Jeep Turned Some Desert Dreams Into Reality and Brought Them Out For a Cruise

Adam Tonge
by Adam Tonge

Each year, Jeep builds a few concept vehicles and takes to the Easter Jeep Safari through off-road trails in Moab, Utah. Jeep uses the nine day trek to show off the off-road capabilities of its vehicles while celebrating its storied past. Maybe our invitation was lost in the mail.

Fortunately, Jeep did invite us to a different Jeep Safari, which took place during the week of Metro Detroit’s Dream Cruise. All the vehicles involved in this event have completed the Jeep Easter Safari in Moab. The Detroit Jeep Safari route may have been be a much shorter and less treacherous than Moab’s trails, but electronic locking differentials are helpful traversing the craters Detroiters refer to as roads.

The first concept vehicle Jeep had available was the Jeep Trailstorm. Though listed as a concept vehicle, the Trailstorm is more of a showcase for the Jeep Performance Parts catalog’s comprehensive list Jeep Wrangler parts and accessories. Jeep PR folks were quick to note that ninety-eight percent of Wrangler owners add at least one accessory to their Jeep, and the Wrangler is modified more often than any other vehicle. In fact, the Trailstorm started life as a $30,000 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sport 4×4 with a 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 and a five-speed automatic transmission before Jeep added 33 different parts and accessories — with a price tag of around $20,000 — to create an off-road monster.

Some of the notable additions to the Trailstorm include Dana 44 Axles for the front and rear, a 2-inch lift kit, unique 17-inch wheels, 37-inch tires, high-top fender flares, a cat-back exhaust, half doors all around, the Wrangler Rubicon X’s winch and bumpers, and a brake kit that adds front brakes from the Ram 1500. Usually adding Dana 44 axles to a Wrangler requires a 4-inch lift. However, Jeep designers and engineers raised the fender flares two inches in order to add the Dana axles with a 2-inch lift. This results in a vehicle that is less prone to tipping and has a lower center of gravity.

The Trailstorm’s red rock digital camo vinyl wrap was intended to help it blend in to the Utah desert. On Woodward Ave, it makes the Trailstorm stands out amongst the classic cars. The Trailstorm drives like a Wrangler with a slight lift and has a deeper, more satisfying exhaust note. The 3.6-liter V6 provides as much power as most Jeep owners would ever need. The five-speed automatic transmission is adequate and robust. Although the most off-roading I was able to do in the Trailstorm was a gravel road lot behind a shopping center, the Dana 44s are serious axles that will get you through almost any terrain.

It’s not just about the Trailstorm’s capabilities and how it drives. It’s also about how it looks and makes you feel. The Trailstorm feels special if you drive it on a trail in Moab or a busy road in Detroit. That isn’t unique to the Trailstorm though. All Wranglers give you a special feeling when you take the top of on a warm spring day. And that’s the point of the Trailstorm. Strip the loud graphics and giant tires away and you still have a Wrangler Unlimited. Jeep and the Jeep Performance Parts catalog give you the ability to create whatever you want your Trailstorm to be.

The second vehicle Jeep made available was a compact, regular-cab pickup truck powered by a small diesel engine. Yes, you heard that right. Mini truck fans rejoice! This is your truck. Too bad it’s a one-off concept that was only built for the Jeep Easter Safari. You’ll have to keep your Nissan Hardbody prayer candles lit. For this truck, Jeep engineers took a Renegade, added 6 inches to the wheelbase, chopped everything off behind the front row, and added a 5-foot bed. Then they called it “Comanche,” because what else are you supposed to call a Jeep pickup? The styling is a blend of FCA’s new Jeep products and old military Jeep trucks.

The Comanche’s matte tan sheet metal is accented with a satin black hood, winch, steel rear bumper, soft top, 16-inch wheels with 32-inch tires, and a spare tire in the bed. A 2.0-liter diesel engine is paired with the ZF nine-speed transmission. Both are found in the European Renegade, as well as many other FCA products. The transmission has Jeep’s Active Drive Lock, which includes low range and a locking rear differential.

In person, one glimpse of the Comanche will even soften the heart of a Monster Energy fueled brodozer driver. It is a playful puppy of a truck you want to love. The interior of the Comanche is very similar to the Renegade’s. This is a good thing because the Renegade’s interior is one of its strengths. Unlike the Renegade, the Comanche is outfitted with headrest-less seats, canvas seat covers, and old-school lap belts meant to bring up memories of military Jeeps and personal injury lawsuits.

Some of the unique changes make this truck better than the CUV on which it’s based. The lengthed wheelbase is one of them. Because of it, the Comanche rides much smoother than it’s Renegade sibling. The 5-foot bed is also more useful than the sad excuse for a backseat and trunk area found in the Renegade. The fact that the Comanche rides better than the Renegade gives me hope for the vehicle that will replace FCA’s 4×4 Mitsubishi Lancer wagons. If the next compact Jeep is, in fact, a stretched Renegade, it should be an interesting product

Unfortunately, the engine and transmission combination lets down the otherwise exciting package. There have been a number of drivability complaints regarding the ZF nine-speed transmission FCA uses in many of its products. The issues experienced with the Comanche fall right in line with many of those complaints. Unless you push the accelerator to the floor, it takes forever for the Comanche to get underway. Driving slowly through a parking lot was anything but a smooth experience, and when you take your foot off the gas, the transmission seems to almost brake for you. The lower rev range of the diesel engine doesn’t do the transmission any favors either. However, once out of first or second gear, the engine and transmission significantly smooth out, and the drivability issues are gone.

Both of these vehicles are excellent examples of why the Jeep brand is so successful. The people that design and engineer Jeep products love the brand as much as enthusiasts. They know what customers want. The fact that so many people within the brand spend countless hours designing and building concept vehicles for an off-road event is amazing. They also attempt to create things they know Jeep people will love. After driving a modified Wrangler and Jeep pickup back to back, I know what Jeep people will love: a Wrangler pickup.

Adam Tonge
Adam Tonge

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  • Big Al from Oz Big Al from Oz on Sep 11, 2016

    Jeep every year puts out some great ideas. The best Jeep concept I like was the Safari Wrangler. The Comanche here looks great and I'd say would have a market ..... if it met safety requirements. It need a proper high and low range tx case as well, backed up with a little diesel. The highly accessorised Wrangler is just a piece of marketing. You can go on the net and see what is on offer for after market kit.

    • Adam Tonge Adam Tonge on Sep 11, 2016

      These vehicles are all just marketing. The diesel/9-speed pairing in the Comanche is terrible. I also don't think you'd see a transfer case or locking diff because the Renegade doesn't have one.

  • Higheriq Higheriq on Oct 12, 2016

    That Renegade/Comanche would certainly have a place in my garage.

  • Bd2 Probably too late to do anything about it for the launch, but Kia should plan on doing an extensive refresh of the front fascia (the earlier, the better) as the design looks really ungainly.
  • Namesakeone Since I include SUVs and minivans as trucks, I really cannot think of a brand that is truly truckless. MG maybe?
  • Sobhuza Trooper Subaru, they were almost there with the BRAT. --On a lighter note, where the hell is my Cooper Works Mini truck?
  • Mike Evs do suck, though. I mean, they really do.
  • Steve Biro I don’t care what brand but it needs to be a compact two-door with an ICE, traditional parallel hybrid or both. A manual transmission option would be nice but I don’t expect it - especially with a hybrid. Don’t show me an EV.