Jeep has a fiercely loyal following, and nowhere is this more apparent than at Easter Jeep Safari week in Moab, Utah. Packing the streets, the trails, the hotel parking lots and everywhere in between during the week of EJS are CJ-5s, 7s, TJ and YJ Wranglers, four-four JK Unlimiteds fitted with 32-inch tires up to 40s, and you’ll even see the occasional Comanche, Willys or Grand Wagoneer around town.
Chances are you’ll likely cross paths with a Jeep that really grabs your attention during EJS. Jeep has only fueled this fire in recent years, because for quite a few years now the company has indulged in off-road fantasy by producing unique and very cool concept vehicles. These concepts certainly indulge to the extreme the idea of Jeep customization, but they also provide a blank canvas for Jeep’s design team to explore far-out concepts, flesh-out potential production designs or even just bench-test upgrades to current-generation vehicles. What’s most amazing about these concept vehicles is that Jeep does something that’s almost unheard of in the auto industry – they actually let us drive them.
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So after a day on the trail with these cool new vehicles, we’re happy to report that Jeep didn’t disappoint in 2015. Head of Jeep Design Mark Allen and his team really went for it. There are seven vehicles that Jeep and Mopar brought out to Moab, but there were specific four models that Allen and crew focused mostly on and that we’ll take a closer look at here. Don’t worry, the three other cool Jeeps that highlight Mopar’s Jeep Performance Parts will be explored in another story soon.
Jeep always knows how to play up to their audience, and this year’s concepts not only explore some ideas that Jeepers have been asking for, but it’s clear that a few of these vehicles are showcasing potential designs we could see in the future. So without further ado, let’s take a closer look at these cool concepts.
We’ve seen quite a few Jeep concepts built on the four-door JK platform over the years, but the Jeep Chief certainly holds its own as one of the coolest ideas we’ve seen to date. In spite of its sharp-lined front end, the Chief features a laid-back West Coast, surf-inspired theme that pays homage to the 1970s full-size Jeep Cherokee. As we mentioned the Chief is built on a four-door JK platform, and all four doors do work in spite of the rear not having exterior handles. The chrome “razor” grille features 20 slots (not 7!) and the hood and front end have a similar design to the Nukizer and J-12 concepts (https://www.off-road.com/trucks-4×4/review/chrysler-unveils-moparized-jeep-and-ram-vehicles-at-moab-easter-jeep-safari-52087.html) from a few years back. The doors and windows are chopped 2 inches to give it the Chief a shorter roofline, but the Wrangler also features real-world parts like Jeep Performance Parts’ 2-inch lift with Fox shocks, Rubicon rock rails and Dana 44s with lockers. The Chief also features the JK’s current 3.6-liter Pentastar V6, which is mated to a six-speed manual transmission.
“Chief, really obviously an homage to the ‘70s two-door full-size Cherokee, and it was kind of a dare up front,” Allen said. “We’ve done a couple vehicles, like the Nukizer and J-12 truck, where we grafted on the full-size look front end onto a Wrangler. Wrangler has grown big enough in size and I think we hit a sweet spot where that kind of works. The response to those first two vehicles was so great this was the natural progression: Let’s go on and do the full Cherokee.”
Although the outside may have an edgier look, inside, Allen notes the interior is whimsical and fun. A hula girl sits dead center on dash, dancing as the Chief rolls over bumps on the trail. The shifter features a tiki statue knob as well. The seats feature a hibiscus flour print reminiscent of Hawaiian shirts, and the doors and dash feature surf-inspired graphics and logos throughout. If that weren’t enough, Rosewood is featured on the passenger grab handle and on the ceiling and rear storage area.
The Chief is clearly in charge on the trails, as its 17-inch slotted mag wheels are fitted with aggressive 37-inch BFGoodrich KM2s. The manual transmission makes it a fun vehicle to drive on the trails. In spite of its easy going Ocean Blue and white paintjob, the Chief is all business on the Moab slickrock, making it one of our favorite concept vehicles in some time.