Tuesday, June 24, 2014

2014 Jeep Wrangler Willys Wheeler Edition

Car and Driver's awe-inspiring Willys illustration
Jeep is known for producing special editions of their vehicles, and the 2014 Jeep Wrangler Willys Wheeler Edition is amongst the most distinctive.  The current car enthusiast magazines have really taken a liking to the Willys, with Motor Trend comparing it to the Toyota FJ Cruiser and now Car and Driver writing a standalone review.

The Willys Wheeler Edition is essentially a basic Sport model with some blacked-out Sahara model trim pieces, the Rubicon's BFGoodrich Mud-Terrain tires and rock sliders, and some unique decals.  It is available as either a 2-door Wrangler or a 4-door Wrangler Unlimited.  It is not as much a high-performance version of the vehicle as it is a tribute to the model's storied past.

From the Car and Driver article:
So why is it great? As in the war, the current Jeep has an improvisational quality—pitching in wherever needed, filling many roles besides the one for which it was designed. The Wrangler is a great off-roader, sure, but despite its antiquated dynamics, it proffers its own kind of sportiness. Unzip the rear windows, peel back the top, and unhook the doors, and you’ve just converted the Wrangler from a winter safety cell to a carefree summer cruiser, ready to bomb down either a beach or a two-track with the same messy kind of joy.
As I wrote in an earlier blog entry, the Jeep Wrangler is one of the most fun and expressive vehicles you can own.  Special edition Jeeps add to the fun of ownership of such popular vehicles by differentiating them and enhancing their personalities.  The Willys Wheeler Edition honors the past of its predecessors and our servicemen.

Basic Wranglers Are Simple Fun

As a 4wheeler, I am obviously a big fan of the Rubicon model of the Jeep Wrangler JK.  The Rubicon's upgraded offroad equipment (stronger front axle, different locks front and rear, deeper transfer case and differential gearing, rock sliders, sway bar disconnect, etc.) versus the lesser models adds cost but returns big gains in trail capability, but that doesn't mean a bare-bones Wrangler isn't a fantastic vehicle in its own right.

AutoGuide.com has reviewed a 2014 Jeep Wrangler Sport S and come to the same conclusion.  From the article:
Like the Mazda Miata, the Wrangler is an unlimited fun machine. It’s a vehicle everyone needs to drive at least once in their lives. Nothing on the market gives the same raw, utilitarian feeling. I’ve driven several versions of the Jeepiest Jeep and one thing is always true: I feel like a kid again within minutes of getting behind the wheel.
In a world of ever-more-homogenized cars, the Wrangler is one of the last holdouts of fun.  Of course there will always be the stale criticism (and oftentimes slander) from oblivious and condescending publications such as Consumer Reports, but we can mock their drivel along with the rest of the automotive enthusiasts as we enjoy unique and expressive vehicles.  AutoGuide agrees:
And it may be that youthful feeling that has given this Jeep one of the largest diehard fan bases in the entire automotive world. Owners of Wranglers live and breathe Jeeps. They’re part of secret society that gives each other the “Jeep wave” as they pass by on the street.

Everyone knows what makes a Wrangler Rubicon awesome, but the article makes a great argument in favor of the basic Wrangler Sport, either as a basic and fun street vehicle, an entry-level 4wheeler, or as a platform for an extensively modified Rubicon-shaming extreme offroader.  Regardless, the Wrangler is a personality-laden funmachine for people who enjoy life to the fullest.  The article's verdict:
The Wrangler is especially quirky and that’s a big part of what makes it appealing. Jeep owners are proud to mount stickers on their rides declaring “it’s a jeep thing you wouldn't understand”. Even though I’m not an owner, I fully understand the affection people have for these unrefined off-roaders. They’re unique vehicles with go anywhere capabilities that promise freedom and a good time.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Jeep Beach 2014 - Daytona Beach, Florida

Jeep Beach has become one of the biggest 4x4 gatherings in the world.  Held annually in Daytona Beach, Florida, the event attracts Jeepers from all across the country.  A huge Jeep show, a man-made obstacle course, and an epic beach cruise are all part of the event.

