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2000 was a year of target shifting for American automakers. Understanding that folks wanted their daily driver to do it all, OEMs experimented with highly capable drivetrains that rode like minivans. From the Hummer H2 to the Ford 24.7 Wagon, some concept cars landed while others whiffed from the first swing. At the Detroit Auto Show in 2000, Jeep unveiled an intriguing concept.

A green Jeep Varsity concept in its showcase Jeep booth at an auto show
Jeep Varsity | David Cooper/Toronto Star via Getty Images

It was a car-like hatchback with a shorter frame than the Cherokee but a wider wheelbase. The Jeep Varsity sported chunky 19-inch tires and nine inches of ground clearance. It had three drivetrain settings rooted in full-time 4WD and the new gen-signature 3.5L SOHC V6 boasting 300 hp. Aesthetically, though, it read less like a Jeep than the brand insisted. Its low curved roofline, stunted nose, and lobbed tail gave beasted blow-up furniture-era VW Jetta vibes.

Meant to serve urban dwellers in town and off-road, Jeep had very tangible aspirations for Varsity drivers. At the time, Tom Gale, executive vice president of product development and design at DaimlerChrysler, presented the brand’s lineup of concepts at Detroit. He hailed the Varsity as just as much of a Jeep as any other. We’re squinting at that one, but hindsight’s 20/20.

While the concept might look a bit silly, the actual spec sheet and features were quite capable. The product designer was quoted by MotorTrend: “The door handle could be rock climbing equipment and the vehicle compass and altitude sensor would fit nicely in a survival kit.”

The 2000 Detroit Auto Show featured another Y2K milestone. The Pontiac Aztek was revealed and immediately considered the Varsity’s direct SUV competition. Love it or hate it, the Aztek did make it to production and continues to have a following today.

While the Varsity never saw any rocky ranges, its brief conceptual presence gives us pause. DaimlerChrysler was clearly bent on serving modern folk. This was a setup for the 2002 Jeep Liberty, which was designed to replace the Cherokee, including comforts appealing to a broader band of drivers. Boop-ability aside, the Jeep Varsity promised a blend of urban functionality with off-road prowess. At a minimum, it sure did challenge traditional perceptions of what a Jeep could be.