It all started on a recent trip to Algonquin Provincial Park... there was fresh snow, roads were slick, and a car that was headed to the Visitors Centre failed to slow down in time to make the entrance. Now buried in a snow bank, there was no hope for the little car with front-wheel drive to extract itself. As luck should have it, who were the rescuers that arrived shortly after? A well equipped Jeep Wrangler who saved the day. When I looked back as I was driving by, I noticed his tire cover which said "It's a Jeep Thing...".
I'm a car driver through and through, enjoying things such as great gas mileage, responsive handling, all while still being able to throw my canoe on the roof racks and head up North for the weekend. When the opportunity to test drive the new 2014 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara presented itself, I jumped at the chance to determine if I had under valued this "Jeep Thing".
My first surprise was that the Wrangler Unlimited Sahara drove without my pre-determined illusion that the driving experience would be overpowered with high engine and road noise. It seemed so much more refined than expected. For a vehicle with history dating back to the 40's, the Wrangler has arrived as a family or commuter vehicle yet capable of wandering through bush trails. You won't have to wait until the last sentence. I would definitely recommend the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara.
The four door (as tested) has a longer wheel base adding a bit more stability and suspension comfort than a shorter wheel based vehicle. Internally the rear seats fold out of the way with ease (watch what the headrests do in my video below) giving you piles of room to transport gear. My model had the Bluetooth option, so pairing my phone was just a few taps away (a USB Auxiliary option was behind a little protective cover) so I could listen to my music through the great Alpine Premium audio system.
I was very impressed by the width and brightness of the headlight coverage and despite the inadequate appearance of the windshield wiper blades, both the wide dispersal of spray and effectiveness of the blades, were well appreciated. There are nice little touches like the self-calibrating compass, a full 115 volt/ 150 watt ac-power inverter (and high-output alternator to power it) which accepts three-prong plugs, along with a plug in the back section, deep/padded cup holders keep your drink locked in place, and an extendable sun visor, which is fully accessible, even while wearing Winter gloves. In my own car, it's a minor annoyance when I have to remove my gloves to pull the sun visor down. A small complaint is that the running board didn't offer much in terms of foot room for people getting in and out via the rear doors, but there are after-market Jeep grab handles to help hoist you up or prevent you from slipping on a patch of ice when exiting. I think that the replacement tire on the back door may be under-appreciated. It does limit rear vision somewhat but it is easy to access and isn't under the vehicle where you might have to dig for it if you get stuck or find it rusted in place from the salty Canadian roads. I didn't think I would appreciate the stiff suspension but it was awesome in both the city when traversing uneven railway tracks or challenging rough terrain.
I filmed a video to show how you'd look driving the Jeep Wrangler. The Jeep made short work of the conditions and let me drive to trails that I wouldn't dare dream trying to access with my car in the Winter (never mind the ruts in the Summer)...
The "dramatic" scene that I filmed of the Jeep climbing the hill into the parking lot had to be cut from the final video. As I ran back to the Jeep after strategically placing my cameras in the bushes, and hitting 'record', I realized my fatal mistake. Instead of using my momentum from the previous hill, I had parked the Jeep with the fine, crystalline, almost sand-like snow right up to the base of the frame. It wasn't moving anywhere, and I was thinking about the long hike out to the nearest house (not the outdoors time I was looking for). It took a bit of work but in short order, I had the Wrangler free, a testament to the Winter tires and ground clearance. Not only do I feel safer driving this Jeep in 2-wheel drive than my own car, but the 4X4 capabilities sure provide both a sense of security and adventure.
So have I figured out what the tire cover meant by it being a "Jeep Thing" yet? I think so! Within a day I was returning the favour to other Wrangler owners who were giving me the "Jeep Wave", I was thinking of weekend woodsy destinations that were more remote and I was daydreaming of driving it in the summer with the top down or with a canoe on top. There are a pile of aftermarket add-ons as well through Mopar to consider (there is even a tent with a vehicle cargo area!). It took awhile to get used to feeling a little more tippy than a car due to it's higher centre of gravity, and I experienced considerably less gas mileage than what I was used to (The 2014 Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 4X4 is rated 13.2 L/100km for City, and 10.0 L/100 km Highway)... but the overall driving experience (especially anyone who appreciates going beyond the pavement) was by far and wide what makes me miss this Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara, long after I had to surrender the keys. Rugged, versatile, iconic and fun!