Behind The Wheel Of The 707 Horsepower Jeep Trailcat Concept

trailcat

For engineers, modern automotive design is a balancing act fought between what they’re capable of creating and what will comply with federal regulations. While the latter have greatly improved the safety and efficiency of mass-produced vehicles over the years, they have also created boundaries that engineers must work within. Concept vehicles, on the other hand, are never intended for production. In turn, incredible “what if” vehicles like the 707-horsepower Jeep Wrangler Trailcat become possible.

If the Trailcat looks bigger than a normal Wrangler, that's because it is. And we're not just talking about the jacked-up suspension and 40-inch BF Goodrich Krawler tires. It's been stretched 12 inches beyond the length of a standard Wrangler. In part to make room for the suspension bits and also to provide space for the supercharged 6.2-liter V8 and its six-speed Tremec TR-600 manual gearbox.

When the 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat was unveiled, a common enthusiast refrain shortly thereafter was to “Hellcat all the things”, or in other words, put the Hellcat’s 6.2-liter supercharged V8 into every conceivable FCA vehicle that it would fit in. Since then, we’ve seen the Charger get its own Hellcat iteration, and a Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT Hellcat is expected to be announced within the next few months, but the off-road faction of FCA’s enthusiast base has been largely left out of the fun.

Although the Trailcat is a concept vehicle, its also a fully functional (and highly capable) vehicle. While the Challenger and Charger Hellcat models use a pair of fuel pumps to feed the thirsty V8, the Trailcat uses one larger pump that's installed in the fuel cell, which is situated just behind the racing seats plucked from the Dodge Viper. Note the sweet custom shift knob too - there's got to be at least a few Sublime Challenger SRT Hellcat owners out there wondering how they can get one of these.

While it may never make it into Jeep showrooms, the Trailcat concept is very much a real, functional vehicle. It made its debut at the Easter Jeep Safari, an annual event held in Moab, Utah that celebrated its 50th anniversary earlier this year. While that would be enough cause for a special celebration on its own, it’s also the 75th anniversary of the Jeep brand itself as well, so the company wanted to do something particularly memorable to mark the occasion.

Despite the fact that the Trailcat is an impressive piece of machinery for a multitude of reasons, it's hard for the Hellcat motor not to steal the show every time the engine gets turned over. It's certainly a tight fit in the Wrangler's engine bay, and unlike the Challenger and Charger, the battery is installed up front. Mechanically, the motor is identical to the powerplant in Dodge's coupe and sedan, which generates a peak torque figure of 650 lb-ft of torque and 707 horsepower. It plays its song through a pair of Borla performance mufflers, the tailpipes of which are pointed downward for maximum rumble effect.

The Jeep Wrangler Trailcat was on display along with five other Jeep concepts, and the company was nice enough to bring it along when debuting the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk this summer at an event in Malibu, California. We decided to stick around after the event concluded to see if we could convince the folks at Jeep to give us some seat time.

Making A Monster

As the name implies, the Trailcat concept sports the same motor from the Challenger and Charger Hellcat models. The supercharged Hemi that was shoehorned into the engine bay is hooked to a six-speed manual gearbox similar to the hardware found in the Challenger, and it can send power to all four corners through a pair of Dana 60 axles.

Fox supplies the coilover shocks for the Trailcat's suspension system, and it sits an additional two inches higher with the help of a lift kit. Routing power to all four corners is done by a pair of meaty Jeep Performance Parts Dana 60 axles with a 5.38:1 gear ratio. The suspension system is a four-link with trackbars at both the front and rear. Stopping power for the Trailcat is provided by brakes from the Ram 3500.

The suspension has been upgraded with Fox shocks and Eibach springs to both improve wheel articulation and provide more body clearance for the massive 40-inch tires.

Jeep engineers also made some significant changes to the platform itself, chopping the windshield by two inches and extending the wheelbase to almost 108 inches to provide room for the new components. Jeep says the Trailcat is “equally at home on Moab’s rugged trails or a high-speed section”, and we would add a Mad Max film set to that list as well.

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The Trailcat rides on 40-inch BF Goodrich Krawler KX tires, which are wrapped around 17-inch custom beadlock wheels. Custom fabricated fender flares were a necessity in order to provide enough clearance for the huge BFG rubber and the additional suspension travel.

As expected, the supercharged Hemi is truly the star of the show here. It breathes through a pair of Borla performance mufflers, and with no bodywork preventing its song from getting to the occupants’ ears, it sounds absolutely brutal.

Out On The Dirt

While we would have loved to open up the Trailcat through some high-speed dunes, our off-road trail through the Malibu hills was more of a crawler scenario – deep, low-speed ruts, steep inclines and declines, and loose terrain.

While many modern vehicles including Jeep’s own Grand Cherokee Trailhawk use sophisticated software to do much of the work when it comes to off-road capability (in turn allowing designers to use more street-friendly components), the Trailcat takes an old-school approach.

In order to achieve the look that Jeep wanted for the Trailcat, they installed a swept back windshield with a two-inch chop versus the standard Wrangler, and the wheelbase has been lengthened to 108 inches, though it is safe to assume that was at least partially out of necessity to fit the industrial-grade mechanicals found here. Along with LED headlights and off-road lights, the Trailcat sports a modified "Power Dome" vented hood to provide better heat extraction and breathing for the supercharged motor, and a pair of custom-built tube doors help complete the look.

The Trailcat’s off-road prowess is purely mechanical. It has locking differentials sending the Hemi’s massive torque to chunky mud terrain tires, and the trick suspension making sure each wheel had contact with the ground regardless of how off-kilter the trail got.

Pulling power? Just a dab of the throttle and this Wrangler sprints up the trail with authority. We simply could not find a place on the trail that was any match for the sheer capability built into the Trailcat – if the upgraded rubber and suspension bits weren’t enough, the utter violence of the Hellcat powertrain made short work of any obstacle in its path. Rocks hardly exist behind the wheel of this thing, regardless of how fast you’re going.

With the capability on tap, the racing seats out of the Dodge Viper are a welcome addition here, as are the five point harnesses. We could probably use an inch or two more headroom, but things like this and the noisy pump in the fuel cell behind right behind the seats are the kinds of concessions you’d expect from a concept vehicle – assuming it functions at all.

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Like the doors, the Trailcat’s grille guard is a custom fabricated piece, and all of the concept’s accents have been given a satin black paint hue. Taken as a whole, the Trailcat is like something you might’ve scribbled on your notebook back in the day when you were daydreaming in class; except this is far more awesome because it’s not only a real, tangible thing – it actually goes like hell too. Jeep could have easily created a roller concept to take to car shows and other events, but instead they built this very mechanically sound 4×4 instead. It’s almost certainly not headed to production, but just the fact that they created it is cause for glee.

Massive credit goes to Jeep’s engineers here, as the Trailcat functioned more like a prototype production vehicle rather than a concept. The Wrangler seemed like it would have been happy to drive from Malibu to San Diego if we could have found a way to lose the folks from Jeep, who were waiting for me at the bottom of the hill.

Although the Trailcat was never intended for production, the sheer joy it can elicit from drivers and bystanders alike is more than enough justification for its existence. When engineers get the opportunity to run with an idea untethered, truly remarkable things can happen.

 

About the author

Bradley Iger

Lover of noisy cars, noisy music, and noisy bulldogs, Brad can often be found flogging something expensive along the twisting tarmac of the Angeles Forest.
Read My Articles

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