I didn't expect to love driving my new Wrangler.
I expected to love the Jeep itself: I like convertibles, I like being able to drive in a warm summer rain in said convertible, I like being able to go anywhere that's technically a road and not be worried about getting stuck, and of course I love the look of the new generation Wranglers.
(You can read way more than you've ever wanted to know about why I love Jeeps in my Jeep Experience series.)
But I didn't expect to actually love the driving experience as much as I did.
And I guess this is as good a place to put it as any: I expected to really enjoy the tiny turning radius, and I was absolutely right. My old Wrangler feels like a land yacht comparatively.
I took a demo manual Wrangler for a test drive last November, and I hated it. Hated every minute of it. The clutch pedal offered almost no resistance, so I felt like I had to pry it off the floor, and feathering it was a joke.
It was bad enough that I seriously considered ordering an automatic instead.
Thank goodness my new Wrangler is nothing like that.
It's touchy, yes. I've stalled it several times. And apparently the flywheel lacks sufficient mass to climb hills without applying the throttle like I do with my old Jeep (see this video for a demonstration of the factory clutch vs a replacement Centerforce clutch).
But it's perfectly fine. Shifting is fairly smooth, I can feather it, the pedal pops off the floor appropriately. My only complaint so far is that there's no room to rest my foot to the left of the clutch pedal like I do in my LJ (I probably should start calling my old Jeep "TJU" to avoid mistyping "LJ" and "JL" and/or just confusing everyone).
@Zaphod-s-Heart-of-Gold assured me the clutch would be fine, and he was right. I just hope eventually I figure out how to manage smooth starts, so I don't annoy passengers with either lurching or stalls from every light.
(Fortunately or unfortunately, I never have passengers.)
I took my old Wrangler out for a drive two nights ago and could not believe how hard I had to push down on the clutch pedal. I've gotten so spoiled by the JL's much lighter clutch that I would have sworn something was wrong with it. (Of course, multiple things are wrong with it, but not that.)
Side note: I'll continue to express my appreciation for the Bronco's approach of placing 1st gear and reverse opposite each other. If I ever have to rock my way out of mud or snow I'm going to be cursing the Jeep's shift pattern.
Jeep has made big improvements to overall ride quality over the last 20 years. Admittedly, my LJ has no carpeting and spends all summer with minimal outerwear, but NVH seems much better so far with the JL.
And I hit 60mph down dirt/gravel roads (with no one for miles, natch) and the ride was silky smooth. A desert runner it's not, but for a solid axle vehicle it does very well.
So while I'm fine with the transmission, the gearing has me scratching my head, at least with the Rubicon 4.10 gearing.
It's a 6-speed tranmission, nominally, but it might as well be a 4-speed.
The V6 3.6L Pentastar that replaced my straight 6 4.0L engine (we don't talk about the misbegotten 3.8L engine that briefly made its way into the lineup) is a peppy engine, but from what I've been able to judge so far it has zero acceleration below 2000 RPMs.
And 5th gear requires me to be above 65mph to keep the tach over 2k. 6th gear is around 75mph. So they're ok as overdrive gears, but until I hit the interstate today after 2 days of state highways and back roads, they were pointless.
Honestly, I'm confident I could drive all day with only 2nd through 4th. This engine loves to be revved, although now that I've enabled instantaneous fuel mileage in the dash, I can appreciate the value in slow and steady.
I'm not looking forward to the inevitable repairs for the electronics in this beast (one reason I was happy to pony up for the longest extended warranty Mopar offers), but while they're working I'm really impressed.
Wow. I mean, sure, I heard people swearing by this feature, but I've been using keys long enough (not to mention driving doorless all summer) I didn't expect to get used to it quite so quickly.
The downside? Traveling 3 days back from picking up the Jeep, and having to keep both supersized fobs with me at all times, was a pain in the ass. (I couldn't stash one fob anywhere in the Jeep because that would allow anyone to enter and drive away.) #firstworldproblems
Argh. Who asked for these electronic nannies? At least I didn't get lane warnings or any of that other stuff.
First time I found myself fighting my Jeep to let me slide down a gravel road was quite the shock.
And twice I've gotten a random warning chime from my dash and when I looked I couldn't see anything. Given my history with things breaking on my Jeeps, warning chimes without any clue what's actually wrong does not make me happy.
But, and this is a big but, the traction control does make a huge difference in icy conditions. Indianapolis experienced a big ice/snow storm last week, with heavy rain preventing trucks from salting the roads, and between four-wheel drive and traction control the Jeep handled it like a champ. Turning off both and relying on rear-wheel drive in a big parking lot was a real eye-opener (as was the hour or two I spent trying and failing to help two people get their cars moving).
CarPlay by itself is nice. The fact that Gaia GPS supports it is delightful.
I use Gaia all the time when I'm exploring back roads, because relative to Apple Maps it's easier (but still not as easy as I'd like) to distinguish roads from background noise, and because I can both record tracks and create routes to follow.
Having Gaia displayed in the dash is very convenient, and will make leading future group excursions much easier.
Unfortunately, these primitive touchscreens without multitouch (in other words, no "pinch to zoom") are a disappointment, but it's a big step forward.
Yes, every new vehicle now has a backup camera, but how many of them have a front-facing camera?
Notice the front-facing camera includes a self-cleaning feature. I'm not sure whether the rear-facing camera does so on Jeeps with a hard top (and thus a line for washer fluid leading to the rear of the vehicle) but I doubt it, since the rear camera has to be somewhat easy to remove for spare tire management.
Sirius/XM is a nice feature, not sure whether I'll keep it after the free trial. Many years ago in a rental it introduced me to Otis Taylor, one of my favorite blues musicians, so simply out of appreciation/nostalgia it's tempting.
The rear subwoofer, which occupies vital storage space in the floor, is almost certainly going to be removed at some point. My other gripe is that I wish it were possible to disable the audio control buttons on the back of the steering wheel, because I'm prone to accidentally hitting them when I'm turning...but with Sirius/XM they are very handy for switching stations, so I'll learn to live with them.
My Jeep future
People keep asking: what's next for my Jeep menagerie?
As I posted a few days ago, I've sold the Jeep Grand Cherokee to a friend, so now I'm down to just two: the Solar Yellow LJ which everyone here seems to appreciate, and of course the new Tuscadero JL which EVERYONE seems to appreciate. I get compliments all the time, wherever I go.
Obviously I'm not selling the new Jeep, so the question becomes: spend several thousand more to fix the mechanical problems plaguing my LJ (front differential & transmission both need major work/replacement), or sell it and move on with my life.
There's a rule of thumb: never sell your first Jeep. Many people regret it.
And I'm very emotionally attached to the LJ: it brought me many new friends locally, it brought me to Jalopnik and then Oppo (and thus preserved my sanity over the last couple of pandemic years, even without being fully functional), and I have some great memories (and photos) tied to it.
So, its future remains uncertain. As I mentioned above, setting aside its mechanical difficulties, driving it after getting used to the JL's clutch has been an eye-opening experience. If I go back to Toledo Jeep Fest this fall, I'll almost certainly take the JL because riding the LJ's clutch all day in the parade is a workout.
But it's going to be a few years before the JL is sufficiently broken-in that I'll feel comfortable driving in a rainstorm without top or doors, and I'd hate to miss that experience every summer. The LJ is perfect for that...if I could just fix it to the point where I enjoy driving it again.
So, thanks to Oppo for following and encouraging my Jeep adventures, both on the back roads and in my search as I've been trying for years to find the perfect supplementary Jeep for my LJ. Turns out I wasn't looking for a backup Jeep after all.