They humbly refer to themselves as dumpster-divers, the lunatic fringe within Jeep that develops concept vehicles, often made out of what's tossed into corporate trash bins. That these employees also are enthusiasts and owners is a big contributor to Jeep's success. If Chrysler ever decides to make this fringe group's work a part of an official division of Jeep, these guys have already come up with an unofficial name: Off-Road Technology.
Every year, Jeeps and assorted 4WDs of all flavors and hues descend on Moab for the Easter Jeep Safari. The trail rides create a rainbow of color and plumes of dust that can be seen from commercial aircraft five miles above. With that many enthusiasts in one location, it's a favorite place for Jeep engineers to work--trail-riding is R&D--and is also a great venue for marketers to see what flies and what doesn't. And they bring cool stuff, too. When was the last time you saw a fire-engine-red Forward Control 170 off-road?
Grand Cherokee CRD
The limo in this group was a Grand Cherokee diesel concept called Blaque--perhaps something got lost in translation as the Grand Cherokee's signal repeaters and kilometer-biased speedometer betrayed this Jeep's European heritage.
Yet it really wasn't a concept. This CRD was stock except for a Superlift system, stout 33-inch (LT285/75R17D) BFG Mud-Terrains, AEV rock rails, and a custom front skidplate; the suspension was noted as a four-inch lift, although it looked more like 2.5 to three inches in front and four in back.
With the factory drive system, Blaque made it through all of Lockhart Basin without scratching paint or peeling any plastic other than a front fender liner that came loose. Getting through was more work than in a Wrangler because of visibility issues, requiring more patience at approach and departure, and a sensitive electronic throttle that didn't like being depressed simultaneously with the brake pedal (to keep from falling backward against the loose converter).
On the faster sections it was the place to be, as the combination of lightest wheel/tire package plus plenty of wheelbase proved softest. It was also the quickest since the turbocharged diesel didn't care if we were a mile above sea level, and it had more than sufficient torque to scoot around buggies plodding along at 40 mph. And you couldn't even hear the diesel engine.
Once clear of the obstacles, we spent seat time in a stock production CRD (approximately $2000 over the price of a 5.7-liter). Since the gauge barely moves off F for the first 100 miles, finding fuel shouldn't be an issue. Noise or cold-start waits aren't a problem, either; in 49-degree weather we had no start wait, and hot air came from the vents in three minutes. For the undulating twisting highways around lower Utah and Colorado, this is the engine of choice. It has enough torque that it won't downshift until you mash the pedal, seamless gear changes, and no hint inside other than the 4500-rpm redline. We posted 20 mpg doing that first 100 miles in about 82 minutes at constantly varying speeds; on trail rides we'd anticipate using no more than a half gallon an hour. Like other Grand Cherokees, the CRD is Trail Rated.