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by Tim Beissmann

A prototype of Jeep’s baby SUV has been spied undergoing winter testing wearing production body panels, giving us our first look at the all-new sub-compact model’s boxy proportions.

The baby Jeep – which will reportedly wear the ‘Jeepster’ badge – will debut at March’s Geneva motor show before launching overseas towards the end of 2014 and in Australia the following year.

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Set to replace the slightly larger Patriot, the brand’s smallest ever model will be built in Turin, Italy, alongside its forthcoming sister car, the Fiat 500X, with which it will share its underpinnings. The US-based brand’s engineers will fettle with the baby Jeep to ensure it stays true to its lineage.

The Jeep will be available in front- and all-wheel drive, and the iconic 4WD maker has promised at least one “trail-rated” variant capable of hardcore off-roading, giving it enhanced ability over its Fiat sibling. The duo is tipped to share petrol and diesel engines and transmissions, with some of those likely to be inherited from existing Fiat models.

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The revealing spy shots uncover some of the junior Jeep’s basic styling elements, including the brand’s signature upright vertically slatted grille and circular headlights. Its flat face also features a broad lower air intake and circular fog lights on the corners of the bumper.

A rounded windscreen and curved roofline soften the boxy look created by the prototype’s short and flat front and rear overhangs, square wheel arches and slab sides.

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At approximately 4.2 metres long, Jeep says its new entry-level model will take on rival sub-compact SUVs like the Ford EcoSport, Holden Trax and Peugeot 2008, as well as conventional small hatches like the Toyota Corolla, Mazda 3 and Volkswagen Golf, with an anticipated low-$20,000s starting price.

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