I now know why Jeep Wrangler drivers wave to one another in passing — sympathy.
It’s a gesture that indicates both drivers have made a regretful purchase. It marks the feeling of owning a toy and having no place to play with it, like a child with a sand pail sitting on carpet. The wave signifies that the drivers are now in a lifestyle they cannot escape, but are too brainwashed to realize they want to escape in the first place.
Oh sure, it’s a Jeep thing and I wouldn’t understand, they say. And they are right. I don’t.
Undoubtedly the Wrangler, especially in Rubicon trim, aims to be a Swiss Army knife. A tool that is practical, useful and clever whether on the highway or when you fancy creating your own thoroughfare through the wilderness.
Like the Swiss knife, the Wrangler comes with a bevy of tools at your disposal. That can include 4x4 capability, a controllable sway bar, a wench, an engine heating system and just about anything one could imagine needing while off-roading.
The problem is, on the road, the Wrangler is about as effective as the can opener on the Swiss Army knife, which will work, provided you don’t want a can of beans opened anytime this week.
And I’d love to tell you how it was off road, but that’s my biggest issue with the Wrangler — I was unable to take it from the concrete jungle to wilderness.
I conducted a search online for OFV’s, off-highway trails. I found plenty almost exclusively located in the Appalachian foothills, which would mean I’d surely have an empty tank before I arrived given the Wrangler’s poor fuel economy. But a bigger issue arose when I saw that seemingly all these trails forbid anything but motorcycles or ATVs. My search revealed one location where the Wrangler would be permitted but the website stated it was only for experienced off-roaders. Given the fact that the most off-road driving I do involves running over someone’s lawn clippings that have been blown onto the street, I thought better of giving it a go.
With no luck in finding suitable OFV’s or U.S. Forest Service trails, I rang up a local off-road specialty store and asked where I could put some dirt on the Rubicon’s tires.
After he listed off several trails in towns with names like “Pittsweat” and “Groinclamp,” I asked if there was anyplace nearby.
“Not legally,” he said.
As visions of getting shot by an angry landowner danced through my head, I thought better of this.
So unless all the Wrangler’s I see traversing metro Atlanta are owned by people who frequently trespass or are willing to spend a tank-worth of gas just reaching a place to drive it, they must just be using it on the road. How unfortunate.
I say this because on the road, the Wrangler is loud, slow, has an uncomfortable ride and is grossly impractical for everyday use.
Let’s start with the noise, and that starts with the Rubicon’s 33-inch, made-for-mud-slinging tires. Great for trails, I’m sure, but not so great if you don’t want to hear a constant burble from under your backside (from the tires, that is). I tested a hardtop version, which undoubtedly cuts down on the wind noise over soft top versions, but it was certainly still evident even with metal over my head versus cloth.
The Rubicon’s 3.6-liter V6 makes a lot of noise, but lacks umph. But you’ll be saying “Umph” whenever making a quick change in the manual transmission version. Push the clutch in at anything above 4,000 RPM and you’ll have “peeJ” implanted on your forehead from the steering wheel. At least it will read right when you look in the mirror.
Though the Rubicon I tested has optional creature comforts like heated leather seats, an 8.4-inch infotainment screen and a “premium” (whatever that means) wrapped instrument panel, the Wrangler was anything but comfy. Besides slamming my head into the steering wheel every time I switched gears, my biggest complaint about the comfort aspects of the Wrangler was the seats. When a vehicle is equipped with multiple pieces of equipment that keep it from rolling over in uneven terrain, you would expect the seat to be engineered to keep you in place. But no. I found myself rolling out of the Jeep’s seat in while turning into a grocery store parking lot. The Wrangler owners who take their doors off are either idiotically brave or just idiots.
Put more than the two people in the Wrangler and it’s also impractical, especially the two-door version, which provides about as much luggage-carrying capabilities as a toaster. And with its tall ride height and seats that don’t pull far enough forward, getting into the back seats puts jean seams in serious jeopardy.
But these all pale in comparison to the inconvenience presented by removing the top, an act not so simple as pushing a button or adjusting a few clips — you need a set of tools and about 15 minutes. Not to mention at least two strong people to remove the massively weighted top. Imagine moving a four-foot by six-foot washing machine to get an idea of removing the Wrangler’s lid.
Despite all the Wrangler’s flaws, it still has a cult-like following. I am sure this is reinforced by the comradery built by its members every time they wave to their fellow Wrangler owner, whenever a group of them ventures to places like Halitosis, North Carolina to take their 4x4s off road or when you need to call up a group of linebackers to remove the hard top.
After my test drive, I certainly won’t be joining the cult. And I’m sure there is not a single Wrangler owner out there who cares. They are too busy drinking the Kool-Aid.