We Get Handsy with the 2015 Easter Jeep Safari Concepts
Jeep Uses Moab Sandbox to Unveil New Toys
If you are most automotive companies, you look forward to auto shows season to tease your latest designs and foreshadow upcoming models. However, if you’re Jeep, you prefer the red rock trails and sandstone towers of Moab, Utah, to the revolving turntables and bright lights of the auto show circuit.
For the past 49 years, the Red Rock 4-Wheelers, a small Moab-based wheeling club, has held an event that has gradually become the weeklong epicenter of the off-roading world. Known as Easter Jeep Safari, it has become a tailor-made event for not only Jeep enthusiasts but also for the Jeep brand. Using it for consumer outreach, market research, and R&D, Easter Jeep Safari offers a perfect mix of everything Jeep could want in order to interact with its customer base. And unlike the stuffy confines of a crowded convention center floor, Easter Jeep Safari is where you can see the Jeep design team driving one of their latest conceptual creations down Moab’s main drag, find the engineering team out on the trail, or product planners about town quizzing loyal customers for input on how to shape the brand without losing Jeep’s heritage and soul.
For 2015, Jeep brought out seven unique vehicles to Easter Jeep Safari, showcasing the company’s design ideas and engineering capabilities, even allowing us time to drive them on the trail and get better acquainted with each rig.
Jeep ChiefOne of our favorites, the Jeep Chief, was the most fun of the group. Essentially a giant Hot Wheels toy for adults, the Chief draws inspiration from the original Cherokee and ’70s surf culture. Based on a modern-day Wrangler Unlimited JK chassis, the Chief has been chopped 2 inches and updated with the classic exterior styling elements such as the razor grille, retro Ocean Blue paint, 17-inch slotted mags, and chrome bumpers. However, some modern-day liberties were taken by retaining the rear doors for easier rear seat access, power windows and locks, and the Wrangler’s 8.4-inch Uconnect system. Inside, the “Surf Rated” Jeep, white leather seats with a cloth floral pattern hint at Hawaii, while a real rose-wood roof and cargo floor accents keep the theme alive, as do genuine tiki shifter knobs for the six-speed manual transmission and transfer case. A Jeep Performance Parts 2-inch lift and 37-inch tires smoothed out the trail, while still allowing the dash-mounted hula girl to dance over bumps.
Takeaway: Gratuitous fun
Jeep Staff CarJeep wouldn’t be Jeep without a nod to the brand’s military heritage and the Staff Car is just that. While the goal was to make the Staff Car look old and authentic, it is actually based on a modern-day Wrangler Unlimited JK and dressed up to resemble vintage militaria. Adding to the military vibe is a Sandstorm paint scheme that covers everything from the axles and wheels to the body and engine. The B-pillar-and-door-less Staff Car uses minimalist flares, 16-inch steel wheels, and Firestone NDT tires, along with military-style lighting and bumpers from the military J8. The “hungry horse” stretched canvas roof and low-back bench seats replace the modern top and buckets on today’s consumer Wrangler. Suspension duties are now handled by a Jeep Performance Parts 2-inch lift with Fox shocks, keeping the Dana 44 axles controlled. There is even a cooler in the cargo areas, dressed up as a wooden artillery box.
Takeaway: Acknowledging Jeep’s military roots
Jeep Wrangler AfricaAimed at the overlanding and safari crowd, the Jeep Wrangler Africa builds on the 2.8L diesel-powered export market Jeep Wrangler Unlimited’s stout foundation and adds room for extra gear and fuel. From the right angle, the Africa could be mistaken for a classic Land Cruiser, with the fixed roof sporting some stylistic elements that give a nod back to what you remember those vehicles prowling the sub-Saharan to look like. Interestingly enough, the designers extended the rear overhang to stick out just as far as the spare tire on a stock Wrangler, so the whole thing fits in the same box as a Wrangler Unlimited. Even with the overhang, the Africa has the right proportions, and we wonder if they may be using the Africa to test how far they could go with a pickup box overhang while still keeping it a Jeep.
The Desert Tan paint and white high-top roof create a sense that the Africa is right at home in the desert. Like many of the other concepts, the Jeep sports Jeep Performance Parts Dana 44 axles, 2-inch lift. The 17-inch body-colored steel wheels wear 35-inch BFGoodrich Mud-Terrain tires. Rounding out the modifications are high-clearance steel bumpers, front-mounted winch, power step rock rails, and a power dome vented hood.
Takeaway: Foreshadows a diesel Wrangler and a pickup
Jeep Grand Cherokee OverlanderThe Grand Cherokee Overland concept looks like your basic EcoDiesel-powered Grand on the surface, with a few styling and functional tweaks to appeal to the Overlanding crowd. A Sage Green exterior, SRT-style hood and taillamps, roof-mounted auxiliary lighting, a one-off front fascia with and integrated winch and lighting, and a rooftop tent lends a look of upscale capability. Rock rails and skidplates offer up added protection from trail debris. The most notable feature of the Overlander is the use of the Grand’s air suspension for increased ground and tire clearance. Much like Ram’s new Rebel, the default position for the Grand’s ride height is now higher than stock, making room for larger BFGoodrich All-Terrain tires mounted on 18-inch wheels.
Takeaway: Could a more trail-worthy Grand Trailhawk be back in the cards?
Jeep Renegade Desert HawkExploring what direction a modified Renegade might go, the Desert Hawk has been outfitted for fun and adventure. The Desert Tan exterior paint job is complimented by a Jeep Performance Parts topographical decal of the famous Fins and Things Moab trail. Rock rails and a beefier skidplate kit better protect the body of the Desert Hawk, while a trailer hitch receiver and roof rack are compatible with all sorts of adventure gear. Inside the Desert Hawk are Katzkin seat covers, body-colored accents, and Mopar all-weather floormats. Takeaway: The entry-level Renegade doesn’t have to mean entry-level fun
Jeep Cherokee Canyon TrailThink of the Cherokee Canyon Trail as an off-road package (beyond Trailhawk) for the more serous Cherokee enthusiast. In addition to 1.5-inches of increased ride height, the Canyon Trail gets Jeep Performance Parts rock rails and a complete skidplate system that covers the fuel tank, underbody, oil pan, and front suspension. The Desert Tan exterior is accented by a topographical hood decal of Moab’s infamous Hell’s Revenge trail, while the inside gets upgraded with Katzkin leather seat covers, body colored accents, Jeep Cargo Management System, and all-weather floor mats.
Takeaway: A more capable Cherokee Trailhawk
Jeep Wrangler Red Rock ResponderIntended to be a go-anywhere rescue platform, the Red Rock Responder is a Wrangler-based support vehicle equipped with spare parts, tools, and recovery gear. The specially built cargo box uses built-in drawers and compartments to store everything needed to rescue a vehicle on the trail. Covered in Vibrance Red paint with accented 17-inch beadlock wheels, the Red Rock Responder is hard to miss. A slew of LED lighting ensures the responder can work day or night. The 37-inch BFGoodrich Mud-Terrain T/A KM2 tires, a 4-inch Jeep Performance Parts lift, Dana 60 axles, and rock rails make the Responder capable enough to go anywhere. Production JPP high-top fenders allow for extra articulation, while retaining a stock look and the Wrangler Rubicon 10th Anniversary Edition hood and bumpers add a dose of functional style.
Takeaway: Pushing the limits of the Wrangler platform
So there you have it. Jeep's got us salivating for more off-road fun from its current models, and we can't wait to see what they'll cook up for us at next year's safari. Till then, we'll just keep dreaming about the retro-rugged and capable modern metal we got to play with this week.