Thursday, February 26, 2015

Consumer Reports Continues Disparaging the Jeep Wrangler

AutoGuide is reporting that Consumer Reports magazine's latest auto issue is continuing its annual tradition of disparaging the Jeep Wrangler.  In their list of the Five Worst New Cars for 2015, they rank the Wrangler JK at the top (or would that be the bottom?)

I've addressed their unfounded claims in depth twice before, but it's worth revisiting as a reminder that automotive and 4x4 experts are much better sources of vehicular information than an appliance magazine.  When I need to know how well toasters rate, I might check out CR.  But I'm certainly not going to consider the opinion of such a consistently uninformed source - and especially not one that seems to have a personal vendetta against such an incredibly popular vehicle.

After all, if the Wrangler really is as awful as Consumer Reports claims it is, why would it be so revered?  I'll never understand why so many people consider CR's word to be gospel.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Yahoo Travel Disparages Death Valley National Park

Death Valley National Park, photo courtesy of Yahoo Travel

Death Valley is apparently a "love it or hate it" National Park, because Yahoo Travel has ranked it as one of America's Five Worst National Parks.  From the article:

Death Valley, California and Nevada

Here’s an idea: heat a pan full of sand to about 200 degrees, then pour it on your head. Congratulations, you’ve just simulated a visit to Death Valley National Park.

This is a place that actually boasts about once having 43 consecutive days of temperatures above 120 degrees. One Yahoo editor visited, and became so delusional from the heat that he imagined he enjoyed the trip. When it’s not hot, it’s bitterly cold in Death Valley, so at least you can get some variety in your misery. “Oh, it has pretty rocks and mountains,” say some. You where else has colorful rocks? Literally every single other national park, and you might actually enjoy visiting them.

Online Review: “I have to say this is the ugliest place I have ever seen…I paid $20 for nothing but rock and salt.”

Fun fact: Everyone who visits the park dies.

It almost sounds as though the author has never actually visted Death Valley, or else his visit was limited to the paved roads in the valleys during the heat of the summer.  As I illustrated in my own trip report from Death Valley, there is much to love in the desert that you can't experience anywhere else.  Death Valley expert "Death Valley Jim" expressed his sentiments on his Facebook page; the comments from his followers are an entertaining read.  Suffice it to say, the information provided by Yahoo Travel is poor advice.

Death Valley National Park, February 2014

Of course everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but if Yahoo Travel's editors are this narrow-minded and research-limited, I can't recommend them as a reliable source of travel information for the outdoors enthusiast.  Even if Yahoo's article is merely tongue-in-cheek humor, the implication that tax dollars should not be funding this park because the editor didn't enjoy his visit is deplorable.  As one of the only National Parks that permits backcountry vehicular recreation, Death Valley is a most treasured natural resource.

When first researching Death Valley before my own trip, I studied these offroad guidebooks: Guide to Southern California Backroads & 4-Wheel Drive Trails and California Desert Byways: 68 of California's Best Backcountry Drives and California Trails Desert Region.  I own all of them and can attest to how much information they contain, which really helped enhanced our enjoyment of the area.  Plus, as an added benefit, each of these books also covers numerous other trails outside of Death Valley and can help you enjoy years of backcountry exploration:

Eagle Scout Demonstrates True Environmentalism

Boy Scout volunteers preserve public land

Land-Use champion Don Amador (Western Representative for BlueRibbon Coalition) published a report on Boy Scout Sean Griffith's inspiring Eagle Project.  The Scout planned, directed, and led 21 Scouts, adults, family members and friends in a project to protect an archeological site in the Mi-Wok Ranger District of the Stanislaus National Forest; the Camp Clavey Off Highway Vehicle (OHV) area was burnt in 2013's Rim Fire and the Forest Service's resources are spread too thin to properly address every needy area.

All too often, we see instances of the USFS and BLM mismanaging our public lands.  Sean's Eagle Project has done more than simply preserve and protect a highly-valued multiple-use area of a National Forest; it serves as a shining example of how our public land management agencies should continue moving toward partnerships with outdoor recreation clubs and individuals who have offered to donate their time and efforts for the health of our natural resources.  In contrast to the efforts of the anti-access "environmentalist" organizations, the simplification of the government's bureaucratic obstacles that stand in the way of pro-access volunteers benefits all land users and our natural resources.  Public lands should be preserved for the public, rather than from the public:

Sean's completed Eagle Project

Why Jeep is the Most Relevant Brand

Yahoo Autos has an interesting take on the Jeep brand after their recent on/off-road introduction to the new Renegade.  The author reflects on the Jeep brand as a whole, and how it stands apart from every other auto manufacturer in terms of overall vehicular capability and the public's perception of the Jeep brand lifestyle.  While praising all of Jeep's top offerings, he particularly likes the "awesome and totally covetable Wrangler."  The final verdict?  That Jeep is the most relevant brand in the automotive industry.  From the article:
If you really want something to shout "surf’s up, man," then choose the real sweetheart of the Jeep lineup, the Wrangler. If you want four-door sunshine, select the Wrangler Unlimited. To us, nothing screams outdoors like a Jeep with a soft top, so throw the surfboard in the back, and away you go...all the way up to the 'Bu to catch some cool waves, brah. We’d also opt for the top of the range Rubicon version, in a black on black configuration with a hard shell top.
Seriously though, the Wrangler Unlimited gives you Mercedes Benz G63 looks at less than a quarter of the price. Imagine having surf, sun, sand, and looking good in the outdoors on a major budget. Who could ask for anything more?
Most of the public's perception of any given brand is established by its users' core enthusiast base.  Jeep represents many things to many people, but the benchmark of adventurous outdoor spirit that is set by the Wrangler carries over into Jeep's other offerings more than any other competitor's 4x4s.  Jeep's long history of ruggedness symbolizes the American spirit more than any other vehicle.  This is a key reason why it's imperative that the next-generation Wrangler carry on its fundamental off-road capabilities at all costs.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Toledo Continues to Fight for Jeep Wrangler Production

Jeep's Toledo North Assembly Plant has been fighting hard to continue being the home of the iconic Jeep Wrangler when the next generation of the vehicle goes into production.  The State of Ohio, the City of Toledo, and countless individuals have been a part of this common goal, but perhaps none as fervently as Toledo's Mayor D. Michael Collins.  With his unfortunate death earlier this month, many have feared that among other repercussions, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles' upper management might go ahead with plans to move the Wrangler's production to another facility.

The latest reports are indicating that Toledo is still fighting hard to keep their beloved Jeep Wrangler. The City of Toledo's Director of Development, Matt Sapara, seems to have taken over Mayor Collins' reigns; he has delivered to Fiat Chrysler Automobiles an outline of a development plan that would give FCA the ability to buy an extra 100 acres to expand the factory.  This is to help accommodate FCA's targeted output of 300,000 to 350,000 next-generation Wranglers, up from the 240,000 the factory can make now.

North America's Top-5 Overland Vehicles

Expedition Portal, the online presence for Overland Journal, analyzed all new 2015 4x4s available in North America for their suitability as an overland-style vehicle.  This includes factors such as offroad capabilities, strength and durability, size, load capacity, and aftermarket support.  While overlanding does not necessarily require utmost offroad prowess, it is an important factor since more capable vehicles can safely access additional trails than less-capable vehicles can.  Overall, however, an overland-style vehicle must be well-rounded and perform well at many tasks, not just one.

Of 2015's Top Five Overland Vehicles for North America, the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Unlimited is predictably the most offroad-capable vehicle.  From the article:
This list would be incomplete without the inclusion of Jeep’s pinnacle vehicle, the cornerstone of the entire Jeep brand. The Wrangler is an icon of off-roading and to many, a platform without peer. The 3.6-liter 6-cylinder 24-valve VTT engine when paired to the 6-speed manual provides a visceral driving experience that is increasingly rare these days. The Rock-Trac 4WD system with 4:1 low gearing, Dana 44 front axles and electronic sway bar disconnects make this the best 4×4 in its class––by far, not to steal a tagline from Land Rover.

Although the Wrangler is commonly used as a daily driver, and does admirably on the blacktop, it is purpose built for off pavement use. Once in the backcountry, its colors really shine. The Achilles heal to the Unlimited Rubicon however, is the abysmal load carrying capacity. Should your adventures fill all four seats, each occupant will have to pack lightly to stay under the 1,000 pound payload allowance. Not just light, but really light. Despite Jeep’s efforts to soften the interior space and fit it with more creature comforts and features, it is still an austere space befitting the “Jeep thing” vibe. That is not intended to be a pejorative as many owners are drawn to that spartan design as a hallmark of the Jeep ethos.
Not found on this list, but certainly worthy of inclusion due to its nearly Jeep-level offroad capabilities and its superior load-carrying capacity, is the Ram Power Wagon.  A slide-in cabover camper would make for a true backcountry home-away-from-home.  The Ford Raptor, while unsuitable for a cabover, could certainly be used with a lighter-weight bed shell or trailer without compromising its desert-tuned suspension.  Read the full article here and share your thoughts below!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Wrangler Willys Wheeler: A Grown-Up Boy's Toy

Industry trade magazine Automotive Design & Production has reviewed the 2015 Jeep Wrangler Willys Wheeler.  The introductory statement could be said about any Jeep Wrangler:
The thing about the Wrangler Willys Wheeler: It is a toy for a grown-up boy.
And that's why the Jeep brand, and in particular the Wrangler, has such a strong enthusiast following - it's not just another anonymous cookie-cutter sedan or SUV.  Rather, it's a Tonka Truck for young-at-heart adults.  It's a vehicle that's intended to allow outdoorsy weekend adventure, but which also brings a smile to its owner's face even during the weekday commute.

While the Willys Wheeler may not be the special uprated Rubicon edition, it is designed as a tribute to Jeep brand's history with its name, its styling, and its decals paying homage to the earliest Willys-Overland CJs.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Next-Gen Wrangler Will Keep its Solid Axles

In what will come as a tremendous relief to Jeep fans, Automotive News is reporting that the next generation of the Wrangler coming in 2017 will retain its solid axle suspension front and rear.  Car and Driver Magazine shared the report, which generated the usual flood of interesting reader comments.

The article is correct in pointing out that the solid axles are as definitive of the Wrangler as its iconic grille.  While the loss of solid axles under the Cherokee, Grand Cherokee, and every other Jeep vehicle has been controversial and bemoaned by the core offroad market, it has been a begrudgingly acceptable change in order to keep the Jeep SUVs competitive with Range Rovers, Land Rovers, and other 4x4 icons that have adopted car-based independent suspension.

Conversely, the Wrangler simply would not be a Wrangler without a proper pair of solid axles; it is the brand's halo vehicle.  The prestige of the Jeep brand and all Jeep vehicles is carried on the Wrangler's shoulders; if the Wrangler lost its offroad prowess by downgrading to street-biased suspension, the Jeep reputation would be forever tarnished.  If the core 4x4 market loses respect for the definitive Jeep, the general public would soon follow.

The surprising sales successes of the JK Wrangler as well as other offroad-biased vehicles (Ford Raptor and Mercedes Geländewagen) has likely contributed to Fiat/Chrysler Automobiles' decision to retain the Wrangler's offroad capability at a (very slight) expense to on-road comfort and handling.  So popular is the Jeep Wrangler, GMC is reportedly looking to build a competitor.  There is a big market for genuine offroad vehicles, so any vehicle that is biased toward offroad performance is bound to be a sales success if its design isn't botched (see the Hummer brand for an example of how not to design a vehicle for the offroad crowd).

Compromising the Wrangler's defining features is a sure path to failure.  If FCA can retain the Wrangler's legendary ruggedness and capability while improving its fuel economy, the redesign will be a win/win situation for everyone involved: Jeep will retain its reputation and enthusiast market, gain additional sales to the mallcrawler crowd, and also appease the government with its mandated Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

DeadMau5 Wrangler Rubicon

Canadian electronica DJ DeadMau5, a.k.a. Joel Zimmerman, has decided to add a gaudy Jeep Wrangler Rubicon to his stable of supercars.

The custom 6.4L SRT Jeep was built by Divine 1 Customs for Deadmau5.  They produced a video showing the digital rendering of the Jeep before starting the build.  The entire rendering start to finish is way too long to show, so it's been compressed into a time-lapse video:

A Jeep is certainly more appropriate for Canadian roads than a Ferrari or McLaren, but this Jeep looks to be built more for appearance than actual functionality.  He's particularly proud of the excessive number of LED light bars, but the oversize rims and digital camo really push it over the top.