At 8 am a slant of car hacks emerged from the Low Wood Bay Resort and Spa on Lake Windermere to crawl tentatively into a convoy of Jeeps, made up of a mix of Sahara's, Overlands and Rubicons in a rainbow of colours. My colleague Mark took the wheel first so I leapt into the passenger seat of a Granite Crystal Metallic (charcoal grey) Jeep Wrangler Sahara and sat back to admire the interior.
The black McKinley leather interior is part of the extra JL Launch Pack, with hard top headline, heated front seats, keyless entry and start, with blind spot and rear cross path detection. It's a contrast in black with silver frames, dials and white stitching. It's comfortable and modern and not half as bondage as it sounds. It also has Apple Car Play with a 7 inch touchscreen. Most impressive though is the wash out interior that enables you to clean the floor with a hose and flush the water out through one way floor valves, that will drain any sand, silt or mud leftover from your exotic adventure away. Or the rubbish that accumulates on any trip that involves children, packets of crisps, a dog and sticky sweets. Now that's smart thinking.
The new Jeep Wrangler looks really buff on the outside with 18 inch alloy wheels that command attention, they appear indestructible and would soon prove that many times over. In fact they seem to give the car an aura of excitement and adventure that appeals to all that would like to ditch the job and rush off exploring the Amazon jungles or the mountains of Peru. It still manages to invoke the Jeeps of old, but take the doors and roof off and it hits you this has original Jeep DNA running through it. "Sans culottes" one gets a real sense this is a car made for fun, top secret missions, sporting endeavours, holidays, rough terrain and impossible mountain passes. If only Burton and Speke had driven this, the Mountains of the Moon would have been a doddle and the source of the Nile revealed over a weekend. You can even get 32 inch tyres that are magnificent, for that truly rugged, crush anything in your path, motif.
The Sahara comes in two or four doors, has a 2.2 litre turbo charged, four cylinder aluminium Multijet-II diesel engine with 200 bhp, does 0-60 in 8.9 secs and has a top speed of 112 mph with a combined mpg of 37.7. The suspension, core to the Jeep's balletic gymnastics, boasts at the front: Dana M186 LD Axle Open, link coil, leading arms, track bar, coil springs, stabiliser bar and high pressure gas charged shock absorbers with MTV (multi-tuned valve) technology. And for the rear: Dana M200 HD Axle LS, link coil, leading arms, track bar, coil springs, stabiliser bar and high pressure gas charged shock absorbers also with MTV technology. The front brakes sport 330 mm x 24 mm ventilated discs with 51 mm twin-piston floating caliper & ABS and the rear 342 mm x 14 mm solid discs with 48 mm single-piston floating caliper with ABS.
Jeep's past is rich and whilst the car is so recognisable, not common knowledge. In July 1940, the U.S. military informed automakers that it was looking for a “light reconnaissance vehicle” to replace the Army's motorcycle and modified Ford Model-T vehicles. So Delmar G. Roos, Vice President of Engineering at Willys-Overland, designed the Willys Quad. With modifications and improvements, the Willys Quad became the MA, and later the MB. But the Army, and the world, came to know it as the Jeep.
Some claimed that the name came from the slurring of the letters “GP,” the military abbreviation for “General Purpose.” Others say the vehicle was named for a popular character named “Eugene the Jeep” in the Popeye cartoon strip. Whatever its origin, the name entered the American lexicon. The Willys MA featured a gearshift on the steering column, low side body cutouts, two circular instrument clusters on the dashboard and a hand brake on the left side. Willys-Overland would build more than 368,000 vehicles for the U.S. Army. The rugged, reliable olive-drab vehicle would forever be known for helping win a world war.
Enough back story, we were now at the base of Top o'Selside, a 335 metres high hill towering over Lake Windermere. The bleak rain washed jagged rocks and shale downhill, turning the landscape into a gleaming stone waterfall. This was the hardest route proposed by the off road experience company, Ardent, out of many and Jeep had said, yes, we'll have that one thanks. Quite right too. The Sahara made sneeringly easy work of rolling up sharp boulders, spikes upturned to the sky, that reached halfway to the bonnet. We'd switched into 4 wheel low mode drive and the Command-Trac® 4x4 System was indeed impressive. Smooth and in complete control. Actually it was too easy. The automatic 8 speed gearbox was doing all the work. Most of the time you leave it in auto mode, where it switches between 4 wheel and 2 wheel drive depending on traction control sensors for best efficiency.
As we reached the top of the hill, the climb became steeper, and the waterfall that indicated our root more pronounced. Before us loomed a vertical step of rock around a metre high gushing with water and I pushed gently on the pedal and it simply went up and over it, almost no challenge at all. In fact the only thing you have to watch out for is scraping the underside, steering carefully to avoid outcrops that might tear the bottom off and there seems little this Jeep Wrangler cannot overcome.
At the top, the path we had just traveled looked impassable, yet in the entire weekend not one single Jeep lost a tyre or sump. Methinks a greater challenge was needed, but as a demonstration of their off road agility and most importantly their ability to traverse this tumultuous terrain unscathed, undamaged and with tyres intact it was a virtuosos performance.
It had me dreaming of reaching those beaches in Cornwall that other cars cannot reach, to possess the gnarliest waves alone with no interference or cutting into my line. If only I could surf.
The Top o'Selside is magnificent in drenching rain, with random blasts of wind. The convoy of Jeep Wranglers in Punk'n Metallic orange, Hellayella yellow, Mojito green and Firecracker red was sublime strewn across the hellish grey volcanic landscape. Damn I wanted to lead the entire mission up and over the crest of the summit and claim the Lake District for England. But too late, too late...
The descent was more perilous than the ascent. Any mountaineer will tell you it's always harder going down than up, and this adage proved doubly true in convoys. We peered over the water fall as the car in front slid over the slippery stones, in total control using the automatic downward descent mode. You just let the car do its thing, occasionally pressing the accelerator if needed. Though the fear of sliding into the car a metre ahead was uppermost in my mind as we nosed perilously out over an edge a metre high, water tumbling into a v shape mass of boulders awaiting our front tyres. The landing was disappointingly mastered, no crunch of rock piercing the floor, no slide into oblivion and more importantly no hideous embarrassment as we failed to careen into the car in front. I can do more damage to any car in a car park!
The new Jeep Wrangler is made to conquer Scottish moors, rocket up mountain passes in the pursuit of gold, meander down to the beach and fling your surfboard straight into the water, track bears in the wilds of Alaska, run down sand dunes in Namibia, cruise through the South of France or simply lounge into town for brunch. It does all these with its own style, sense of history and most of all fun, sheer bloody fun.
I'll be taking the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon out soon and see what it's like to live with, stay tuned.
OTR price: £44,865. With options: £46,940