Rebel Off Road made this great video showing their cross-country road trip from their home in California along with the event's activities.  There's some great obstacle course action along with a lot of great aerial views of the beach parade taken with a DJI Phantom drone:

Jeep Wrangler JKs at the 2014 Easter Jeep Safari in Moab

I've written about the annual Easter Jeep Safari before, but the number of great videos that people have put together from the 2014 event are definitely worth some attention.  For anyone unfamiliar with the event, it's a nine-day gathering of 4wheelers from across the country and all around the world in the small town of Moab, Utah for one of the most famous 4x4 events.  The sandstone rock, terrific people, and incredible desert vistas make for a perfect environment to enjoy your Jeep.

If you haven't been to Moab before, you would be wise to consider contacting one of the numerous trail guide companies.  Regardless of your prior experience exploring these trails, the Guide to Moab, UT Backroads & 4-Wheel-Drive Trails and Utah Byways: 65 of Utah's Best Backcountry Drives are the area's two best 4x4 trail books that you should bring with you to make the most of your experience.  The following videos will also give you a good idea of what to expect, but remember that Moab has trails that cater to the full spectrum of driver and vehicular capabilities.

These first three videos are from 4WD Hardware:

ARB USA put together a fantastic video of their sponsored run on the Fins & Things trail, which includes some aerial views of the Jeeps on the trails taken with a DJI Phantom drone.  This video definitely shows that an experience Moab 4wheeling truly is:

Here's another look at that incredible aerial shot from the video:

My friend Fred Williams from Petersen's 4-Wheel & Offroad Magazine devoted one of the recent episodes of his Dirt Every Day web 4wheeling show to his adventure to Moab, in a Jeep Wrangler TJ that he started building only two weeks before the trip.  Definitely an entertaining show!

Rebel Off Road has been putting out a lot of videos lately, and the following four videos of their experience at Easter Jeep Safari are great:

Of course the edge-of-your-seat action from the extreme trails the most frequently videoed, but if you're interested in some easier, more relaxing trails, don't worry - Moab has plenty to offer.  Even a 2-wheel-drive car can access much of Moab, as shown in this video:

Moab exploration isn't limited to the Easter Jeep Safari - in addition to the two books I recommend for self-guided tours, you can also utilize the expertise of several offroad tour guides any time of year.  Another option (especially if you don't have a Jeep of your own) is to contact one of the many Jeep rental companies in Moab who can guarantee a lifetime of memories.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

News Report on Off-Roading

Off-roading featured in the NBC nightly news!

It's not very often that 4-wheeling is featured by the mainstream media, but WMTV out of Madison, Wisconsin recently aired the following 2-minute feature on a local Jeep club.  The video was shot on private land and presented off-roading as the fun, family activity that we all know it to be. 

A group of 4x4s featured in the news report

The story can be found on WMTV's website.  While I don't particularly like the inexperienced reporter's use of the term "ripping through the narrow trees" to inaccurately describe the experience, she still portrays 4wheeling in a positive manner.  One shot shows the 4-wheelers and some equestrians happily sharing the same trail; other shots focus on a happy dog and grinning children enjoying the adventure in their families' Jeeps.  I'm especially fond of the "endangered species" Jeep t-shirt that is worn by one of the 4wheelers who was interviewed in the report.  The video can be viewed here:

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Jeep Legend and Hero: Mark A. Smith

Jeep Legend and Hero: Mark A. Smith
The offroad community has just lost a true off-road icon: 87-year-old Mark A. Smith. 

I had the pleasure of finally meeting Mark at Rubicon Springs during the 60th Jeepers Jamboree between interviews and countless "hellos" from others.  Every time I saw him, he was surrounded by admiring Jeepers awaiting their chance to speak with him.  It seems that everyone but the trail-closure faux-environmentalists loved and admired Mark A. Smith.

