Jeep Trailhawk: Jeep and very, very cheerful

Shock horror: Jeep not only designs a great concept car but makes it work, says Daniel Cobb
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Neanderthal man pushed a large, flat, circular stone down a hill one day. Only for his cousin – with a dreamy look in his eye and a sharp set of flints – to turn out a concept car shortly afterwards. He called it "The Wheel". So it has always been: manufacturers have been conjuring up 3D visions of the automotive future ever since.

But from the sublime to the ridiculous, many of the gleaming displays at a motorshow 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. And 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 motorshow, Jeep unveiled the Trailhawk. And, what's more, this flight of fantasy actually goes.

Jeep had some reservations about letting their £5million-baby dirty its tyres, but we were persistent and they gave in. It's like Liz lending you the crown jewels for the local village fete.

There's a sporty profile to the Trailhawk. Built on an extended Wrangler chassis it shows the direction Jeep may be taking for future models. The signature 7-slot grille has been swept back to an improbable angle, giving the illusion of a bonnet being much longer than it really is.

Jeep's principal exterior designer, Nick Vardis, told me, "The key to the Trailhawk is its distinctive proportions, stemming from the 116-inch wheelbase. The dash-to-front-axle dimensions are dramatically extended, while the front and rear overhangs are tight and abbreviated. This gives the Trailhawk an overriding impression of permanent forward motion."

Even with the detachable roof panels removed, the Jeep's overall appearance is still dramatic; the thick T-bar roof still provides a feeling of solidity and security. But, thankfully, 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 seating, 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 headlamps, fog-lights and cruise control. But because the main controls are gathered together in a central command unit the rest of the dash is free to house two, glowing, blue 'biplane' instrument displays.

The detachable speakers in the cargo area with iPod docking station is another hint that Jeep have a clear indication what the future holds. Being a 4-door off-roader with massive amounts of style is just half the story. Technology is the key. The 3.0-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 output, from the cleanest diesel in the world today, 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 ninety-eight per cent of all the parts used had been handmade. A scratch or a dent now was unthinkable. And I was getting glances; after all, this is the funkiest Jeep ever.

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 sadly 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.

When none of the white-coated creators were watching, I did briefly blip the accelerator pedal and shed a little – miniscule – 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 never 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.

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