Forget market clinics or polling -- the folks in charge of Jeep, along with Chrysler's Mopar performance accessories brand, think the best way to learn what their customers want is to actually off-road right along side them. For years, a small group of Chrysler employees have regularly brought concepts out to Moab, Utah, to do just that, and 2011 is no exception to that tradition.
The Easter Jeep Safari doesn't technically begin until April 16, but we were invited to take a quick peek at this year's Mopar-ized concepts before they're shipped out to the trails of Moab.
Jeep Compass Canyon
Yeah, the idea of bringing a car-based Jeep to an event founded by and for Jeep traditionalists seems a little crazy. That said, the revised 2011 Compass does finally receive an upgraded all-wheel-drive system and a Trail Rated status. Mark Allen, head of Jeep design and the Mopar Underground group, notes a Patriot equipped with the same driveline showed off-road abilities that surprised both employees and enthusiasts alike at last year's event.
To help convince skeptics of the Compass' abilities , Allen's team did little to the Compass Canyon. Apart from a few cosmetic tweaks (which echo those of the Grand Cherokee Off-Road concept, which debuted at last year's SEMA show), the Compass only receives a mild suspension lift, 27-inch tires, and rock rails.
Jeep Cherokee Overland
Contrary to the name, the Cherokee Overland isn't an homage to Jeep's Willys-Overland heritage, but a new twist on the stereotypical safari vehicle. Built off a European-spec Liberty (hence the Cherokee badging), the Overland receives a three-inch suspension lift, steel wheels, and an air-locking rear differential. While the matte white paint, turbo-diesel powertrain, and roof rack remind us of a Land Rover, although the zebra-stripe graphics are almost more Daktari than Defender 110.
Jeep Wrangler Pork Chop
Adding off-road equipment to a Wrangler quickly inflates its curb weight figure. Disgusted with that, Allen's team sought to "chop the pork" out of a two-door JK, resulting in the so-called Pork Chop. Doors, top, seats, and stock bumpers were all stripped from the vehicle, while a number of weight-saving measures (i.e. a carbon fiber hood, a two-pound aluminum front bumper, and lithe Sparco seating) helped strip 850 pounds from the V-6-powered sport ute. Aesthetically, the two-tone Pork Chop reminds us of the Bill Stroppe-prepped Broncos of the 1960s, thanks to both the cowl striping and the E/T five-spoke wheels wrapped in Mickey Thompson rubber.
Jeep Wrangler Renegade
Historians will recall the 1970 CJ-5 Renegade as one of the first CJs to be fitted with a V-8 engine. Fittingly, the highlight of this new Renegade concept is an eight-cylinder unit packed underhood. Mopar managed to squeeze a new 6.4-liter, 475-horsepower V-8 -- borrowed from the 2011 Challenger SRT8 -- underhood, and mate it with a six-speed manual transmission. Much as we'd love a Hemi-powered Wrangler to become a production offering (and we've heard executives were mulling the idea), we heard some whispers that such a vehicle would have a hard time passing crash testing. Pity.
Jeep Wrangler Blue Crush
This is arguably as much a Wrangler as Kasey Kane's NASCAR is a Charger. Inspired by the insane King of the Hammers off-road challenge, designers envisioned the Blue Crush as the ultimate high-speed off-road appliance. While the frame is roughly similar to a stock Wrangler Unlimited, everything else is bespoke. Fox bypass shocks, 39-inch wheels, and a gutted body are all part of the package, as is a wild 540-horsepower, 426-cubic-inch aluminum-block Hemi V-8.
Ram Runner TORC Pace Truck
Okay, so this isn't exactly a concept. Mopar announced a Ram pickup fitted with its Ram Runner off-road suspension package will serve as a pace truck for The Off-Road Challenge (TORC) series this year, and that very truck will make an appearance at Moab. Apart from a wild graphic wrap, an interior roll bar, and additional exterior lighting, the pace truck is identical to those customers can build on their own. The full Stage 2 package, which adds Baja-style suspension components with Fox Racing internal bypass dampers, bespoke upper and lower control arms, and flared fenders will run buyers roughly $19,000 on top of the cost of a Ram 1500.