We have a lot of contacts inside Jeep and hear a lot of different rumors from week to week. The problem is that most of it doesn't amount to much more than water cooler chat overheard and passed along. Many of the rumors fall into the "too good or too far-fetched to be true" categories and we just dismiss them out of hand. The ones that don't fit either of those categories and come from a trusted source you will often see pop up as blurbs in our Dispatch section. Every once in a while we get something from multiple sources that point to something changing. Take the Pentastar engine for 2012, for example. We first heard and printed that one two years ago. Or the new interior for 2011-we'd heard about that one a while ago too, but frankly, we didn't think it would amount to much until we saw the pictures.
Well, here is another one we are hearing from many sources: Jeep will actually come out with a Panda-based 4WD here in the states for 2013.
The name is still being kept under wraps (if in fact anyone knows what it is), but what we do know is that it will be smaller than the Wrangler. For comparison, the current Panda has a 90-inch wheelbase, is 62 inches wide, and 139 inches overall length-so it would be comparable to a CJ-5 in size.
Jeep knows that the American buying public wants big engines. Unfortunately, "big" to us, and "big" for most European companies are two different things. For example, the two biggest engines available are a 1.4L, 99hp, 16-valve inline-four and a 1.3L diesel producing 103hp and 123lb-ft (although we aren't holding our breath for the diesel in North America). These numbers sounded pretty paltry to us until we realized that the thing only weighs 1,900 pounds, which puts the power-to-weight ratio right around the current Wrangler. For comparison, the CJ-2A weighed in at 2,137 pounds and was pushed along by a 60hp engine. Both engines are backed by a six-speed manual transmission.
So now you are sitting there with us re-hashing what you've already heard us yapping about. The news is here: what we hear is there are going to be some pretty comprehensive cosmetic changes. While our insiders refused to send us the pictures, they all sang some version of the same tune. It will have bigger wheelwells, Rubicon-like rims, the seven-slat grille, and it will be open-topped. None of our contacts have seen even renderings with a top on it. Could we really be getting a Jeep where a top is an option again?
We went scouring the web and came up with an open-top Fiat concept from a few years ago and we figured that must be similar to what we were talking about, but when we put it to our sources they all clammed up. They are trying to get this new Jeep to our market for 2013, if they can get the engine packages past CAFE and EPA. We worked with our crack renderer Michael Gagosian to come up with what we think this new Jeep will look like when it finally gets here.
Our opinion? Well, leave it to Jeep to take a good idea (smaller open top Jeep true to the brand heritage) and bastardize it (independent suspension, no real tire size availability, no likely locker or gearing options) to make yet another eunuch of a vehicle. The company took Babe Ruth, put him up to bat, and then the bean counters forced him to bunt. Who wants to see that? We still like the idea, but it will probably take a company with less bean counter oversight to pull it off. Oh well, we still have our Jeeps from when Jeeps were Jeeps, men were men, and sheep were scared. We'll just make them go another 50 years.