To celebrate their 75th Anniversary, Jeep invited us to drive their new lineup of vehicles on the most challenging terrain possible – the off-roading capital of the United States, called ‘the Moab.’
As the door of our tiny CRJ700 aircraft opened, I could feel the bite of the cold air rushing in almost immediately. I hunched down and squeezed myself out of the door, and was surprised to see that it had begun to snow. After thirty-five hours and three flights, I was now in Grand Junction, Colorado, and I still had another two-hour drive to get to my final destination – Moab, Utah. My driver was a friendly guy, and told me that the weather was not unusual for this time of the year, and that there was a famous saying in Utah – “If you don’t like the weather, just wait one minute.” And it must be true, because, as we headed out, the snow turned to rain and then a few minutes later – all of a sudden – the clouds parted, and the afternoon sun was shining down over the vast and barren land of Utah. The scenery was breathtaking, and I could see the snowcapped Rockies way in the distance of the vast open barren dead lands filled with massive canyons and ridges. It was surreal to say the least.
In the Christian Bible, Moab is a kingdom in Jordan full of evil and sinful people. It’s described as a vast barren highland and it’s a place that you probably wouldn’t want to visit, which is why when the first pioneers crossed this land they decided to name it after that god-awful place. But as time moved on, and superstition and religion faded away, it turned out that people actually found a great deal of beauty in this desolate land. I know I sure did. Think back to Hollywood’s adventurous ‘Westerns’ such as Mackenna’s Gold, and that’s the kind of scenery that I was looking at. It was spectacular.
What was even more spectacular though was the fact that I was here, in the off-roading capital of the US, to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the inventor of the SUV and the most iconic off-roading vehicle manufacturer. Jeep had invited me to Moab to drive their entire new lineup of vehicles as well as their famed concept models, which they reveal every year at their annual Easter Jeep Safari – which also happened to be in its 50th year. Two fantastic milestones were being celebrated and the excitement was electrifying.
The next day we were given the keys to all the 75th anniversary edition models, and were led by some off-roading experts to take on some exciting trails. As we got off the main highway we finally made rubber meet dirt, but before we could venture any further there was a short briefing session on the vehicles and their capabilities. And it went something like this – “You’re driving the best off-road vehicles in the world, just keep it in 4-low and you’re good to go.” At first, I would be driving the Grand Cherokee – a vehicle that will make its way to India soon, and will probably be priced somewhere in the Rs. 75 to 80 lakh range. And while it doesn’t come close to the Audi Q7 or the BMW X5 in terms of overall quality, when it comes to off-roading capability for a luxury SUV, the Cherokee is ‘Leader Supreme.’ The Grand Cherokee uses an incredibly reliable suspension setup with an electronic limited-slip differential, which transfers up to 100% of torque to any of the wheels if needed. It’s also got air suspension, so that you raise the increase the ground clearance from 220mm to 274mm when you go off-road. Apart from a Range Rover, the Cherokee is the only other full size luxury SUV that can truly go anywhere and do anything.
The trails we drove on during the first day weren’t the most challenging, but that’s only because these Jeep vehicles are so ridiculously easy to drive on tough terrain. We drove over massive boulders, approached hills with almost 45 degree angles, went through slush, and just about anything that you can expect to find on an off-road obstacle course. All I had to do was steer. The car would just drive over anything. Even the Renegade, which is the smallest car in the Jeep lineup, was just as obnoxiously easy to drive when it came to taking on these trails. It’s almost as if the car was saying, “Sit back and just tell me where you want to go.” Of course, there were times when we needed spotters to guide us, but that was only because we couldn’t see over the hood in certain areas. But the overall ruggedness, toughness and agility of these cars is very confidence inspiring, and the harder the obstacles became, the more my own ego grew. By the time the day was over, I thought myself to be an off-road expert.
The next day we were given the opportunity to drive some of the concept cars that Jeep had on display – but, alas, we couldn’t take these beautiful machines out on the trails. My favorite concept was the Trailcat, which is basically a Wrangler on stilts, with a Hemi engine and 700 horsepower. But because of our desire for a real challenge, and after having so much fun on the first day, a handful of journalists – including myself – asked the folks at Jeep if we could take on a more challenging trail. With no questions asked, we were handed the keys to the ultimate off-roading beast from Jeep – the Wrangler Rubicon.
The Rubicon is an all-out off-road vehicle. If the Wrangler was a bodybuilder, the Rubicon is a bodybuilder juiced up on steroids. With a higher ground clearance, bigger wheels, better rocker protection, a low range transfer case, upgraded axles and electric lockers, the Rubicon package embodies what a Jeep should be. The trail we were to take on was called ‘Top of the World,’ and it’s one of the most exciting trails around Moab. The boulders are bigger, the climb is steeper and the terrain is more unforgiving. I needed to use spotters a lot more, and I also needed to stick my head out the window to make sure my wheels were going where they should. But, no matter what came my way, and no matter how intimidating an obstacle looked, the Rubicon just treaded over everything like a champ. When we reached the top of the trail the view was out of this world. The entire experience was spectacular!
After 75 years of producing some of the toughest motor vehicles on the planet, and cementing themselves in the history books, Jeep has become a global icon. Jeep has always been one of my favorite car brands, and it’s been a dream of mine to own a Wrangler. I was very happy to be a part of this celebration, and to experience the incredible versatility and full potential of these awesome machines. Moab is a place unlike any other. I’ve had the privilege of driving cars and riding motorcycles all over the planet, but never did I ever think that driving a Jeep in Utah would be the most memorable. Now I just need to find a way to save up some dough and get myself a Wrangler.