Tuesday, August 28, 2007

We drive... Jeep's R72m Trailhawk!

ULTIMATE TONKA TOY? The seven-slatted grille tells you the Trailhawk is a Jeep but even so the designers have managed to build Jeep DNA into the overall design of this concept off-roader.


August 28, 2007

By Daniel Cobb

Neanderthal man pushed a large, flat, round stone down a hill one day. Only for his cousin – with a dreamy look in his eyes and a sharp set of flints – to turn out a concept car soon afterwards. He called it "The Wheel".

So it has always been: manufacturers have been conjuring up 3D visions of the automotive future ever since.

The Jeep Trailhawk
has removable roof panels for "convertible" motoring.

They go from the sublime to the ridiculous and many of the gleaming displays at auto shows never dirty their tyres. An exploration in futuristic design, yes, but the sum of their motoring substance is usually a shiny exterior and a wacky interior

Jeep had some reservations about letting their baby dirty its tyres

Bt then, in the shadow of our ancestors, sometimes we make a huge leap forward. Two stones and a branch became two wheels and an axle. At this year's Detroit auto show, Jeep unveiled the Trailhawk. And, what's more, this flight of fantasy actually goes.

Jeep had some reservations about letting their baby dirty its tyres but we were persistent and they gave in. It's like Liz lending you the Crown Jewels for the village fete.

There's a sporty profile to the Trailhawk. It's built on an extended Wrangler chassis and is said to show the direction Jeep may be taking for future models. The signature seven-slot grille has been swept back to an improbable angle, giving the illusion of a bonnet being much longer than it is.

Jeep's principal exterior designer, Nick Vardis, told me: "The key to the Trailhawk is its distinctive proportions, stemming from the 116" wheelbase

'The Trailhawk an overriding impression of permanent forward motion'
. The fascia-to-front-axle dimensions have been dramatically extended while the front and rear overhangs are tight and abbreviated.

"This gives the Trailhawk an overriding impression of permanent forward motion."

The Jeep's overall appearance is dramatic, even with the detachable roof panels off, and the thick T-bar roof still provides a feeling of solidity and security. But the Trailhawk's beauty isn't just skin-deep.

Unlike some of the firm's past concepts, the cockpit keeps clutter to a minimum. A central dial controls the main cabin functions, not unlike BMW's iDrive. The driver and three passengers can relax in individually sculpted, premium leather seats finished in two-tone black and orange.

Just behind the fixed-hub steering wheel are six brushed-aluminium levers, three either side, acting as switchgear for the headlights, fog-lights and cruise control, but because the main controls are gathered in a central command unit the rest of the fascia is free to house two glowing, blue "biplane" instrument displays.

Huge amounts of style

The detachable speakers in the boot have iPod docking and are another hint that Jeep has a clear indication of what the future holds.

Being a four-door off-roader with huge amounts of style is just half the story: technology is the key. The three-litre Bluetec diesel engine, developed in part with Mercedes, is the kind of eco-friendly technology we have been waiting for. Huge power and torque from the cleanest diesel in the world is just plain hard to ignore.

With the roof panels off, I started the engine with more than a fair amount of trepidation. Of all the cars I've ever driven, this was the most exclusive and expensive. I had been told 98 percent of its parts are hand-made. A scratch or a dent now was unthinkable.

And I was getting glances; after all, this is the funkiest Jeep yet.

Every inch of my short test drive was watched by over-protective Jeep officials. I mentioned trying out the AWD system somewhere more challenging than undulating tarmac but was told it was not to be. That said, there's no reason to doubt this Super SUV's parentage: the Jeep DNA is legendary.

Crying shame

When none of the white-coated creators was watching I did, briefly, blip the accelerator pedal and shed a little – minuscule – amount of rubber from the Trailhawk's huge 22" wheels. Let me tell you that Bluetech technology is the way forward. With a deep-seated growl, I was catapulted way beyond the national speed limit.

We've come a long way since Neanderthal man. Our imaginations are catalysts for exploration and evolution. After driving the Trailhawk, it would be a crying shame not to put it into production.

Jeep, if you're reading this, I have one thing to say: build it. And I will sell my soul to be your first customer. - The Independent, London

MORE THAN JUST A WHEEL: A veritable control panel lives on the crossbar of the Jeep Trailhawk's steering wheel - and the blue instruments are nice.

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DROP-DOWN DINING: Jeep's Trailhawk concept has a tail door that drops to become a picnic plek complete with stereo sound and cupholders - Americans just love tailgate parties.

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SIT BACK AND RELAX: The driver and three passengers can each relax in the Jeep Trailhawk in sculpted, premium leather seats finished in black and orange.

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