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I Drove the Jeep Concepts at the 2018 Moab Easter Jeep Safari

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author photo by Chris O'Neill May 2018

The Moab Easter Jeep Safari is a yearly celebration of the Jeep brand in Moab, Utah that takes place during the week leading up to Easter Sunday. Jeep owners come from far and wide to show off their Jeeps, while representatives from the Jeep brand make their way down from their offices in Michigan with a number of creative concepts in tow.

This year, I was lucky enough to attend as a representative of Autotrader, where I got to drive some of the concepts on display. Here's my take on each one.

The Jeepster

The Jeepster is based on a 2-door Wrangler Sport, so it has a 3-speed low range transfer case -- but it lacks the locking differentials and disconnecting sway-bars that you'd find in the Rubicon. This is fitting, as the original 1966-1973 Jeepster Commando was a basic, old-fashioned 4x4, and the Jeepster manages to channel that ethos through its relative simplicity. I love the steeply raked windshield and chopped top, along with the red color and white accents. The rotopax mounted on the back is also a nice touch: the original Jeepster Commando kept its spare tire on the inside as well. Also, rest assured -- despite its 'chopped' nature, the windshield on the Jeepster concept folds down just as easily as it does on the production Wrangler JL.

The B-Ute

Sure, it isn't a Wrangler, but let's really think about this one. Say a big car doesn't make sense for you. Say a powerful, thirsty car doesn't make sense for you either. And say you like to venture outside on the weekends. Well, get a Renegade Trailhawk, throw on a lift from the Jeep Performance Parts Catalog along with a set of all-terrain tires and a platform-style roof rack, and boom: you can now venture down twice as many trails and haul twice as much gear. I like it.

The Nacho Jeep

Not your Jeep, because, presumably, you haven't spent $14,000 upgrading your 2018 Rubicon with parts and accessories from the Jeep Performance Parts Catalog. The Nacho Jeep also gets its name from its rare Nacho-yellow paint, a low-volume production color. Driving the Nacho offered the best of both worlds. On one hand, you're behind the wheel of a heavily modified and outright extreme Wrangler JL. On the other hand, though, all of the parts had the same fit and finish as a Wrangler you'd buy at the dealership -- not to mention the fact that everything was still covered by that sweet, sweet factory warranty.

My favorite accessories here are the lights -- especially those mounted behind the windshield -- all of which are activated via the JL Rubicon's four standard dash-mounted auxiliary switches. Someone turned them on about a half mile from where I was standing on the trail. Even in the mid-day Moab sun, they were eye-searingly bright.

The 4SPEED

Lightness is the name of the game here, and nothing was spared -- and, in fact, Jeep even swapped the Wrangler's standard "Trail Rated" medallion for one reading "Light Weighted." Thanks to the weight reduction, the 4SPEED sits 2.5 inches higher than normal despite riding on its factory suspension. Unfortunately, as a result of all these modifications, the 4SPEED's hybrid system didn't want to play nicely with its 2.0 liter 4-cylinder powerplant, and the 4SPEED was out of commission. Luckily, Jeep trotted out its two previous lightweight Wrangler concepts for test-driving -- the Pork Chop from 2011 and the Stitch from 2013. Each in this series of concepts harkens back to days of old when a Jeep was little more than four big tires, two solid axles and a big metal tub.

The J-Wagon

The name "J-Wagon" might remind you of a particular hardcore, upscale German 4x4. That isn't by accident. This concept, utilizing features from both the Sahara and Rubicon trim-levels, is a design study of sorts on a potential high-end Wrangler model. Despite the fact that a loaded JL now tops out at over $50,000, I think there's still room for an even more upmarket Wrangler offering, and it's interesting to see Jeep entertaining the idea itself.

The Sandstorm

The Sandstorm is meant to be to the King of the Hammers race, akin to what the Ford Raptor is to the Baja 1000. This thing is bonkers. Hands down, this was the most exciting of all the concepts. It's got a 6.4-liter V8. It's got a 6-speed manual. It's got 40-inch tires. It's got custom-developed, long-travel shocks and an extended wheelbase. And it's just as much fun to drive as it is to look at. The engine roars loudly, the clutch is smooth and precise and the whole thing bounds through the desert in a cloud of sand, gasoline fumes and adrenaline.

The Wagoneer Roadtrip

Tears. Tears of joy. The Wagoneer Roadtrip is a beautiful, charming work of art, and we can only be so lucky that Jeep chose to bestow it upon us against the backdrop of Utah's red rock country. Back in the fall, the Wagoneer Roadtrip was just an old, dilapidated 1965 Wagoneer that the Jeep design team found on Craigslist. They quietly bought it, shipped it back to Detroit and spent the next six months turning it into this: a tribute to the great American road trip.

Driving this thing is exactly what it should be. The doors were hard to close. The column shifter was tricky to operate. There's one seating position. You slide across the bench seat anytime you take a left turn. But one thing it wasn't lacking? Power, thanks to its 5.7-liter V8 and period-correct 4-speed automatic, which in this case was lifted from a Dodge Dakota.

Chris O'Neill grew up in the rust belt and now lives in Salt Lake City, Utah. He worked in the auto industry for a while, helping Germans design cars for Americans. On Instagram, he is the @MountainWestCarSpotter.

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I Drove the Jeep Concepts at the 2018 Moab Easter Jeep Safari - Autotrader