Sunday, March 23, 2014

Consumer Reports Ranks the Wrangler as the Worst Value Midsize SUV

The Worst Value Midsize SUV?

The idiots at Consumer Reports are at it again.  They're notorious for their disparaging reviews of vehicles, and their latest fluff piece shows just how uninformed they are.

As reported by AutoGuide, CR's most recent article on automotive sensationalism is a Top-10 list of new cars that they claim are the worst value, supposedly taking into account the costs of depreciation, maintenance, operating costs, and resale value in addition to the obvious initial purchase price.  CR claims to have determined the five-year cost-of-ownership for each vehicle and ranked them accordingly to determine which vehicles in today’s market gives you the worst bang for your buck.

Consumer Reports named the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara as the lowest-ranking midsize-SUV value, which is not just surprising but completely absurd.  The experts pretty unanimously disagree with CR.

The Jeep Wrangler is One of the Last True 4x4s

Jeep Wrangler Unlimited and Land Rover Defender 110
Overland Journal's website Expedition Portal has an article written by a staff member regarding his frustration with not being able to purchase his dream 4x4 in the United States anymore - the Land Rover Defender.  He tells the story of how he has "settled" for the technically superior Wrangler in spite of his passion for the Land Rover's character because of Land Rover's misguided decision not to offer Americans their halo truck.

Although I am obviously a big fan of the Jeep Wrangler JK, I can feel his pain since I am a former Suzuki and Toyota fanatic.  I made my move to the Jeep world after Suzuki stopped offering the Samurai/Jimny and Toyota stopped offering their solid-axle-equipped Land Cruisers and 4Runner in the United States.  The rest of the world still gets these tough, durable, and capable offroad machines, while the United States gets diluted, homogenized, effeminate mallcrawler replacements with independent suspension and little-to-no offroad pretense.

Jeep Wrangler Unlimited and Land Rover Defender 110
The Wrangler Unlimited is essentially the last holdout in America for anyone who wants a true offroad 4x4.  The Mercedes-Benz Geländewagen is the only alternative to the Wrangler about which I've already written, but I can expand on Expedition Portal's article by pointing out that Americans are also denied Toyota's 70-Series Land Cruiser and the Iveco Massif.

Toyota 70-series Land Cruiser and Jeep Wrangler JK
Jeep Wrangler, Iveco Massif, Land Rover Defender
Since 1941, Jeep has been the inspiration for many 4x4s because it was the first to combine many features into one winning formula.  In most of the world, the Jeep Wrangler is just one of several hardcore 4x4s available to consumers.  To earn the respect and trust of the true offroad enthusiasts, a utilitarian body-on-frame 4x4 with a two-speed transfer case and heavy-duty solid axles front and rear are absolute requirements.  The United States used to have a large number of offroad SUVs, including not only the above-mentioned Land Cruisers, 4Runner, Defender, G-Wagen and Samurai, but also the Cherokee, Blazer, Range Rover, Travelall, Excursion, Ramcharger, Bronco, Scout, Jimmy, Wagoneer, Discovery, Suburban, Patrol, and TrailDuster, all of which met those basic requirements.  Today, they have all either been turned into dressed-up "soccer mom" tall wagons (a.k.a. "Crossovers") or are no longer even offered here.

A healthy respect for tough 4x4s is great no matter what make and model you prefer.  The fact that only Jeep and Mercedes have the wherewithal to still offer true offroad 4x4s in America today makes them real standouts in a sea of faux-by-fours.  Like the Expedition Portal journalist, I can't help but wish that the Defender was still available in America.  But even if I could get one here, I'd still prefer the Jeep.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

ARB's Extreme Overland JK

Driving Line has published a feature on the 2012 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited that ARB built for the SEMA Show to exhibit some of their new aftermarket parts, including primarily their new Stubby Front Bumper, Intensity LED lights, Freezer-Fridge, and 4-inch JK suspension kit.

As such a capable vehicle it would be a shame if it never left the trade show circuit, so when ARB was invited to join Petersen's 4 Wheel & Off-Road Magazine's annual Ultimate Adventure, the ARB crew was ready to go.  Although they're calling it an "overland" vehicle, I would say that this Jeep's modifications and extreme offroad capabilities go quite a bit beyond the traditional definition of an "overland vehicle."

However, it was built for adventure, and this Jeep proved itself at Ultimate Adventure.  Every freshly-built vehicle is expected to have some "teething issues" and this Jeep was no exception, but after a few trail fixes it continued onward with the spirit you'd expect of a well-built Jeep Wrangler JK.  Follow the link to the article for the full story.

The First of Many Trips to Death Valley

Death Valley, February 2014

I love the beauty and history of the desert.  A trip to Death Valley has always been on my "bucket list," but until recently I haven't had an opportunity to visit the park because it's quite a long distance from home, and it's not somewhere to visit alone.  I joined a local 4x4 club as a guest for their annual February Death Valley run.