Mark has many titles to his credit.  He was a miner, a Marine, a sheriff's deputy, the owner of a lumber company, an airport manager, a real estate developer, and a devoted husband.  He was the founder of Jeep Jamboree USA in 1982 after inventing the sport of "Jeeping" and founding the Jeeper's Jamboree back in 1953 and its first-ever organized Jeep trip on the Rubicon Trail.  He organized and headed the 1987 Camel Trophy in Madagascar.  He was a consultant for Jeep, seemingly the only thing to go unchanged as the brand's ownership transferred from Willys to Kaiser, American Motors, Chrysler, Daimler, and finally Fiat.  He was an offroad test facility engineer for Jeep, the Marine Corps, and countless others.  He was inducted into the Offroad Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1980, and a board member of the Rubicon Trail Foundation.  He even had "JEEP" tattooed on his butt.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

AEV Customer Jeep Tour: Anza Borrego Desert

American Expedition Vehicles has been organizing offroad tours with their customers to various spectacular places in America.  Their latest expedition was to California's Anza Borrego Desert.  The two following videos will definitely give you an appreciation of the AEV Jeeps and the beauty and ruggedness of the desert:

Motor Trend Compares the FJ Cruiser and Jeep Wrangler Unlimited

With the Toyota FJ Cruiser coming to the end of its production run and no replacement in the works, Motor Trend Magazine decided that one final review of the truck was in order.  They selected a 2014 Toyota FJ Cruiser Trail Teams Ultimate Edition, one of 2500 that is a special send-off version to commemorate the last of the FJ Cruisers, and they pitted it against a special edition of the JK - the
2014 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Willys Wheeler Edition.

The article does a great job of explaining the differences between the two vehicles from both an on-road and an off-road standpoint.  While they proved to be evenly-matched on the pavement, the Jeep (in spite of the Willys Wheeler Edition not being a Rubicon-based model with the heavier-duty drivetrain and additional offroad prowess) demonstrated a clear superiority in the dirt.  The Toyota's independent front suspension provided a slightly better ride at high speeds, but the Jeep's dual solid axles walked over everything in their path.  From the article:
The Jeep Wrangler, on the other hand, feels unstoppable off-road. Surprising, right? Though not at home speeding down open trails like the FJ is, the Wrangler still eagerly does anything you ask of it. On tight, technical trails, you never find yourself questioning the Jeep's capabilities. Point and shoot the Jeep at an obstacle and it overcomes it. No muss, no fuss. The Jeep easily took to steep climbs and descents, rocky frame twisters, and more, seemingly eager for yet more.
The Jeep's other big advantage over the Toyota is its price; as-tested, the Jeep cost roughly $5000 less than the Toyota.  Sure, a fully-optioned Rubicon can match the Toyota's price point, but the Rubicon's additional offroad equipment would further the performance gap.  Thus, the Jeep was their unanimous victor in this match:
Ultimately, there can be just one winner, and that victory goes to the original: the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Willys Wheeler Edition. While you really can't go wrong with either the Toyota or Jeep, the Wrangler just offers up that little extra something that makes you want to keep going. The Wrangler oozes personality; spend any time in it and it immediately becomes part of the family. Basically what it boils down to is this: the Jeep Wrangler makes you want to drop the top and actively go out and seek adventure. In the Toyota FJ Cruiser, you're content holing up at home for a weekend-long Netflix marathon and hitting the road later.

In an increasingly busy world, there's no beating the feeling of freedom the Wrangler affords you, and for that it walks off with the win.
Perhaps if Toyota had equipped the FJ Cruiser with a proper pair of solid axles (from the 80-Series Land Cruiser, for instance) and had continued refining and updating the vehicle as Jeep has done with the Wrangler, it could have put up a better fight against the Jeep.  While the FJ Cruiser is a decent performer, it (like every other vehicle on the American market) just can't match the benchmark that Jeep has set with the Wrangler.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Offroad Basics: Trail Etiquette

The Driving Line has published a fantastic article covering the basics of OHV trail etiquette that every trail user needs to read.  From the article:
Whether you’re joining an organized trail run or just exploring trails with a few friends, you should be familiar with these basic trail etiquette points – they help to protect land use for the future, demonstrate how to respect other wheelers, and guide you towards keeping yourself and those around you safe.
They outline key points in the topics of Land Use, Safety, and Respect for Others using specific examples and the excellent photography for which they're known.