AUBURN HILLS, MICHIGAN—For forty-eight years, the Jeep faithful have flocked to the challenging trails of Utah for the Moab Easter Jeep Safari, an annual celebration of the rugged brand and a chance for enthusiasts to push their customized rigs to the limit.
Realizing that the event is an excellent opportunity to connect with its customers -- and a solid-gold marketing opportunity -- Chrysler got involved twelve years ago. Now, in addition to the scores of zany YJs and TJs with their cut fenders, winches, and jacked-up wheels, Moab is home to a batch of the newest Jeeps customized with the latest Mopar gear from Detroit. This year, the theme is practical use -- relatively speaking -- and the six vehicles Jeep will debut next week are rolling showcases of the Mopar accessory catalog. This is a calculated move away from some of the over-the-top concepts (think Hemi-powered Wranglers) of previous years and is instead a bid to sell more Mopar parts.
“We've intentionally put our focus on pieces and parts that the customer can really use,” says Mark Trostle, who heads Mopar, SRT, and motorsports design for Chrysler.
The result is a half dozen Jeeps that range from mild to wild, none of which look completely out of place on the roads around Chrysler's headquarters, where we previewed them on a blustery spring morning. There are three Wranglers, which cater to the traditional off-roading base, but there are also two tricked-out Cherokees and a beefed-up Jeep Grand Cherokee. Further acknowledging the evolution of the brand, a 2015 Jeep Renegade (which premiered at the Geneva motor show) is expected to show up, too, though it's not officially part of the program. With that in mind, here’s the lineup for the Easter Safari.
Jeep Wrangler Level Red
This Jeep wears a sporty black and red paint scheme that would look at home on a Dodge Challenger. The Wrangler gets a two-inch lift-kit, Dana 44 crate axles with a 4:10 ratio, upgraded transfer case, Katzkin leather seats, and a Mopar half-door kit. The things Jeep wants you to notice include a cargo management system on the rear swing gate (where you could mount a first aid kit and a tow strap bag) and a tire carrier. It also wears five badges marking the main trails of Moab. This is part of a program for owners to earn badges when they complete any of the nearly forty Jeep-approved trails in the United States. Trostle calls the Level Red Wrangler “the what I could do in my garage easily” concept.
Jeep Wrangler Mojo
The Mojo has a two-inch-lift kit, although the fenders are raised three inches to allow for greater tire articulation. The flat-top fenders are test pieces, and the idea is to offer enthusiasts -- who often resort to crude surgical tactics on the bodies of their Jeeps -- a cleaner way to add wheel clearance. The OJ in the name stands for “Orange Jeep,” in a nod to its citrus coloring. The Mojo gets the Level Red's off-roading gear, locking rear cargo area for storing valuables, and hood graphics.
Jeep Wrangler Maximum Performance
This handsome blue Wrangler has a so-called “stinger” front bumper, which helps to prevent rollovers, electric-locking Dana 60 axles, and a 4:1 transfer case. As the name indicates, the Maximum Performance Wrangler is designed to do anything off-road thanks to a prototype four-inch lift kit. Jeep added cosmetic extras to help you look good on the trail (and see better at night) including a prototype LED light bar, LED headlights, and a flat-top fender kit.
Jeep Cherokee Adventurer
The Adventurer gets a Mopar roof basket that was displayed at the SEMA show in Las Vegas last year, although it's been updated and likely will soon be added to the catalog. Based on the Trailhawk variant, the Adventurer makes do with mostly factory off-road capability. It's the most subdued Jeep being sent to Moab, and its tan color allows it to blend in seamlessly with its surroundings. “The color is something we think is going to look really cool in the elements,” Trostle says.
Jeep Cherokee Dakar
The more sinister of the two Cherokees wears a gray paint scheme punctuated with red body graphics and a black hood graphic. Jeep designers did a lot of bodywork on the Dakar, which gets prototype wide fenders with larger wheel openings for the thirty-three-inch tires and a rear fascia that allows for a more extreme rock-crawling angles.
Jeep Grand Cherokee EcoDiesel Trail Warrior
Jeep's most luxurious SUV gets a snazzy paint job called Mojave Sand set off with matte back wheels and trim. The paint is a blend of gray, tan, and silver -- seemingly innocuous colors -- that make the Grand Cherokee look like a stone you would find in the sand. As Trostle puts it, “The nice thing is when it gets dirty and dusty out at Moab, it doesn't look dirty and dusty out at Moab.” Not insignificantly, this Grand Cherokee shows off the capability of the turbodiesel engine—which cranks out 420 lb-ft of torque—to potential buyers in the off-road elements.