2012 Jeep Wrangler: On Any Sunday
October 31, 2012
Photographer Kurt Niebuhr told me a very funny story about choosing a ride to the test track. Only the Jeep Wrangler and our Mazda MX-5 Miata project car were available.
Niebuhr looked at the photo gear he had to carry and realized he needed practical transportation. Naturally, he said, he picked the Miata. Even as he crouched down practically to his knees so he could thread himself past the door bars and into the Miata's race seat, he consoled himself with the thought that while the MX-5 would bounce and shimmy on the freeway just like the Wrangler, it would probably spend more time going straight while doing so.
Personally I thought this was very funny, because for me there's pretty much no difference between the Miata and Wrangler at all.
The Wrangler doesn't drive the same as the Miata, of course. Our Dan Edmunds has turned it into the Jeep equivalent of the desert-racing Honda CR450 he built in high school. Here in L.A., you see desert-spec toys like our Wrangler all the time. You hear this hum of off-road tires, look over into the next lane and this enormous jacked-up pickup truck with fiberglass front fenders powers by you, riding high at the front end with that typical desert-pounding suspension setup. These desert sleds are right out of the same kind of enthusiasm for the dirt that you see in the movie that made dirt bikes a cultural phenomenon back in the 1970s, On Any Sunday .
And that's the link between the Wrangler and the Miata. Like the Mazda, this Jeep is all about what you do on Sunday, whether it's road racing or rock crawling. The Wrangler is a sports car, which is to say that it is simply a street-legal high-performance car. You put up with the compromises in daily life so you'll have something really fun on the weekend.
Don't get me wrong, because the Wrangler is just barely tolerable in daily life. You need a climbing rope and pitons to climb up into the driver seat, and when you're ready to climb out again, you wish you were wearing that wacky flying suit from the Kumho tire television commercial. But then, it's just as much trouble climbing across the MX-5's racing-type door bars.
When it comes down to it, anyone who loves to drive will put up with a little impracticality in his ride just so there's a little something extra when you really want it, whether it's horsepower, tire grip, braking capacity or suspension composure. We all make compromises in the everyday practicality of our rides whenever we do something as simple as check off the box on the new-car order blank that says "sport package."
So don't think the Wrangler is any different from our Mazda MX-5 project car. It's just a sports car, that's all.
Michael Jordan, Executive Editor, Edmunds.com @ 21,139 miles