2016 Jeep Wrangler 3rd-quarter update: Mud, sweat and gears

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It took about 12 minutes for us to bury our long-term 2016 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon into waist deep mud at The Mounds off-road park in Genesee County, Michigan, and about an hour and a half more to get it out. Thank goodness for the kindness of strangers in a Polaris RZR and a hastily bought recovery strap. After that ordeal we took our waterlogged Wranglers (both jeans and Jeeps) and broke for lunch.

So we finally got a chance to go truly off-road in our Wrangler, and the only thing we were missing was a winch. Even after a few hours of studying the dos and don’ts of off-roading, we still powered into obstacles together. That means that we both (copy chief Chris Langrill and I) got stuck simultaneously. Bad move. A winch would have solved most, if not all of our problems. Oh, and a shovel. Before help arrived we spent an hour laying in the dirt digging with hands and sticks.

The lesson? Besides the fact that we were underprepared? That damn Jeep is tough. It idled in 30 inches of mud and water, tailpipe burbling like an outboard motor for more than an hour without a hiccup. It collected 6 inches of water in the footwells. We beat up the clutch, axles and differentials mercilessly while trying to get unstuck. By the way, Jeep clutch smells a lot like rotting animal carcass with a little big of brake pad thrown in. That’s in case you’re ever in some sort of contest where you need pick out a clutch by smell. You’re welcome. And after all of that, it bounced around boulders, trails and sand for a three more hours before a 50-mile trek back to Autoweek HQ.

It was sunny and 50 degrees on the day of our excursion — if it was colder we might have died, instead we sweated — but the wind was fierce, breaking records and knocking out power for almost a million Michiganders. And that’s where the Jeep stumbles, on a paved road, in a gale. The issue is that the Jeep, with a soft top, is basically constructed like a kite. It has some roll bars for bracing, and the rest of it just catches wind. It moved itself into the left lane, it moved itself into the right lane. I needed to put the cruise control on to keep it comfortably at speed.

In our last update we said that the Jeep sacrifices precise control and a quiet ride for outstanding capability in every other aspect. And that’s still true; it just gets amplified on a day like that.

2016 Jeep Wrangler stuck

After about an hour, copy chief Chris Langrill got yanked out; in turn, his Jeep yanked out AW’s long-term Jeep Wrangler.

We put about 3,000 miles on the Wrangler in this quarter, a little lower than the last, and used about 150 gallons of fuel at a cost of $340. Our average mileage was 16 mpg with a high of 17.3 and a low of 13.8. This latest excursion took us 145 miles, including 125 in commute and about 20 on trail. We returned only about 14 mpg as our efficiency was crushed by Zephyrus, the vengeful god of wind.

The next Jeep may be better equipped; it may have more efficient, powerful engines. It might even be lighter and more nimble. We guess it could be more rugged, but the only way that’s even possible is if was developed for Mars duty, or maybe Antarctic science missions.

It will have some new competitors in the form of the Ford Bronco and possibly others, so it won’t be a segment heavyweight in a class full of also-rans — that we know for sure. Whatever the future holds for the Wrangler, if it continues on its current trajectory, we (copy chief Langrill and I), the newly minted off-road enthusiasts, won’t have anything to worry about. Next time we’ll bring the winches and waders.



FUEL MILEAGE (QUARTER/YEAR): 16 mpg/16.2 mpg

FUEL COST (QUARTER/YEAR): $340.82/$1,330.49



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