After driving the same Toyota RAV4 for 13 years, I was ready for a change. I was tempted to buy a convertible but it would have forced me to keep the RAV4 to go to the Home Depot or to the dog park (two of my favorite destinations, apparently), and the convertible would not have been driven frequently. A few week-ends every now and then. No, I wanted a car I would drive every day.
It left me with the prospect of buying another SUV but I could not bring myself to spend my hard earned cash on a vehicle full of electronic nannies, looking the same as millions of other cross-overs, and as rewarding to interact with as a washing machine.
Then Ford launched the new Bronco. Their marketing was brilliant, and opened my mind to a new range of possibilities – I could get a vehicle with a strong personality, enough space for the dogs and my home improvement activities, and the open air driving experience I was so keen on enjoying again.
The Bronco planned availability did not align with my timeline, and at the top of that I suspected that Ford’s distribution approach (start the purchase process on line with Ford, but discuss the price and the delivery with a dealer at a later stage) would be major source of pain for the clients.
But if not a Bronco, why not a Wrangler?
We first rented a Rubicon of the previous generation (a JK Unlimited) for a week-end on Truro, and were very pleasantly surprised – it felt like a little truck, for sure, but it was comfortable, easy to drive, and could fit in a suburban lifestyle.
Considering the price of a recent second hand Wrangler and of the extended warranty, it made more sense to buy the Jeep new. I test drove a model of the current generation with the 6 speed manual, liked it very much except for the clutch and the gearbox, and we settled for the 8 speed automatic and the “Sky One-Touch” power top.
We ordered our Wrangler from one of those volume dealerships that don’t insist on having you in their showroom, and the experience was pleasant end to end (a couple of emails, a phone call to agree on the details, a great price, not even a deposit, and no silly surprise at the end of the process). I just found bizarre that when I took delivery of the Jeep, I had to sign multiple forms where I acknowledged that the sales person was showing me this or that feature. He said Jeep (the Corporation) are checking the forms that are filled in during the walk through, and that the dealers are fined for each missed feature.
“Did the dealer use high pressure sales tactics, did the salesperson lie to you, did they lock you in a small dark room until you sign for an extended warranty?” – Not word for word, but pretty close – at least that’s the general tone of the “dealer evaluation survey” that Jeep (the Corporation) send to the buyers of their cars. Obviously, they have a very poor opinion of some of their dealers.
And what it’s like to drive? The answer probably depends a lot on the tires, and on the modifications performed by the owner. Our Jeep is a 4 door Sport S with the Michelin “highway and gravel” tires, and a stock suspension. Jeep has optimized this version for the road and relatively light off-road duty. My feed-back would probably be very different if I was driving a two door Rubicon with 35in Mud Terrain tires and a 3.5in lift.
On our Jeep, you clearly feel the body move laterally above the front solid axle if you hit a bump in a fast bend, but it’s not scary and for the rest of the time, it’s very civilized and not that different to drive from a “normal” SUV. The steering is not as bad as generally reported, either. It’s definitely more truck-like than Miata-like, but it’s reasonably precise and the power steering is correctly calibrated. The 2020-2021 models have a more rigid steering box – it must have addressed the most glaring issues experienced by the first owners of the Wranglers of the current generation.
This Wrangler is perfectly capable of long freeway drives – it’s fast enough to keep up comfortably with the traffic and not even loud. The 2L engine has a lot of grunt, and reminds me of a turbo diesel (with the whine of the turbo but without the clatter of a diesel). Gas mileage is not diesel like though, in the 19 to 22 mpg range most of the time. Inside, the cabin is relatively narrow with little storage space for things like keys or phones, but the commands are well designed, the infotainment system easy to use, and the fit and finish more than correct. The most surprising? Because of the shape of body (almost vertical windshield, small lateral windows, plenty of headroom) the cabin does not get hot in the Atlanta summer, and you can drive without turning on the A/C most of the time. You simply press the magic button to open the retractable canvas top, and on you go.
I still have a lot to learn more about off-road driving. Owning a Jeep is clearly an invitation to spend more time out of the main roads. What I’ve noticed so far is that you cross all sorts of vehicles on the US Forest roads (even Chrysler minivans and Mercedes E Class station wagons) but when it gets a bit tougher, you only see other Wranglers.
Is our Jeep a “he” or a “she”? I was born and raised in France, and in the French language, we don’t have the concept of a “neutral” gender for objects – they are grammatically “masculine” or “feminine”. Whatever the reason, a “car” tends to be associated with the feminine, in proper French as well as in slang (une automobile, une voiture, une bagnole, une caisse,…). On the other hand, “trucks” tend to be masculine (un camion, un pick-up, un semi-remorque, un SUV…). It’s the French language, so there are plenty of nuances and exceptions: the Jeep Willys MB and all its direct descendants have always been “feminine”. So, for me and my wife, our Wrangler is a “She”: “Une Jeep”.
Why Gertrude? This car has enough personality to deserve a name. “La Jeep” would have been an option, but it was too obvious. At an antique show recently, we found a beautiful silver tumbler, engraved with the first name of its first owner: “Gertrude”. We did not buy the tumbler, but we felt the name was a good fit for our Jeep, which is now known as “Gertrude” or “Gertie”.