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The original civilian Jeep (CJ) had an 81-inch wheelbase. It weighed 2,137 pounds. It had a tractor-like PTO and was used by farmers like a modern side-by-side. Like the similar “Quad” 4×4 that was instrumental in an Allied WWII victory, the CJ could reach places no bigger vehicle could go. While the Jeep company advertises the Wrangler as the CJ’s spiritual successor, it’s just not. But Jeep may be planning a much-needed reboot.

Every generation of the CJ (eventually renamed the Wrangler) offered a bit more comfort and capability on-road. But this made them bigger and heavier. The modern two-door Wrangler has a 96.8-inch wheelbase and weighs 4,000 pounds. The more common Wrangler Unlimited has a 118.4-inch wheelbase and can weigh 5,268 pounds. Yeah, this Jeep’s literally doubled in size.

With the non-negotiable “destination charge” you’ll pay at least $33,790 for even the cheapest two-door 2024 Jeep Wrangler. That’s almost pickup truck prices–for a two-door soft top. The Wrangler isn’t a barebones off-roader anymore, in either function or price. But that may all be about to change.

Tailgate of a red Jeep concept
2016 Jeep “Shortcut” concept | Stellantis

Off-roaders in search of a smaller full-frame 4×4 must hunt down an older Suzuki Samurai, or make do with a unibody such as the Jeep Renegade. But Jeep seems to be planning a new vehicle for them. First, it cancelled the Renegade, its smallest, cheapest SUV. Then it pulled an old mothball out of concepts.

Meet the 2016 Jeep “shortcut” concept by Jeep. This attractive little 4×4 was designed to harken back to the simpler CJs of the 1950s. Jeep built it by cutting 12 inches off the total length of a two-door Wrangler “JK.”

The resulting little 4×4 has a similar wheelbase to the Jeep CJ-5 from 1972-1986: 83.5 inches. In a modern SUV, that’s impressive.

Red Jeep concept vehicle off-road
2016 Jeep “Shortcut” concept | Stellantis

Even though the “Shortcut” kept the stock 3.6-liter “Pentastar” V6 and automatic transmission, Jeep shaved off weight by replacing the big roll cage with a roll bar, swapping the seats for low buckets, deleting the doors, and deleting the top. It doesn’t even have a swing-out spare tire carrier, just a tailgate reminiscent of the Jeep Commando.

Oh man, do I love it. It has a turning radius tighter than any Jeep in decades. And with a 2-inch lift and 35-inch tires, its approach and departure angles are incredible.

And there’s a precedent for Jeep downsizing. In the past, automakers upsize and price up their most iconic models every year. The 911 now starts above $100k. And until recently, the Toyota Land Cruiser would cost you nearly that. But then last year, Toyota introduced a new downsized Land Cruiser. It moved its most iconic nameplate from the full-size Sequoia chassis to the mid-size 4Runner chassis. Then it cut its price to less than $60k. Paired with retro styling, SUV fans love the result. And it appears Jeep is paying attention.

Interior of a Jeep concept
2016 Jeep “Shortcut” concept | Stellantis

This week, Jeep unveiled several new concept vehicles for the annual Easter safari in Moab, Utah. There among the next-gen electric Jeeps is the old 2016 “Shortcut.” Jeep doesn’t throw random concepts around Moab, its choices almost always mean something.

What could a cheaper Jeep look like? The end product will obviously need doors, and probably a spare tire. I also expect that, unlike the Shortcut, it will have some type of back seat. It probably won’t ride on 35s, but may still get those retro steel rims.

If I were Jeep, I’d bring back the beloved “CJ” name. But that’s just me. I could also see the automaker spinning off the “Willys” trim of the Wrangler.

Grille of a red Jeep concpet vehicle off-road in the desert.
2016 Jeep “Shortcut” concept | Stellantis

Today, you can order a Wrangler with either the Pentastar V6 or a turbocharged I4 codeveloped with Stellantis’ European brands. The I4 would save weight, but Jeep is not currently pairing it with the lighter, simpler stick shift transmission. So I’m not sure which way Jeep would go.

A light, cheap CJ model would allow Jeep to go all-hybrid with its Wrangler. The Wrangler 4xe is a popular product, but starts at $50,695, so it’s a little steep to become the entry-level Jeep.

So would you buy a budget-friendly mini Wrangler? Join the conversation by clicking on the Twitter link below:

Next find out the popular theories for how Jeep got its name, or see the Shortcut concept yourself in the video below: