Jeep unveils wild customized models

Paul Eisenstein
April 12, 2011

The steady rise in oil prices has apparently led Chrysler's Jeep division to rethink the opportunities for fuel-stingy diesel engines.  A senior executive says the brand could have a new diesel in its lineup within the next few years.

Jeep has experimented with diesels, in recent years, both with the Liberty and larger Grand Cherokee models.  But with fuel prices soaring nationwide, many analysts – and apparently some key Chrysler executives – are convinced demand for “oil burners” could soar.  More importantly, they might deliver enough of a mileage boost to keep demand for SUVs from collapsing, as briefly happened when gas prices surged past $4 a gallon in mid-2008.

The possibility of a diesel came up during a meeting at Chrysler headquarters in Auburn Hills, Mich., where Jeep pulled the wraps off four custom kits for its various sport-ute models that will be participating in the annual Easter Jeep Safari, in Moab, Utah, later this month.

“Diesel in some of our models makes absolute sense,” Jeep Brand CEO Michael Manley said. “But I still have to make sure there is a sufficient marketplace here to make it make sense from a business perspective.”

That would probably push the division to focus on its larger models, like the Jeep Grand Cherokee, which delivers a maximum 16 mpg in two-wheel-drive configuration.

The use of a diesel could boost fuel economy by as much as 35%, more than overcoming the slight premium for the fuel.  High mileage has turned the diesel into the powertrain of choice in Europe, where it accounts for about half of all vehicle sales – and as much as 80% in some markets, such as Austria.

Chrysler offers diesels in a number of European models – including the Jeeps sold there.  For the U.S. market, however, additional emissions after-treatment would be needed to meet stricter standards covering both smog-causing oxides of nitrogen and the particulates linked to lung cancer.

While a decision on diesel could take some time to lock down, Jeep is clearly hoping to expand its appeal by teaming up with Mopar.  Long focused on selling parts for Chrysler products, Mopar has begun expanding its reach, including high-performance versions of Dodge muscle cars.

Prepared by the Mopar division, the six customized models offer a number of alternative ways to tune Jeep Grand Cherokee, Wrangler and Compass models for street and trail.

The Jeep Wrangler Pork Chop might sound like a heavyweight but, in fact, the name refers to the 850 pounds of “pork” Mopar chopped out of the base vehicle through the use of lighter fenders, bumpers and hoods – and the elimination of the Wrangler’s doors.

The Jeep Compass Canyon will be the first model using the crossover platform it has taken onto the challenging trails at Moab, thanks to the lifted Rocky Road Suspension, larger tires and other modifications.

The zebra-striped Jeep Liberty Overland is actually a European model – sold abroad as the Cherokee – and features one of those European diesel engines, a 2.8-liter turbocharged inline-four.  Think safari and you get the idea.

The Jeep Wrangler Renegade is a long-rumored modification package with a ruggedized, trail-ready suspension – but most significantly introduces a 6.4-liter V8 making a whopping 475 horsepower to the classic Jeep model.

The Jeep Wrangler Blue Crush is the most extreme of the modifications, featuring monster truck-style 39-inch wheels, raised and modified suspension, modified driveshafts – and 540-horsepower, 426 cubic-inch Hemi V8.

The Jeep Wrangler JK-8 Independence takes its cues from the CJ-8 of the 1980s, converting a Wrangler Unlimited into a pickup truck.  Mopar developed the conversion kit for do-it-yourselfers.

There’s also a “Moparized” Ram Truck, which features an assortment of Mopar parts and accessories perfect for trailblazing.