One Tough Ballerina

Jeep's pirouetting concept car takes all-terrain innovation in unexpected new directions

One look at the Jeep Hurricane, unveiled at this year's North American
International Auto Show in Detroit, and you'll be rubbing your chin-and then
drooling. It has twin 5.7-liter Hemi V8 engines, one in front of the passenger
compartment and one behind it, and a turning radius of zero. The Hemis´ combined
output amounts to a whopping 670 horsepower and 740 pound-feet of torque;
fortunately, their multi-displacement systems can each shut down four
cylinders-or an entire engine-when less than maximum grunt is required. Two
five-speed automatic transmissions manage 335 horses apiece, sending power to
all four wheels via a mechanically controlled four-wheel torque-apportioning
system. Also noteworthy: its 14.3 inches of ground clearance (five inches more
than the Wrangler); its ability to navigate near-vertical slopes-64 degrees
heading uphill and 86.7 degrees coming down; and the fact that it can articulate
all four wheels 180 degrees.

HOW IT WORKS

Like its meteorological namesake, the Hurricane can spin around its
vertical axis. To accomplish this, the front wheels pigeon-toe inward as the
rear wheels splay outward, and then the left-side wheels rotate in opposition to
the right ones. The action is masterminded by a patented transfer case dubbed
the T-Box. In existing 4x4 vehicles, power routes horizontally from the engine
to the wheels across the front and/or rear axles. The Hurricane´s two
transmissions, however, meet in the T-Box, transferring the Hemis´ combined
muscle through brake-controlled prop shafts to independently sprung side axles.
The T-Box directs the wheels to spin forward or backward, while the steering
system articulates them left or right, moving the vehicle forward or in reverse,
or letting it turn in place. Its four-wheel steering has two modes. One steers
the front wheels in opposition to the rear ones, tightening the turning radius,
and a second mode steers the front and rear wheels in the same direction,
allowing the Hurricane to skitter laterally, like a beach crab.