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Jeep Concepts Hit the Dirt at Moab EJS 2015: Our Staff Weighs In

Posted in Moab Experience: 2015 on March 31, 2015
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The 49th annual Easter Jeep Safari in Moab, Utah has just kicked off and just as in years past, we’re starting it off right by checking out this year’s edition of the Jeep concept vehicles in their natural environment, the slick rock trails of Moab! Last year Jeep and Mopar had a pretty decent showing but nothing quite as exciting as a few years ago when they had the Nukizer and Mighty FC concepts. This year, they’ve pulled out all the stops and showed up with 7 wild concepts that should get any Jeep enthusiast excited and lusting after these vehicles.

While most concept vehicles are built to look pretty, Jeep believes they should also perform on the trail and be able to conquer seemingly treacherous obstacles. Luckily, we are the lucky few that get to put them to the test out in the slick rock trails of Moab. So what do our panel of seasoned wheelers think of these awesome new rigs?

Check out what they had to say for themselves!

Jeep Chief

Ali Mansour:
I want it. Ultimately, it’s still just a four-door Wrangler underneath, but that’s fine, I like those too! The classic cues combined with modern touches are all on point. It will take you a few minutes to notice, but the rear doors are actually functional and there is a second row of seats. Inside, it’s just as sharp. From the wood-slat headliner to the white leather seats, there is so much Miami Vice throwback goodness on this rig that it makes me want to grow a mustache and wear more Hawaiian t-shirts.

Christian Hazel:
When I first saw this vehicle I called up the brainchild of these vehicles, Mark Allen, and with uncharacteristic seriousness doled praise and adulation upon his shoulders. I mean, lots of auto designers can barf out renderings and hypothesis, but to actually make something like this in the flesh and have it so perfectly pay homage to the past while seamlessly blending the present is the mark of a true artist (pun intended – see, Mark Allen, mark of an artist…eh…nevermind). When I first opened up the photos of the Chief I heard my wife say from over my shoulder, “we’re buying one of those.” I hated to break it to her, but at least for now, that’ll have to wait. Unless…..hey Jeep, wanna sell a whole lot more vehicles? Build the Chief as well. How much do I love it? Look for a full feature coming soon here at Four Wheeler.

Fred Williams:
The crowd pleaser is the outrageously cool surf wagon known as the Chief.  This 4-door JK based concept is what most of the local Jeepers are talking about as it looks like a Cherokee Chief, and yet you can tell it’s a modern rendition.  The bright white interior, wooden slat headliner, and well done surf theme throughout may actually make you want to ditch Moab and go find some surf.

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Jeep Staff Car

Ali Mansour:
This Jeep pays homage to the military Jeeps that came before it. Deleting the JK’s original B-pillar opens this up for easy of entry and a vintage look. Visibility is great, the concept well thought-out and plenty of fun to drive. It’s everything you’d want in a Wrangler. Less is more!

Christian Hazel:
The Staff Car is the one that is nearest and dearest to my heart. Why? Because when I was still editor of Jp, Verne Simons and I were going to do almost that exact same thing to a four-door JK. The only difference was we were going to cut the grille out and hang desert gear over it like a British SAS (Rat Patrol) jeep. It’s just a fun vehicle to drive, from the NDT tires on steel wheels, low-back seats, and military-theme top that’s actually the same material and construction as a factory top. It’s just a different color. And everywhere you look you’ll find little Easter Eggs, like the cooler disguised as a military crate, real hemp rope, and “spray and pray” fog-everything paintjob.

Fred Williams:
The Wrangler Staff Car was pretty enticing to me as I’ve long drooled over the idea of a Power Wagon Command Car, and this JK based concept fits that mold perfect.  The wide open side doors, the bench seat, the perfectly silhouetted canvas soft top, it all fits so perfectly to the image and make this an army Jeep unlike any we’ve seen since the Sarge.

