2018 Jeep Wrangler: Moab Easter Jeep Safari
by Travis Langness, Staff Writer
The Easter Jeep Safari is a yearly event in Moab, Utah, that hosts pretty much every kind of stock, modified and owner-loved Jeep you can think of, driving through the desert for a week. If it's got sand, mud, slick rock or dirt, you'll likely find a Jeep trying to conquer it during the week before Easter.
The Easter Jeep Safari has run for more than 50 years, and recently the folks at Jeep have used it as an opportunity to showcase their newest vehicles, display a few concepts, and get to know their customer base. After all, if this is where the world's biggest Jeep enthusiasts show up, why not ask them what they want on the next Wrangler?
This year, Jeep had a lot to show with the release of the new, redesigned 2018 Wrangler (JL) and invited us out to ride the trails in Wranglers, Cherokees and even a few concepts. As if by some stroke of luck, the Wranglers present were nearly identical to our long-term 2018 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Unlimited, even down to the red paint, so I spent as much time in it as possible.
So what did Jeep bring to the desert? For starters, a long lineup of Trailhawk models. The Cherokee and Grand Cherokee ferried us around the week's events and also got us pretty far off road, too. But the main car we drove came equipped almost identically to our long-term Wrangler: a red Rubicon Unlimited with the same tires, suspension, interior — you name it. The only difference was the top. The Moab car had a power convertible top, while ours has a removable hardtop.
After driving several examples of the boxy red rig, I can safely say that our long-term Wrangler's strange wandering tires are an issue across the lineup. Buy a Wrangler Rubicon and you'll need to pay serious, constant attention to where the nose is pointed on the highway. Even on an arrow-straight highway, it can feel as if you're being pulled in different directions by the tire tracks.
I can also say that I'm very much looking forward to a year with this Wrangler. Our last long-term Wrangler, a two-door convertible with a manual transmission, was a basic expression of what a Wrangler could do. This Rubicon feels several notches higher up the off-road ladder, and it's exponentially more comfortable.
Then there were the concept Jeeps. A concept Renegade made an appearance, as did a lightweight Wrangler two-door concept called 4Speed. Both were sidelined from the outset, so we had no time behind the wheel. The 4Speed might have been one of the most interesting concepts, though: an original two-door Wrangler with nearly 1,000 pounds shaved off. I even liked the color.
Most of the other concepts were kept up and running, including the luxury-adjacent J-Wagon (a not-so-subtle jab at Mercedes), the Jeepster, a fantastically good-looking resto-modded Wagoneer, a yellow Mopar parts vehicle called Nacho, and my personal favorite: Sandstorm.
Sandstorm is a four-door Unlimited Wrangler with the top chopped off, an extended wheelbase and a 392-cubic-inch Mopar V8 shoved under the hood. It's like a Baja desert racer, but with a six-speed manual and 37-inch tires. I can't remember having a bigger laugh behind the wheel of any car I've ever driven.
The Sandstorm, which I just referred to as the Scrambler, would blast over any small obstacle in a massive hurry, with fantastic clutch engagement to match its bare-bones interior. If you have the means to buy the Mopar crate V8 and get it under the hood of your Wrangler, then do it. Everyone who goes for a ride will thank you for it.
The standard Wranglers we drove were almost as fun, but at a much different speed. Low-speed crawling is easy in the new JL, and even easier with all the controls at your fingertips. Switching between 4-Hi and 4-Lo, connecting and disconnecting sway bars, engaging the rear lockers — all of it was like second nature from behind the wheel. There isn't a vehicle on the market easier to take off-road in seriously treacherous places. There's no accounting for human error, of course, but if you read the manual or have a mildly competent understanding of driving off-road, there are few places you can't go in a Wrangler.