Death Valley is not a hardcore 4wheeling area like Johnson Valley is, but the club definitely seeks out the more challenging trails that are far off the beaten path.  With that said, a very reliable and street-friendly rig is a must since we spent 7-10 hours per day behind the wheel, both on-road and off; this is not a trip for trailered or unreliable rigs.

After a long day's work we drove 8 hours to our a hotel in Ridgecrest, California.  Still groggy for our 7:00am driver’s meeting (vehicle safety checks, CB and Ham Radio coordination, and a discussion of the general gameplan) was followed by a drive to the ghost town of Ballarat, CA within Panamint Valley where we aired down our tires.  Fans of the show Top Gear America may recognize Ballarat’s goofy general store from their Season 2 Episode 4 show in which they drove a Jeep CJ, Chevy Blazer, and Ford Bronco across Death Valley:

Airing down in Ballarat
After passing a large active gold mine, the graded dirt road becomes an ungraded dirt road before turning into the Panamint Mountains by way of Goler Wash.

The trail's entrance to Goler Wash

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Power Retractable Hardtop and Solid Axles for the Next Wrangler?

As reported by Road & Track Magazine, rumors are circulating that Jeep engineers are considering a power retractable hardtop as an option for the next version of the Jeep Wrangler.  From the article:
We heard some rumors that Jeep is considering a power retractable top for the upcoming fourth-gen Wrangler, although it is still in the very early stages of development. If it does make it to production, such a top would likely be a high-priced, niche option for buyers who don't want to be bothered with manually retracting soft tops or heavy, bulky removable hard tops. Such a feature would surely expand the appeal of the Wrangler to folks without the DIY sensibilities needed to retract the complex soft top.
This will certainly help increase the Wrangler's appeal among the faux-wheeler crowd, which in the end is a good thing because more sales of the Wrangler is the better for everyone in the Jeep market.

Rumors continue to circulate regarding whether the next Wrangler will implement independent suspension, or if it will retain the solid axles that define the vehicle.  Again from the article:
. . . removable doors are still on the table, and Jeep is also looking to redesign the Wrangler's frame to deliver a smoother ride while keeping the solid axles.
Removable doors are a no-brainer; they are simple and inexpensive to implement, and they are one of the Wrangler's signature features.  The news about the solid axles, if true, is a boon to 4-wheelers and the entire Jeep aftermarket industry because, simply put, independent suspension cannot provide the articulation, durability, simplicity, modifiability, and cost that Wrangler owners and the Jeep aftermarket industry require from the vehicle.  The small tradeoffs in weight and aerodynamics are inconsequential compared to the compromises that IFS/IRS would make to the vehicle.

A Wrangler is not a Wrangler without two heavy-duty solid axles.

With every other Jeep-brand vehicle having already been castrated with independent front and rear suspension, the brand's mystique absolutely requires that the Wrangler continue into the future with its benchmark-setting, reputation-establishing offroad abilities that only a proper pair of solid axles can provide.  Sales of every other Jeep vehicle will suffer if the next Wrangler's offroad ability is restrained and the brand's image therefore compromised.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

2014 Jeep Wrangler Polar Edition

Like Porsche, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Pagani, Bugatti, and a handful of other special marques, Jeep does a fantastic job of producing appealing special-editions of the Wrangler.  Rather than making a track-focused or big-name fashion designer-endorsed version as with those luxury brands, Jeep focuses on offroad performance while still dressing the vehicle up above standard editions.

It seems that with the success of 2012's North Pole-inspired Jeep Wrangler Arctic Edition, Jeep decided to make a similar South Pole-inspired version for 2014: the Jeep Wrangler Polar Edition.  Based on the Wrangler Sahara, the Polar Edition comes with color-matched fender flares and hardtop.  Along with the standard silver and white colors, the Polar Edition is also available in the exclusive shade of Hydro Blue.  The sides of the special Powerdome hood are outlined with a mountain landscape for additional differentiation, black-trimmed wheels & grille, and a unique badge with the coordinates of Vostok, Antarctica - the location of the coldest temperatures ever recorded on Earth.

The interior has further upscale refinements.  Heated leather seats with white stitching and the hood's mountain logo give the Polar Edition a unique look.  White accents on the dashboard and various trim pieces continue the black & white theme inside.

Mechanically speaking, the Polar Edition is based on the Sahara model, with the standard Dana 30 front axle and limited-slip-equipped Dana 44 rear axle, which is ideal for driving in snow country.

