Muddy fun for a Jeep geek
Full disclosure: I’ve been a Jeep guy for a very long time having first driven the SJ Cherokee back in the late 70’s.
I was forwarded on and email from my blogging partner, Mark Savage, who received an invitation from the Jeep people but couldn’t make it to an event. I was all over it and jumped at the chance, along with other media folks, to discover the off roading capabilities on the new JL Wrangler at Cliff’s Insane Terrain Off Road Park in Marseilles, IL.
This latest rendition created a lot of buzz prior to its release earlier this year, maybe even more than the last redesign in 2006. All kinds of speculation about what the JL would have and maybe not have. No worries off roaders, the Jeep guys were all over this from the start. “I can tell you internally those conversations do happen at the very beginning of the development process but there are people within the brand, within the engineering community, that understand the formula and they’re not going to screw it up. So not only in this case did we keep all those things easier to use. So now the windshield is easier to fold down, the doors are easier to come off. It still has solid front and rear axels, manual tcase, it’s still a true Wrangler,” Kevin Metz, Head of Jeep Wrangler Brand Marketing told me at the event.
RELATED VIDEO: See the last Wrangler JK roll off the assembly line
Later in the day Kevin joined me on a trip around the course, laid out by Camp Jeep guides, and the conversation included that he had to fly from Detroit to Chicago to get the the event and wished he could have driven and trailered his CJ to join us for our romp in the woods. To further back up his quote, he told me that all the Jeep guys at FCA are deeply involved in going to events and listening to consumers. I am envious.
RELATED ARTICLE: See my being “Jeepless” blog entry.
RELATED VIDEO: Come along for a ride.
Nice new views
The Wrangler finally has a back-up camera available as part of the Jeep Active Safety Group ($895). Thank goodness. I can’t tell you how many parking lot lamp posts and other items I’ve backed into so this is a big deal, at least for me.
Coming soon will be the Sky One-Touch powertop ($3,995 option). Several of the Wranglers we drove featured this. All you have to do is flip a switch and the canvas roof slides all the way back. With the roof frame still in place, the back windows are now rigid and come out for a total open air feeling. No moregoing through all the stretching and zippering it took to get the old soft top windows out, and then back in again. Best part of the deal is that there is no hard top to remove.
The current hard top can test a marriage getting it off and on and since I really want to keep my wife, I came up with a roof hoist I made that cost me about $40 in parts at the local Ace. The top, although still a beast, has been lightened as are the doors, making going “doorless” more fun. The windshield now takes only four bolts to bust loose as opposed to around two dozen it used to take.
RELATED STORY: See how Jeep educates employees on the new JL
As close as a to hybrid Jeep as you can get
Even though the name of the new turbo 2.0L is the Hurricane, it shares nothing with the original engine. Its rated at 268-horsepower, 295 lb-ft and has to be mated to an eight-speed automatic. This mild hybrid should get about 20% better MPG than the V6. Justin Hommel, one of the engineers at Jeep told me this is how it all comes together utilizing what they call eTorque Technology.
The engine features a belt start generator that uses a modified alternator to generate current, but also doubles as a starter to restart the engine after the vehicle comes to a full stop. The belt start generator is connected to the engine’s crankshaft by a serpentine belt and optimizes fuel economy by applying positive power to the crankshaft for an electric boost under certain conditions.
The engine option is now available for order as a 28 code and will add $1,000 to the sticker price but you can only get it with the eight-speed transmission so you’d be looking at an extra $3,000.
In our 2017 Dodge Durango we have the engine stop/start and the first thing me wife and I do when we get in to drive it is shut it off because it is annoying. The Wrangler that I drove with the new engine had the same setup but I didn’t even notice it.
RELATED ARTICLE: Read Mark’s review of the Grand Cherokee Trackhawk.
Three 4×4 systems to choose from
Selec-Trac®, Command-Trac® and, Rock-Trac® . The first features a full-time mode that will automatically switch from 2WD to 4WD when conditions dictate. When a bit more grip is needed, Command-Trac® ,which includes a NV241 GII transfer case shifts into action. And for those that really want to get off the beaten path, the third option is Rock-Trac® which comes standard on the Rubicon. Additionally, Hill Descent Control, is also an available option. There were two Rubicons available to drive that day, one of them was a manual which I have never driven with in a Wrangler. It seemed at home in the mud. All I really had to do was keep it in second gear and keep the revs up.
There are a couple of items I like on the Ruby (short for Rubicon in Jeep talk), the sway bar disconnect, rock rails and metal bumpers, and Tru-Lok® Lockers.
The sway bar disconnect allows the front wheels to drop and compress, resulting in improved suspension articulation.
If you end up doing any type of serious off roadding in the Rubicon the rock rails work well as I can attest after scraping them going over some hidden rocks in one of the rivers on the course, ouch!
The metal bumpers really should be put on all the Wranglers. While the plastic ones have gotten better, the ones on my 2011 were as thin as milk jugs.
The little touches
Like what Jeep did with the Freedom Top. The $1,095 option does come with a wiper/washer to get whatever your driving through off the back window this year but Jeep made it a little easier. What happens when it rains or snows is a low-pressure area develops in the area closest to the window. Jeep added, what could be considered a super mini spoiler, molded into the top of the roof to deflect the wind and decrease the amount of precipitation or dust following behind. Nice.
A real off-road experience
The morning of the event started off kind of cool but later on warmed up enough that the Jeep people removed the doors from the one you see me sitting in and the from roof panels. It was a great day and the first time I had experienced real off-road driving. It was fun as were the Wranglers. Sahara Unlimited’s MSRP is $37,845 while the Rubicon’s is $40,995. Find more here.
You don’t have to own a Wrangler to go to Cliff’s Insane Terrain Off Road Park in Marseilles, IL, you can drive your Bronco or Blazer or FJ. The prices are really affodible and they offer other fun options. Bring the entire family. It will be a hoot.