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Jeep Wrangler Africa

Ali Mansour:
Adding 12 inches to the rear might not sound like a good time, but it’s one of the things that let Africa stand out from the pack. The additional interior room would be ideal for those long trips away from home. Does the top come off, nope, but you are getting more headroom and likely less potential for wind noise and leaks. It is fitted with the 2.8L, which we can’t get here in the US. Does this mean a diesel Wrangler is part of the future and the removable top a thing of the past?

Christian Hazel:
Jeep honestly needs to build this one. The Africa concept began with an overseas JK Wrangler, which allows for the insanely desirable 2.8L diesel drivetrain. We wouldn’t likely see that option here in the US, but even still, Africa definitely doesn’t feel like just another tarted up JK. The two most obvious changes are the additional 12 inches of rear overhang, non-removable top with extra height, a swing-out barn door, and an undermounted spare tire give this vehicle a vibe completely different than anything Jeep has offered before. I think adding an extra 4 inches to the rear and offering a removable third row seat (a factory two-door JK rear seat would work bitchin’) opens up a world of solid-axle, off-road-capable options to a wealth of potential buyers. Just keep the plain steel wheels if it ever goes into production…please!

Fred Williams:
The Wrangler Africa and Grand Cherokee Overlander were the two jeeps I really wanted to take home.  One is a smooth, fast, luxury SUV in a color I would paint any jeep (the Grand).  The other is an overlanders dream machine with extra-long body and plenty of room for family and gear.  I would be hard pressed to pick just one, because both fit perfectly for a Jeep that you could drive to Moab comfortably, explore the area and camp out of (the grand’s roof top tent may be a little easier to sleep in than the long rear of the Africa, and still get home with good mileage as both are running a diesel engine.

Though it wasn’t on the official list the Jeep T1 Egyptian military jeep that they brought along as a support truck may have stolen the show.  This is a diesel powered 114-inch TJ style jeep and with no roll cage, manual transmission and a folded down windshield this was the surprise of the event.  Everyone that got behind the wheel wanted that little jeep.  It’s an oddball that was found mothballed at Chrysler headquarters and literally everyone was raving about it.  It was so simple, rugged, tough, and fun to drive that it epitomized what makes Jeeps so great.

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Jeep Grand Cherokee Overlander

Ali Mansour:
This is by far the most practical of the bunch. A functional hidden winch, great color, and mild lift are all in balance. With the 3.0L EcoDiesel under the hood, you have plenty of power and additional air suspension settings offer more lift when you need it. Overlanding is what’s trending and I applaud Jeep for going out of the box with the Grand Cherokee on this one as opposed to another Wrangler concept.

Christian Hazel:
My esteemed counterpart at 4-Wheel & Off-Road, Fred Williams, and I were standing around talking. If we could only take one of these home and use it as an everyday vehicle, which one would it be? For both of us, the choice came down to the Grand Cherokee Overlander or the Africa. And I honestly still don’t know which I’d rather have. On the one hand, Africa has solid axles, will be easy to lift, and has room for my family of five and all their gear. On the other hand, the Grand Cherokee Overland has all that, plus an easy-open rooftop tent, an economical 3.0L diesel drivetrain, and one of the coolest green paintjobs I’ve seen to date. Hmmmm. Maybe I’ll take both and can give one back after about a year to decide.

Fred Williams:
I have a soft spot for off-road rigs with rooftop tents so it's probably not a surprise to you that I think the Jeep Grand Cherokee Overlander concept would make for a fun little backwoods exploration rig that you can actually camp out of and the little 3.0-liter EcoDiesel will sip on fuel the whole time which will allow you to head out off the beaten path for extended periods of time.

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Jeep Renegade Desert Hawk

Ali Mansour:
It’s a necessary evil. If you want to keep buying solid-axle off-road ready Wranglers, you need to accept the fact that the Renegade is now part of the Jeep family. The Desert Hawk is a great-looking concept, but it’s no Cherokee. Look, if you need a good commuter and four-wheel drive for light off-road travel, the Renegade is worth taking out for a test drive.

