I recently went shopping for jeans with a friend. She dragged me to a little boutique on Melrose in Los Angeles, where I stood bored while she searched intently for the ideal pair (i.e., those that made her butt look the best). Seeing how most women I know do not even own a pair of sensible shoes, her criteria made sense. Pair after pair, brand after brand — more than a dozen in all — she tried them on, before deciding a $225 number with no back pockets.
As jeans go, my requirements are different. The more pockets, the more useful. The denim must not only be tough, but also be able to hide mustard stains. And, because preventing a "There's Something About Mary" moment is a priority, no zipper to speak of. As such, I've been rocking shrink-to-fit Levis 501s since the sixth grade. I mention this because, like jeans, there are dozens of other SUVs to be had, but there is only one Jeep. Hell, even among Jeeps there is only one Jeep, and it's called the Wrangler.
Like the functionality inherent to my Levis, the Wrangler Rubicon is dripping with promise. It can go anywhere. If it gets stuck, there's an entire Bat Belt of off-road goodies with which to come unstuck. The top comes off, the doors come off and the windshield (still) folds down. Sure, there are more capable SUVs for sale, like the Porsche Cayenne. But you'd no sooner thrash the Cayenne in the rough stuff than my ba-donka-donk friend would do yard work in her fancy pants. And while the Cayenne gets 'er done via prissy air-suspension and a bank of computers to calculate yaw, pitch, traction and wheel slippage. The Wrangler just plain goes over stuff.
Cayenne aside, the Wrangler is the king of the hill, or mud pile, as it were. Unless it's aimed at a brick wall, no earthly substance short of molten lava will hinder the Rubicon's forward progress. Dirt becomes like blacktop, rocks became pebbles, sand is a cinch and even over a foot of water was a walk in the park, albeit off-highway vehicle park, Azuza Canyon OHV. And that's in two-wheel drive. Only double-fun muddy slopes required a switch to four-wheel low for accompanying superpowers.
An editor of Trailer Life magazine once schooled me in the off-roading arts, which I'll relate vis- -vis the Wrangler. Rather than engaging every bell and whistle as the asphalt gives way to trail, it's best to stay put and let high ground clearance, wheel articulation and approach/departure angles handle the bulk of operations. If you can't go anymore, shift into four high. If you still can't move, engage four low, which makes a large portion of obstacles completely beatable.
For the steep, messy, goopy final one-percent, the Wrangler comes massively equipped. Dash buttons electronically lock either the rear axle by itself, or both axles together; the latter transforming the Wrangler into a tank. Torque is now evenly split between front and rear, and no wheel can turn without the other three going along for the ride. Just as mighty are the Brake Lock Differentials (BLDs), which stop airborne wheels from spinning to preserve precious torque (just like the Cayenne). Even better, the BLDs are now integrated into the Jeep's stability control algorithms, so there's no manual fumbling. Still not enough? There's one final trick, that is, electronically disengaging the front sway bar, which increases wheel travel by 28%. It's only slightly hyperbolic to say only dynamite could outperform this combination of electromechanical trickery.
On road, the 2007 Wrangler is more carlike than any convertible Jeep in history. While a bit childish, what with chubby tweeters poking from the top of the dash, the spartan interior is a fine place to while away the miles. Quickness is not an option; even with the most potent mill ever offered in a Wrangler (202 hp / 237 lb-ft of torque) — you're nonetheless driving a brick with 32" tires. But despite such leadenness, it's impossible not to smile. After all, the Wrangler, like all Wranglers before it, is fun above everything else.