It sure seems like four-door Jeep Wranglers have surpassed the "coupes" in popularity. To see out how that extra length and weight affects the rig on the trail, we fitted Nitto's new Exo Grappler and Terra Grappler G2 off-road tires, attacked the dirt, and came back intact.
The new four-door Wrangler is still competent in rough stuff and sort of ungainly everywhere else, but you'll still have fun driving it because it looks cool and the roof comes off. Buy the cheap one and mod it yourself if you're going off-road, buy the cheap one and get road tires if you just wanna drive to the beach.
Nitto's new Grappler tires are really well researched and have some cool features (rock ejectors, extra slices of tread) we're used to seeing in very high-end off-road rubber. Worth comparison shopping against the established stuff from BFG, Goodyear, and General.
The big-boy Jeep is better than ever since it dropped the anemic 3.8 V6 it was introduced with for a 3.6 making 285 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque. The Wrangler we're running here is a Sahara model– which comes with slightly more robust springs and gas shocks than the base Sport, but you'll buy it for the body-colored roof and trim pieces. Otherwise this Jeep is the bottom of the barrel; no lockers, no heavy-duty axles, no Rubicon parts anywhere.
The Sahara commands about a $5,000 premium over the cheap Jeep, MSRP'ing at around $32,000 without options.
The interior is still remarkably unrefined.
I can hear you already; "Can you believe this asshole is going to start a Jeep review bitching about how it's not fancy!? Shut up and wheel already."
Well believe it, friend. And with good reason: the 2014 Wrangler won't look chinsy to somebody who's been buying Wranglers since the YJ. But if you're one of the thousands of folks who can finally get one because they come in usable sizes now, don't expect the kind of interior you'd see in... any other car... that costs 30something thousand dollars.
The doors are held in place by freaking nylon flaps, for goodness sake. Everything inside the Wrangler is "fine," and as utilitarian as the only "dedicated off-road" SUV on the US market should be. All I'm saying is: be prepared to rough it for your money.
The "off-road" experience starts as soon get in, carries on no matter where you're driving.
You survey the road through a short and straight windscreen framed by blocky A-pillars that look like they could deflect redwood limbs (don't try it at home). You sit ramrod straight so you can see over the flat expanse of hood.
Whether you've done all kinds of time on trails or you're just "playing off-roader" for the first time, you're going to feel like you're on an adventure as soon as you climb behind the wheel. That can be fun. It's also exhausting.
Compared to its predecessors, the 2014 Wrangler Unlimited is reasonably flat and smooth. Compared everything else, it's still pretty wobbly and noisy. It's an important distinction to discuss because modern trucks have become so civilized, it's easy to forget how bumpy a short, off-road focused, vehicle still is... even if it is "brand new."
The Jeep and Nitto Grapplers comes into their own in the dirt...
Hitting the dirt course in this Wrangler felt like jumping into a pool when you're blazer's on fire.
The looseness that gets annoying on pavement begets smoothness over ruts, and the Wrangler soaks up sand like it's skiing powder. The Nitto Exo Grappers pretty much munch though sand and mud that's "light to light-medium" squishiness. The slightly less-aggressive Terra Grapplers only slip on steeper inclines, both are reasonably quiet on-road.
...but the modern Wrangler insists on playing it safe. Too safe.
The 2014 Wrangler's traction control system is a major wrench in the spokes of a "dedicated off-road vehicle." Boosting up a fairly loose sandy slope (something like 25º) I started spinning tires just a touch in 2WD (as you do) and the Jeep's computer promptly cut power making me make the climb in 4WD.
King Of The Hammers executive and decorated Baja racer Ron Stobaugh sighed from the seat next to me; "Haha, yep. I knew that was gonna happen. If you really want to play rough with this thing you need to pull a certain fuse. Uh, so I've been told."
The Jeep walked up the hill uneventfully in high-range 4WD.
You do notice the extra length on the trail.
We didn't get to take the Jeep very deep; but even on the basic dirt course we were lapping the extra length of the four-door unlimited required a few three-point-turns where a regular Wrangler could whip around. We didn't crest anything sharp enough to feel adverse effects on the breakover angle though.
Not short on power per se, but a lot more wouldn't hurt.
The more aggressive Exo Grapplers walked the Jeep up some reasonably steep stuff; probably maxing out around a little over 40º. The Terras only had trouble when a wheel found its way into a hole, but the 3.6 V6 was able to provide enough juice to overcome that as well.
But not without a fair bit of kicking and screaming.
I agree with the general sentiment that the 3.6 Jeep put in the Wrangler after 2010 is a world of improvement over the 3.8 it launched with, but I still think the 4,000ish pound vehicle would be better served by a little more juice.
The Wrangler's just plain fun, and I'll resist every watering-down revision with the rest of the purists.
In spite of its many shortcomings, driving a Jeep Wrangler is still a really enjoyable experience whether you're sending it off a sand dune or just poking around Malibu. Just a damn shame what an insane price premium you have to plunk down for the privilege.
Nitto is determined to not be an also-ran in off-road tires, and it shows.
Nitto is part of the same corporate family as Toyo Tires, but is not nearly as established or recognized. They gained a lot of traction (haHA!ostrich.gif) in the tuner car market around the time the first Fast & Furious fired up a new generation of car people, and more recently has been chipping away at the off-road market.
A great deal of research went in to carving the shape of the Terra Grappler G2s and slightly-meatier Exo Grapplers. Both tires have treaded sidewalls (which look different on each side, giving you "two looks" on either tire). The tires have reinforced coupling joints that give them greater durability as they get bent out of shape and tiny slits called "sipes" that run the full depth of the tire and open up a bit as they hit the surface providing greater traction.
The Exo Grapplers look like ragged saw blades with variable-pitch tread blocks that dig hard into the dirt, but didn't make the Wrangler's on-road experience noticeably more offensive than it is on stock rubber.
Even Toyota noticed Nitto has made a lot of progress, and ended up using their rubber as OEM equipment on the TRD Pro 4Runner. For solid medium-duty rough stuff performance and reasonable behavior on-road, they're certainly worth comparing next time your truck needs tires.
Images by the author and via Nitto Tire, Jeep