Christian Hazel:
Renegades are actually fun little cars. I’d love to say I hate to admit that fact, but in truth I think Renegade is a very, very smart move for Jeep. I expect them to sell extremely well not only here in the US, but world-wide. That drives funds into the company for more infrastructure to build more Wranglers and Grand Cherokees. All that said, I’m not a huge fan of the automatic-equipped vehicles. After driving a base-model with the turbocharged engine and manual transmission around last year, the 2.0L Tigershark and auto drivetrain just feel ponderous. And since you can only get the Trailhawk version with the auto…well. I like the Renegade, but this particular one just isn’t my taste.

Fred Williams:
The Jeep renegade is fresh to the market and the perfect bait to bring new buyers to the Jeep brand.  The Renegade Desert Hawk concept is a cute-ute wheeler that is more fun than you might imagine.  These boxy little suv’s are fun to bounce around in and though they are not a Rubicon Wrangler with infamous ability, they are a great first Jeep for someone who is interested in the adventure lifestyle and fun.

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Jeep Cherokee Canyon Trail

Ali Mansour:
I like the Cherokee. It’s really grown on me. The fact that Mopar is expanding a performance aftermarket for the small SUV is great. I still can’t see flocks of Cherokees hitting hardcore trails anytime soon, but it has proved that it is a worthy trail rig in many scenarios. Love it or hate it, there isn’t anything else in its class that can come close to its performance off-road.

Christian Hazel:
The Cherokee is quite possibly the most hated Jeep since the Wrangler YJ Renegade but the fact of the matter is that Jeep has really done a great job of building a vehicle for outdoor enthusiasts that don't really need to crawl over huge obstacles over treacherous terrain. The Cherokee Canyon Trail Concept was actually quite impressive and can do a lot more than most people give it credit for. While I don't see myself lining up anytime soon to purchase a Cherokee, it's cool to see what the guys at Jeep can do to make an impressive off-roader a lot more competent on the trail.

Fred Williams:
The Cherokee Canyon Trail is the vehicle Jeep needs to win back Moab from Subaru.  With a rack of bikes on the top and more off road capability than any Subbie, I’m not sure why Jeep hasn’t taken over the little import wagon’s market share, but I’m think there are may be new to Jeep buyers coming from the other bike toting brands when they see this concept.

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Jeep Wrangler Red Rock Responder

Ali Mansour:
The Red Rock Responder was a definitely a great idea that we had first! (Rescue 1 anyone?) Ok, ok, the concept is very cool in its own right. The proportions are great and the overall concept appears cleanly executed. The storage boxes and open bed make it an excellent candidate for real world use. The full-float Dana 60 axles were a logical choice as the rig is clearly designed to be a workhorse. I don’t consider it a Jeep pickup, but it’s a great representation of what can be done.

Christian Hazel:
Hey, Mopar is trying, right? I mean, you don’t make fun of the heavy person on the treadmill. That’s kind of how I feel as I sit down to describe the Red Rock Responder. But if I HAVE to take off my politically correct hat (and I think I do) I think Mopar should’ve just called it RESQ2 and been done with it. I mean, we already built a service-bed JK designed to go out and rescue off-roaders in distress. Not familiar with it? Google RESQ1. I kind of fail to see how the Red Rock Responder carries out Mopar’s mission. I’d much rather see the group build a JK with its new 3.0L CRD conversion kit. Oh that’s right – they haven’t built one of those. Maybe next year. Please, Mopar…give us a diesel swap kit next year!

Fred Williams:
The Mopar Wrangler Red Responder reminded me of a modern day fireman’s truck with its bright red paint and open support bed with built in storage for tools and air compressor.  This is just the type of jeep you need at a back country operation where getting support to stranded vehicles or helping with off road emergencies is important.  I like the crew cab Jeep idea, and this jeep returns the tease of an eventual Jeep pickup offering.

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