Jeep's new commercial for the Polar Edition Wrangler shows it performing in its element - snow:

The commercial for the 2012 Wrangler Arctic Edition is similarly entertaining:

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Jeep Ski Area

Everyone knows that the most capable vehicle in the ski area parking lot is a Jeep Wrangler, so naturally lots of skiers' choose to own a Jeep.  Having a bit of fun with this association, Jeep has created a new print ad shown above that links skiing and Jeeping.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Gorilla Wheel Locks

Okay, I admit - it's hard to get excited about lug nuts.  But if you've never given yours a second thought, I'm here to suggest that maybe you ought to.

Besides a lift kit, what's the most expensive thing you put on your Jeep?  For most people, it's the wheels and tires!  They can easily cost well over $1,500, and if you're simply reusing the original lug nuts, those wheels and tires can be stolen in under 10 minutes.

Most wheel lock kits come with a single locking lug nut.  You can buy wheel lock lug nuts direct from Mopar, or the typical Jeep lug nut kit includes 4 wheel locks, one for each wheel.  These are easily defeated with a wheel lock removal tool, however, and don't include a lock for your spare wheel.

Gorilla Automotive makes a full wheel lock kit listed for Jeeps that includes locking lug nuts for all 5 lugs, but the problem is that it only includes 20 lug nuts; it leaves your spare tire as vulnerable to theft as ever.  The trick is to order a set for 6-lug wheels instead of for 5-lug wheels: this gives you 24 locking lug nuts so you have 3 left over for use on your spare wheel, with one extra for if you ever lose or strip the threads on one.  Single wheel lock lug nuts deter casual thieves, but a complete set of locking lug nuts installed on every single lug substantially increases the time and effort required to steal your wheels & tires, so only the most determined thief would even consider targeting your Jeep.

Gorilla Automotive part number 71684N pictured above is what I ordered, and I found yet again that had the best price.  It includes five 1/2-inch locking lug nuts for each wheel, plus three more for the spare tire, one extra lug nut, and the wheel lock key (special socket).  Not pictured (because I don't need anyone stealing my wheels & tires) is a sticker with the lock's part number so you can order a replacement if you ever lose the lock.  The sticker should be placed inside the glovebox or under the hood, and the wheel lock key should be kept with the Jeep at all times for when you need to install your spare tire.

The new lug nuts are the same "acorn" style as the originals, but they are slightly longer and stick out a tiny bit more than the originals.  The original Jeep lug nuts use a 19mm socket while the new wheel lock key is 13/16" or 21mm.  This means that your Jeep's tire iron will not fit your new wheel lock key.  You should already have a 13/16" or 21mm socket in your tool kit that you carry in your Jeep at all times (right???) but if you don't then it's a good idea to get a Gorilla Telescoping Lug Wrench Set that includes two sockets with all four of the popular lug nut sizes - you never know when you'll need to help a fellow 4wheeler on the trail or a damsel in distress on the side of the road, so having this powerful and compact lug wrench stored with your jack in the back of your Jeep is wise.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Product Reivew: Rugged Ridge XHD Hood Catches

Rugged Ridge's black aluminum XHD Hood Catches

There's no such thing as a perfect vehicle.  The Jeep Wrangler JK is about as close as you'll ever find, but even it has its shortcomings.  For instance, its suspension is too low.  It doesn't come from the factory with 35-inch-tall tires.  And its rubber hood catches allow the hood to flutter in a strong headwind.

Most serious Jeep owners install a suspension lift kit and bigger tires, but not enough of them upgrade their hood latches.  When new, the original rubber hood latches work fine, but as the rubber dries out and they lose their elasticity with age, they can allow hood flutter when traveling at a high rate of speed.  Even at normal highway speeds, a strong headwind or an oncoming truck can blast enough wind through the Jeep's radiator to pressurize the underhood engine compartment and force the hood to lift.

The original plastic and rubber hood catches

It may be disconcerting to watch the hood bounce up and down with every big gust of headwind, but the hood isn't going to fly open all of a sudden; not only would both rubber hood catches need to break, but the central metal hood latch would also have to fail.  But even so, I wanted to upgrade my Jeep's hood catches to solve this annoyance.

There are a few aftermarket upgrades available for the JK, TJ, and earlier Jeeps.  The most popular is the Daystar Hood Wranglers.  These are a pair of polyurethane replacement straps for the original rubber straps.  They don't stretch as much as the rubber ones do, and the polyurethane is reported to better withstand weather and ultraviolet breakdown over the years.  They're very easy to install and at only $25 a set, it would be silly to replace your worn out old rubber ones with a set of fresh rubber ones from your local Jeep dealership.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Jeep Wrangler on Fifth Gear

Fifth Gear is a British motoring show along the lines of Top Gear.  It does not have the U.S. distribution that Top Gear does through BBC America, or its own American version corresponding with Top Gear America, but you can still access all the shows on Final Gear.

In the following segment, they compare a new Jeep Wrangler JK to the original Willys Jeep: