- Helping you drive happy

The Jeep Wrangler Rubicon and Grand Cherokee: Adventurers Extraordinaire

At Play in the Valley of Fire Automotive columnist: , Updated:

A 44-degree angle of attack. That’s what the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon promises as a standard capability. And that’s exactly what we gathered to put to the test during a short but very demanding trek organized by Jeep in the Valley of Fire region, outside of Las Vegas.

Check out our first drive of the 2018 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon on the famed Rubicon Trail

Now, 44 degrees might not seem like that much, but when it applies to a rocky escarpment or a trail, it’s quite an intimidating challenge. In reality, the steep slope we drove up has an incline of 37 degrees, according to the specialists that guided us through this spectacular area.

These figures might not make much of an impression on those who have never really off-roaded. But I can assure you that when you’re at the wheel of a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Unlimited that’s been freed of its doors, just to make it all more real, the figures add up to an experience that’s bracing, to say the least.

When you’re climbing, this type of incline requires that the guide position himself in front and hold his arms up high to give instructions; this is because the driver sees only the massive hood of the Jeep, and blue sky above it. It’s such a steep slope that you’re sunk deep into your seat, with no way to get out of it if you wanted to.

Photo: M.Bouchard

The machine, meanwhile, goes without hesitation. No matter how big the boulders we encountered, the Jeep Rubicon makes good use of its articulated suspension (its mobility is 25% greater than the other Jeep Wrangler versions, when the anti-roll bar is disconnected electronically) over the toughest obstacles without flinching.

I would go so far as to say that the biggest limitation in this environment is… the driver. Inclined towards the rear, the Wrangler’s Pentastar V6 engine chugs along at a regular pace, unless the driver lifts off the accelerator. Even then, the SUV’s hill control system keeps it in position long enough for the driver to regain their courage.

Who’s the boss
During a drive that covered over two kilometres there-and-back, the Rubicon exercised its absolute dominance over the elements it encountered. With a ground clearance of 27.7 cm, and riding on 33-inch tires, the bit all-terrain Jeep maximizes its capacities thanks to a Rock-Trac 4x4 system with Dana 44 front- and rear-wheel axles with a less-than-4-to-1 ratio.

If you’re not familiar with off-roading denominations, suffice to know that this combination is the most capable found on any production vehicle, and that the Rubicon is virtually alone in its class when it comes time to venture far, far off the beaten track.  

Fortunately, it’s also fitted with a solid chassis and a highly resistant skid plate under the engine bloc. One particularly brutal collision with a large loose rock did result in a breakage… of the rock, which tumbled away in pieces downhill. The Jeep was undamaged.

Photo: M.Bouchard

And on the road?
Once the climbing-descending part of the itinerary was done with, it was time to drive the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon on the road. In previous incarnations the SUV’s behaviour in that context was slightly bruising and jumpy, but the 2018 Wrangler Rubicon’s new suspension system helps it provide a much downier level of comfort when driving on the asphalt.

Jeep has even managed to make the cabin sound-insulated enough to allow for conversations between occupants! The Wrangler is also now equipped with the multifunction UConnect system, which makes using the GPS and audio systems a breeze.  

Which proved especially fortuitous, since it took us little time to get kind of lost on the way back to the starting point of our day; the GPS got us home safe and sound.

Luxury off-roading
Eager to prove that Jeep is more than just the big Wrangler, the company included a second component to our day. We also got to drive a sandy portion of the off-road trail at the wheel of a Jeep Grand Cherokee. No cracking of big boulders for this model, the ground clearance of which is just not made for the craziness that the Rubicon handles so well.

That said, in its Trailhawk version, this Jeep is the equal of any other adventurer in its segment. Its V6 engine delivers 360 hp and 390 lb-ft of torque (a 5.7L V8 is also available) allows it to take on some pretty hefty challenges. Stuck in a sand dune, it was able to extricate itself thanks to using all the abilities of its 4x4 drive system.

Photo: M.Bouchard

The Tailhawk has other weapons in its arsenal. The Quadra-lift variable air suspension system gives it the height required to overcome the most daunting dunes. Its electronic locking differential with 3.09 axle ratio also helps it handle obstacles successfully.

But the most useful function may be the drive mode system available to the driver, which allowss for adjusting for the type of road surface being driven on. In Sand mode, for example, the Jeep Grand Cherokee minimizes braking to prevent stuff from accumulating in front of the wheels. It also adjusts acceleration, and punctuates the gear changes of the 8-speed automatic transmission with variable delays in order to facilitate shifting in difficult conditions.

Driving in deep sand is a bit like driving in deep snow: big furrows develop quickly, grip is greatly reduced, and it’s important for the driver to control the vehicle’s trajectory without relying overly on the brakes. It’s here where the advanced functions of the Trailhawk make themselves very useful. The vehicle can rock crawl at a snail’s pace, drive at more speed on sandy surfaces and so on; at the same time, the reactions of the driver and of the driver are doubly important in these situations.

Photo: M.Bouchard

In this respect the Grand Cherokee earned nothing but praise from us. Skids are controlled easily, this despite the hefty weight of the vehicle. Only the most daunting of the sand dunes brought the Jeep to the limit of its possible angle of attack. On a few occasions we also felt the suspension system was being pushed as far as it could go. But the Grand Cherokee never lost control.

And then, on the road, this Jeep is quite literally transformed. From being the great adventurer, it turns into a genuine luxury vehicle, offering a refined level of comfort and a host of standard equipment designed to make longer rides as pleasant as possible. The surprising dynamism of the engine also helps enhance the driving experience.

Real adventurers
Whether it inhabits a host like the more extreme Wrangler or the more civilized Grand Cherokee, the personality of Jeep as a brand is unchanged, and unmistakable. It is, even today, as unique as the vehicles it produces.

In recent years, quality of finishing, comfort and a wide-ranging list of accessories have become trademarks of the brand a well. But for most people, Jeep still is synonymous with adventure. In this respect, there’s still no other brand that comes close.