Chrysler is on the verge of launching an all-new Jeep Grand Cherokee, its first new vehicle since the bailout amid last year’s auto industry financial disaster. While small cars are on the way from new corporate parent Fiat, the Grand Cherokee is one of the company’s most successful large models.
The Jeep brand is actually one of the more valuable assets of the company, with a uniquely American history behind it beginning in World War II. Through the ensuing years, the Jeep line has been under the stewardship of a company called Willys-Overland, then American Motors, then Chrysler (which bought the old AMC in the 1980s).
And while vehicles like the Cherokee, the Grand Cherokee, and later models such as the Liberty and Compass have spread the Jeep name across a broader product line, the basic off-road machine often known as just a “Jeep” has endured.
Today it’s called the Wrangler and nearly stands alone as a purposeful adventure vehicle. The Jeep Wrangler is a favorite of those looking to get to the great outdoors for fishing, camping or off-road adventures. On any given weekend in the mountains and deserts of the United States, it’s not unusual to see many Jeeps, sometimes traveling in groups.
A Wrangler is extremely capable right out of the box. While some of the other Jeep models are less adept at true off-roading (sometimes mockingly referred to as “soft roaders”), the Wrangler can tackle everything from the most rugged trails to the steepest sandy inclines.
Like other vehicle enthusiasts, many Jeep owners aren’t content to leave their new vehicles alone, and often add all sorts of enhancements to make them even more ready for rough terrain. For a trade show last fall, the engineers and marketers at Chrysler decided to deck out a Wrangler with accessories right out of their own Mopar parts catalog in order to show just what could be done to the vehicle.
I was recently handed the key to this very Jeep, having done its show duty as well as a press event in Moab, Utah. While I didn’t get a chance to take it out to any of the off-road playgrounds in Southern California (even the closest one is about an hour’s drive away), I did marvel at how much cool stuff it had on it.
The most obvious visual change from the basic Rubicon trim level Wrangler is a 2” suspension lift and much bigger wheels and tires. Serious off-road travel requires serious ground clearance and serious traction, and the upgraded suspension and 34” Goodyear mud tires will do the trick. Yes, the rubber is a little noisy on the pavement (with that sonorous “rrrrrr-rrrrrr-rrrrrr” sound), but when the going gets tough on a muddy trail, they’re worth their lack of on-road manners.
Next on the equipment list is a massive front bumper with a heavy-duty electric winch. When the going gets a little too touch, the winch is the off-roader’s best friend. There’s also a full set of skid plates and rock guards, plus a large rear bumper to match the burly front one. Boulders will fear this Jeep – not the other way around.
Rounding out the long list of accessories is a pair of large auxiliary lights mounted up high near the windshield, a set of everything-resistant seat covers, “slush mats” for the floor, and other little doo-dads that showcase the Mopar accessories available for the Jeep.
Many Wranglers are sold with hardtops, but this one has a traditional fabric roof. I did take advantage of it on a sunny day and spent about five minutes folding the main section of the top back, then removing the side curtains from the half doors and the sides of the rear compartment.
There are lots of zippers, flaps, and long sections of Velcro to get it all back together, and doing that took me three times as long as putting the top down. I’m just glad I wasn’t trying to do it in a sudden rainstorm! Certainly a Jeep owner would get the hang of doing this swiftly with a little practice.
The price tag for this “Mopar Extreme Off Road Wrangler,” as Chrysler has labeled it? Well, it started out as a fairly loaded-up Rubicon model which cost right around $30,000. The total for everything on the list of parts was $11,598 including estimated dealership labor to install it all. The only thing not listed on the price breakdown is the tires, of which there are five. A search of my favorite online tire website lists them for just under $300 each.
The beauty of building a serious Jeep this way is that the whole thing can be financed as a package. Also, Chrysler says the Mopar accessories are engineered specifically for the vehicle and are fully warranted.
Like many people tooling around Southern California in Wranglers, I was just an off-road poseur as I kept to the tarmac while I had it in my possession. But the capability of it had me dreaming of tackling some trails. If only they were a little closer.
I’ll see you down the road.
Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7. He’s also a car enthusiast and owns several classics. Dave can be reached at TVCarz @ pacbell.net