, we’re surprised this one didn’t get an engine transplant. It’s a great concept but not quite the Jeep pickup that we were hoping for.
Jeep understands and is especially proud of its military roots. Many modern Jeeps are adorned with cues referencing the 1941 brand’s beginning. The Staff Car is another high-salute to its past. As you probably guessed, it’s based off of the Wrangler Unlimited platform. It’s built with simplicity and functionality in mind. What’s missing from the Jeep is what sets it apart. Ditching the doors and the stock B-pillar, made climbing in and out of the front and rear bench seats a breeze. The minimalist approach and military cues is also echoed with the stretched canvas roof and functional accessories.
Fox shocks, along with a 2-inch lift, also found their way under the Jeep. The same 3.6L engine and six-speed manual transmission are also part of the pack, but the main difference for this JK-based concept is at the wheel ends, with 35-inch Firestone NDT military tires and 16-inch steel wheels. It might not point to any future offerings, but it definitely shows that the brand understands its heritage.
There is plenty more Moab coverage and videos on Four Wheeler Network presented by Dynatrac and these sponsors. Just point your browser towards fourwheeler.com/ moab-experience.