There’s no question Jeep is the one thing keeping Fiat Chrysler Automobile (AKA Stellantis) afloat now. Okay, Ram is doing its share, too. But with Jeep accounting for almost half of FCA’s sales last year, and with a quarter of the division’s total sales, or 228,032 last year, being Wranglers, the sturdy 4×4 is carrying more than its share of the market.
The foundation of Jeep is definitely the Wrangler. That’s the model that traces its roots directly back to the WWII “General Purpose ¼ Ton” of 1941. Who knew there were a dozen different models of Wrangler right now? And that’s just Wrangler. Add the Wrangler 4xe coming in 2021 and you have 13, a baker’s dozen. There could be more afoot.
In addition to class-leading off-roadability, diversity is what Wrangler offers. Starting with the entry level “Sport” model at $33,545, you have: Sport S, Sahara, Rubicon, Willys, Black and Tan, Freedom, High Altitude, Sport Altitude, Sahara Altitude, North Edition, and Rubicon Recon.
If you add Gladiator, which is partly if not mostly Wrangler, there are seven more models or trim levels of that. Then toss in some cool Wrangler/Gladiator concepts floating around the show circuit now – the V8 Hemi-powered “392 Concept” and the overlanding “Far Out Concept” – and it looks like maximum Jeep overload.
As if you could ever have too many Jeeps.
At a recent Jeep Day in the local Malibu Hills I got to try out a couple of cool new Jeeps that could potentially increase the Jeep sales menu significantly: I got to take short drives in the 392 Concept – which isn’t a thing yet – and the Diesel Gladiator – which is – and I am bullish on the future of this division.
First thing I got into was the Wrangler Rubicon 392 Concept.
“Stuffed under the hood of this bad boy is a 6.4-liter 392-cubic-inch Hemi V8,” crowed Jeep Gladiator Brand Manager Brandon Girmus.
The bad boy V8 concept not only makes 450 hp and 450 lb ft of torque but gets from 0-60 in less than five seconds, Jeep says. It seems like about the most natural next step in the world for Jeep to make this, especially considering that AEV and other aftermarket upfitters have been stuffing V8s under the hoods of bad boy Jeeps for years. A lot of individual buyers even broke with tradition and swapped in LS3s.
“There was a lot of discussion in online forums about whether a V8 would even fit under the hood,” Girmus said. “This shows that it does.”
And since it’s a concept, it gets metal concept half-doors, too. The concept is also loaded with features you can get right now from the factory. Jeep says it has Dana 44 axles, a full-time two-speed transfer case, electric front and rear axle lockers, 37-inch mud-terrain tires and the Jeep Performance Parts two-inch lift kit, which allows those 37-inch tires to fit. The eight-speed automatic was beefed up to accommodate the 450 lb ft of torque, too.
I got to drive it a couple miles along Mulholland Drive in Malibu, following Jeep legend Rick Pewe.
“I’ll give you a little room so you can open it up,” he said.
And he did. As soon as we pulled out onto Mulholland, after giving him a little space, I opened it up. Dang, it still had the traction control on. Once I fumbled through turning that off, I tried another blast. Wait, where’s the 450 horsepower? Apparently, since this is a concept and they want to keep it in one piece, the stability control engages at more than 40 mph and restricts power input unless the steering wheel is pointed perfectly straight ahead. Mulholland is not perfectly straight. So the whole point of the drive, to feel the massive thrill of all that power and torque, has been postponed until they figure out the suspension. It does have that two-inch lift, meaty tires and solid axles front and rear. Better to limit the experience and keep the car upright.
Jeep assures us that the 392 Concept is “the ultimate fun-to-drive Jeep vehicle with more off-road capability than ever in a Jeep Wrangler.” Well, it will be once they figure out how to have that much power and torque matched with a suspension that can still safely steer. I have faith they will do this and look forward to driving what I gotta believe will be a production version of this concept in the not-too-distant future.
Next I got to try out the Gladiator EcoDiesel Rubicon. The diesel here is the same one found in the Wrangler and the Ram 1500. It’s a 3.0-liter V6 making 260 hp, which is okay, and 442 lb ft of torque, which is way beyond okay. Jeep finally listened to all those guys on all those internet forums saying, “Yeah but I ain’t buyin’ one till they git a diesel.” Well, here’s your diesel and since you said all those things on all those forums you now gotta pony up and plunk down your $41,040.
The Galdiator EcoDiesel Rubicon has a tow rating of 6,500 pounds. Astute readers will note that the equivalent gasoline-engine Wrangler/Gladiator is rated at 7,000 pounds or higher. Jeep assures us that this is only due to cooling limitations of the Gladiator’s front end and not engine capability. It’s those darn seven slots in the grille, they say. And that beefy front bumper. Nonetheless, they claim this setup is best-in-class.
It does have some torque. Torque is what moves you off the line, tows things and makes you feel like your truck has “good pick-up.” Horsepower is what sends you through the traps at the end of the quarter mile. The EcoDiesel V6 in the Gladiator has torque, albeit in a very diesel-like range from 1400 to 2800 rpm.
I got to take one on a short street drive and then off-road on a great steep set of trails at Calamigos Ranch in Malibu. On the street, you can’t help but compare it to passenger car-based crossovers that are made for pavement. On the road you can feel all of that unsprung weight of those solid axles underneath. It felt a little ungainly, especially compared to its unibody competitors.
But once taken off-road the Jeep is fully in its element. Shifting the transfer case lever into 4-Wheel Low and electrically locking the front and rear axles makes the Jeep indomitable. Using all of the Jeep’s prodigious torque I crept up and down steep dirt trails, traversed megaholes dug just to twist the Gladiator’s suspension to its full articulation, and crept back down everything with the electronics controlling the individual disc brakes the whole way. Suffice it to say there is nowhere you can’t go with a Jeep Wrangler or Gladiator. And no competitor that can do as well as a Jeep.
At least until we see what the new Bronco can do.
Then I had a close look at the new Jeep Farout Concept. It was intended for the Easter Jeep Safari but didn’t make it to that storied celebration, for obvious reasons. This glorious rig is a successor to last year’s the Wayout Concept. Both are aimed squarely at the so-called Overlanding crowd. Overlanding is what used to be known as “camping,” but we never had anything this cool back in the canvas tent days of yore. Here everything is attached to or riding permanently inside your vehicle. The Farout has some concept-looking orange lava-lounge interior trim in the back, along with an aftermarket slide-out refrigerator and stove. But the biggest feature was a ginormous fold-out Nemo rooftop tent that sleeps, we were told, “four adults.” The Wayout’s tent only slept two. Along with a roll-out side awning the setup transformed the EcoDiesel Gladiator on which it is based into a mobile living room, kitchen and bedroom that can go anywhere. Why Jeep didn’t long ago start offering this at least as an option is beyond me. This thing has profit center written all over it. Imagine having one parked in a Jeep dealer showroom all set up. “Sure, let the kids crawl up there! We’re makin’ deals today!”
So those are the Jeeps we know about. I’d add, if I was in charge of product planning, a bare-bones, doorless, roofless stripper model with vinyl seats and a pull-out choke at some ridiculously low price. Buyers would wind up loading it up with MOPAR parts anyway until it cost just as much as a fully loaded Wrangler. But they’d think they were getting a bargain. As they say on YouTube, “Follow me for more recipes.”
Looking forward to driving a fully sorted 392 and to camping in the orange-trimmed Farout at Burning Man or some similarly suitable place.