Ethos

Off-Roading in Moab With the 2018 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon and Cherokee Trailhawk

Capable even when stock

MOAB, Utah — The splendor of Moab is evident from the air. I worked up the courage to peep out the window of my tiny plane as it jostled through the air on its way into the Grand Junction, Colorado airport . My eyes were met with snowy peaks, impressive buttes, and wide-open swathes of land.

Jeep brought us to Moab not just to drive its Easter Safari concepts, but also to showcase the full capability of its factory stock vehicles on one of off-roading’s most hallowed grounds.

Moab as we know it today exists because uranium miners carved out trails to form the recreational park that surrounds the tiny town of just over 5,000 people. Our group’s guides planned to take us to Moab’s Behind the Rocks trails for a healthy mix of dirt trails, slick rocks, and obstacle climbing. To take on the landscape, I chose a two-door 2018 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon with the new turbocharged 2.0-liter mild hybrid system.

The first thing I noticed is how much more upscale the interior is over the previous generation. Quality plastic, rubber, and leather abound inside. Elegant metallic red accents with a satin finish line the dash. A piece of B-pillar trim rattled loose, but the car was otherwise flawless during my half-day behind the wheel.

We started the day on the road as we hauled out to the trail from the Moab-famous Gonzo Inn. Little noise made it inside the cabin, allowing for pleasant indoors-volume conversation. Even once we got on the dirt and small rocks, NHV remained at a minimum, allowing us to enjoy satellite radio through the premium sound system.

I hadn’t done much off-roading up to this point save a closed course with General Tire in previous-generation JK Jeeps and some trail driving in a Mercedes-Benz G550 4×42 and used this two-day trip with Jeep as an opportunity to learn all I could about off-pavement adventuring.

The first feature I learned to use in the Wrangler Rubicon was the electronically disconnecting anti-roll bars. Pushing the button at the bottom of the center console allows the Jeep to allow for the full suspension articulation necessary for more serious rock crawling. It also helped with medium-pace driving on rocky trails–the suspension doesn’t try to keep the vehicle level, resulting in a ride quality that plies across the bumpy terrain with an uncanny grace. You bet we kept this feature active as often as we could.

When we got to the full-sized boulders, we set the Cherokee Trailhawks in low-range mode and switched on the locking differentials. The buttons that control these functions have moved from left of the steering column, as they were on the JK, to the center stack next to the anti-roll bar disconnect.

Jeep’s electronically controlled tools operate with a shocking degree of predictive intelligence. By this I mean that the anti-roll bars automatically disconnect and reconnect when the vehicle begins moving too quickly and the diffs wait to lock or unlock until the car is stopped and in neutral. This ease of use helped  me keep my eyes on the trail and the expansive scenery of the high desert.

 

The ultimate test of our Jeeping skills—and of the stock Wrangler Rubicon’s ability—was ascending and descending Hummer Hill, so named for an off-roader who drove his Hummer H1 laterally across the 41-degree incline.

Jeep’s guides suggested we use a four-door Wrangler Unlimited to make the climb since the longer wheelbase allows for more stability on a steep grade. With fully locked differentials and disconnected anti-roll bars, I crept forward onto the stone mound. Within moments, all I could see was the clear blue sky above. I maintained a steady throttle input and the open-top Wrangler clawed its way up the rock face.

I couldn’t celebrate yet—it was already time to turn the Wrangler around and creep back down to the ground. I used left-foot braking and low gears as instructed to maintain control as I eased down the rock. This time, only the ground was visible through the windshield.

It felt incredible to make it up and down Hummer Hill, and in that moment Moab clicked for me. FCA West Region Manager Scott Brown repeated throughout the trip that off-roading is “the most fun you’ll have going 2 mph,” and that sentiment rang true in the sense of achievement and accomplishment I felt from conquering that obstacle.

After a morning of testing the best of Jeep’s off-roading lineup, it was time to swap our Wranglers for Cherokee Trailhawks. I opted for a two-liter turbocharged variant. The Trailhawk trim bestows the Cherokee with better all-terrain tires, a lift, and Jeep’s Active Drive II four-wheel drive system.

Active Drive II offers hill descent, Selec Speed Control, a rear-locking differential, and traction modes for different types of surfaces. We started on sandy roads and did some higher speed driving over these trails. This is the area the Trailhawk felt most comfortable, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t capable when it came to the obstacles lying ahead.

We did some serious climbing in the Cherokees as well, using a combination of settings to scale steep rocky inclines. For the really serious stuff, we switched into low-range 4WD, locked the rear differential, and set Active Drive II to “rock.” Without the disconnecting anti-roll bars, obstacles felt hairier but the Trailhawk successfully faced the challenge.

Our climb culminated at the top of Kane Springs Creek Canyon, which offered a breathtaking vista. It gave some perspective to the Cherokee Trailhawk’s abilities as well. Even though it doesn’t offer the full off-roading suite of the Wrangler Rubicon there’s still plenty of kit in the factory-stock models to tackle an intermediate-level trail.

My time behind the wheel of Jeep’s newest offerings helped me make sense of why Moab is the Mecca of off-roading. The trails and spectacular views lend themselves to a sense of scale that I’ve never encountered anywhere else in the United States. But the land and sky weren’t the only things that impressed in Moab. The 2018 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon and Cherokee Trailhawk demonstrated that Jeep offers products that are simultaneously livable and capable – properties that make these vehicles a solid choice for the driver who wants to be secure in the knowledge that they can get away at a moment’s notice.

2018 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Specifications

ON SALE Now
PRICE $39,495 (base)
ENGINES 2.0L DOHC 16-valve turbo I-4/270 hp @ 5,200 rpm, 295 lb-ft @ 3,000 rpm
TRANSMISSIONS 8-speed automatic
LAYOUT 2-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, 4WD SUV
EPA MILEAGE 18/23 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H 166.8 x 73.8 x 73.6 in
WHEELBASE 96.8 in
WEIGHT 4,010
0-60 MPH 7.5 sec (est)
TOP SPEED 115 mph (est)

 

2018 Jeep Cherokee Specifications

ON SALE Now
PRICE $25,190-$38,970
ENGINE 2.0 turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4/270 hp @ 5,250 rpm, 295 lb-ft @ 3,000 rpm;
TRANSMISSION 9-speed automatic
LAYOUT 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, 4WD SUV
EPA MILEAGE N/A
L x W x H 182 x 73.2 x 66.2 in
WHEELBASE 107.1 in
WEIGHT 3,655-4,108 lb
0-60 MPH 7.5 (est)
TOP SPEED 115 mph (est)

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