Jeep Wrangler: Where the Road Ain’t

Jeep Wrangler — Photo Gallery: As part of my evaluation of the 2007 Jeep Wrangler, I spent a day on the Rubicon Trail in Northern California and got up close and personal with the SUV, expanded my limits and learned a thing or two about Jeep, the Rubicon, and life on the rocky ledge.

Stuck on the Rubicon
His eyes were brown, and they were bugging out of his head. And you could smell the fear on him, see the sweat, feel the urgency with which he spoke: This is a safety issue. There is a cliff on the other side of the Jeep, and there’s no room for error. Do not. I repeat – do not – back up.

I was inclined to agree. We were on the Rubicon Trail, not at an OHV park, and here, anything goes. Stuck on the middle of a 45-degree climb up a ledge and over boulders, our only option was forward, up, to the left, and around a huge rock.

Check the Line!
I glanced up to check my line, looked down again and let the clutch slip out a little more. The Jeep began to surge, just a little, then stronger, the motion of the engine tugging at the frame and body of the vehicle. A little more. Just a little more…

I let go of the clutch, the brake, and hit the throttle hard. The Jeep, straining to move forward, suddenly lurched, came unstuck and followed the direction of my line, around the boulder and to a relatively flat and stable section of the hill.

Patch of Daisies
We made it. And though we still had about four more hours of climbing rocks and dodging trees, after that moment the rest of the Rubicon Trail was like a Sunday stroll through a patch of daisies. In part, it was because of the drama we had already experienced, but also because the new Wrangler – the Rubicon model – is still King of Where the Pavement Ain’t. For those who have experienced the prowess of the Wrangler off-road, it comes as a great comfort to know that the new Jeep – despite being significantly wider and heavier than the 2006 model – holds its own and more when the going gets rough.

Cadillac Hill
Trust me. We know, because we asked for the rough stuff and came out of it with no damage to the sheetmetal or body parts – ours, or the Jeep’s. Though all Wrangler Rubicons have front and rear electronic locking differentials, we tackled Cadillac Hill without ‘em, activating only when we felt the urgent need to do so. This way, we could see first-hand how well the system worked. All told, we activated the lockers around five times over six hours of driving, and only to assist us in navigating a tough patch of rocks or a slippery corner.

Hand of the Jeep God
When we did hit the lockers button – once for front and once for rear – we could feel the strong lift. It was as if the Hand of the Jeep God was picking up the back of the Wrangler and helping us along. For off-road types who don’t wish to purchase a Rubicon model, the Sahara offers rear lockers only, which, given the capability of the vehicle, seems more than enough for virtually any adventure. The revised Dana 44 axles, meanwhile, allowed for the kind of Alice in Wonderland articulation Wrangler fans have come to expect.

Life on the Rocks
Despite its prowess on the rocks, however, there are some trade-offs with the new Wrangler. Given the extra 300 pounds, more than the available 237 lb.-ft. of torque would be an improvement, and while we were able to navigate through all the obstacles, the nimble way in which our guide’s 2006 Wrangler sprinted through tight corners vividly illustrated the difference. As for the Wrangler Unlimited, the longer wheelbase and expanded width wasn’t a factor in traversing the Rubicon Trail, and the breakover angle is excellent when compared to most of the competition.

Seats and Shifter
Inside the cabin, the secondary shifter is easy to use, clicking firmly into position and staying put. The seats were quite supportive and grippy, keeping driver and passenger from sliding around too much. For the passenger, however, there’s nothing much to hold onto except the roll bar and a handle that’s poorly placed, directly in front of the passenger, meaning that the weight of the passenger is on the forearms and not the handle. The driver, of course, has no such problem, and even gets a very helpful seat height adjuster.

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