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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.