Speaking of concepts, not only did we get to drive the Dodge Demon (ZOOM!!!), we also got to drive the Jeep Trailhawk. Unlike the JT, the Trailhawk is a true show-stopping concept vehicle. Concept vehicles are true one-of-a-kind cars. Hand-built with sometimes outlandish styling, concept vehicles are meant to create buzz around a brand and gauge public interest. Sounds like the Skunkwerks projects, right? Wrong!
Not usually driven by anyone but DCX handlers and certainly not in public except for some quick PR photo shoots, these vehicles can cost a million dollars or more and are irreplaceable. They are typically transported by enclosed semi and brought to show stages quietly and carefully. They make the show rounds and that's about it for the most part.
So when I learned that this year we were being offered the chance to DRIVE the concepts, boy did I jump at the chance! OK, so let's be honest here - driving them is - well - a bit of a stretch. While some magazines may have big headlines screaming "Dodge Demon - DRIVEN!" we'll shoot straight here.
See that long East/West runway-looking strip at the very bottom of the photo here? That's where we drove the concepts. A trip from one end to the other and back. That's it. Is that lame? Did that suck? Heck no! It was a riot!
Being my first time climbing into a real concept, I was naturally nervous. We were not briefed prior to the drives. They just dropped us off and left us there with the handlers. So I climbed in the Trailhawk, shut the door (a tad harder than I probably should have) and started to put on my seat belt. "NO! NO!" the handler screamed, as he stuttered something along the lines of don't put the seat belt on - they don't work. OK, fine. So off it went, as I hoped it would actually retract. It did. Whew. Not kicked out yet.
What I immediately noticed was how different these things are than the photos you see and even when you see them in person at the shows. When you actually sit down and one and feel the plasticy materials and note the relatively low fit and finish quality and realize that 80% of the stuff you're looking at really doesn't work, part of the mystique is blown. But the fact is, Dodge, Jeep and Chrysler concepts do actually drive, unlike some other concepts out there. And in the old days (ok not that long ago), many concepts had to be pushed onto the stage and didn't even have motors.
When the handler reaches under the dash and flips a hidden switch or two and shows you how to put it in gear and you actually drive the thing down the road, you are filled with excitement. Your adrenaline shoots up as you pilot this one-off diesel Jeep down the road, hoping you don't make a tragic (or embarrassing) mistake. You get it back in one piece, park it and once you get out, everything washes away and you think, "wow, I just got to drive that thing. How cool is that?
To learn more about the Trailhawk, go here.
2008 Jeep Liberty
Debuting in the pouring rain at the 2007 New York Auto Show, the 2008 Liberty was on display in Chelsea, though it was not offered up for drives.
While the new Libby looks a lot like the current Dodge Nitro, Jeep execs were adamant that it is not a restyled Nitro. While it is built on the same platform as the Nitro and in the same factory, the Liberty (internally dubbed KK) is a hair taller, wider and longer. It also has a longer wheelbase (108.8" vs. Nitro's 106.1").
What really sets apart the Liberty, though, is that it is more true to the Jeep name, meaning it is offered with two 4x4 versions with real transfer cases - both with low range. Yes, a 2WD version is also available. In addition, much of the underpinnings are beefed up compared to the Dodge, to handle real off-road use.
While many thought the outgoing model was a bit too feminine (55-60% of buyers were female), the 2008 model is brawnier looking and more feature-packed. Gone are the bubble-shaped bits and in with angular shapes.
Outside, it retains Jeep styling cues such as round headlights, trapezoidal wheel arches and a seven slot grille. In the rear, gone is the split tailgate. The new model has a more traditional lift gate. The back glass still can be opened via a button without lifting the whole gate. Of note to me personally, was that I had to duck under the opened gate while accessing the rear of the Jeep or I'd bump my head on it (I'm 6 feet tall).
Inside, styling is the familiar plastic we're coming to expect from Jeep these days. Definitely not at the top of my favorites list, but it works. If nothing else, it's at least easy to clean.
What is most striking about the new Liberty, though, is the Sky Slider canvas roof. We got plenty of time to play around with this and it totally rocks. With a push of a button, the roof retracts accordion-style either forward or backward. Going forward opens up the rear area and still allows coverage over the front seat passengers to keep direct sun of their heads. Going rearward allows both front and back seats to see the stars.
Obviously, the Sky Slider is aimed at people who enjoy open air driving but still require a hard roof over their heads. But as a spy-shooter friend of mine realized, it also makes for a perfect riding position for a standing mobile photographer. If discovered, this could be a whole new market for the Liberty. Just don't tell the seat belt police.
Stay tuned, as we'll be driving the Liberty this August and will report more on it then after the official press launch.
Michael Cohn is the founder and Editor of ROCKCRAWLER.com. Michael finds great pleasure in driving other peoples' vehicles. To volunteer yours, please contact
Michael at [email protected].