Two days before our honeymoon my wife texted me, “Rental company can upgrade us to a Jeep Wrangler for free. Wanna do it?” I thought It’s still legal to rent an outdated Wrangler!? But we were going to Puerto Rico looking for an adventure, so I texted back, “Sure thing!”
The Jeep Wrangler is outdated
Objectively, it’s absurd that you can walk into a dealership and buy a brand-new Jeep Wrangler in 2021. Willys Overland invented the Jeep for World War Two. The Army was seeking a vehicle similar to a modern side-by-side. But the best Detroit could do at the time was the Willys Jeep.
The current, JL generation of the Jeep Wrangler is the result of incremental improvements to that first Jeep. Like a 1940s era truck, it still has a heavy ladder frame, a solid front axle, and a part-time 4WD transfer case.
In the past 80 years, automotive engineers have perfected sturdy unibody construction, independent front suspension, and full-time all-wheel-drive. Each improvement has made 4x4s faster, more comfortable, and more refined. The Jeep Wrangler, meanwhile, is still bogged down in an era long past.
My Jeep Wrangler honeymoon
My wife and I took a 737 to San Juan. Then we hopped a puddle jumper to the tiny island of Vieques. Someone from Avis had left our ride at the airport, the keys in the care of the one official in sight. Somehow we’d booked the only soft-top rental Jeep Wrangler on the island.
We dropped our bags at the Airbnb, then decided to explore Vieques. While my wife got ready, I attempted to drop the top on the Jeep. I spent longer watching a YouTube video than the actual job took. Then I put the Jeep in 4WD and we set off to explore the island’s stunning wildlife refuge.
You couldn’t have custom-built a better vehicle for our adventure that evening, or for any day we spent on the island. I insisted on removing the Wrangler’s soft top when we set out every morning, even if it meant I had to reinstall it when we parked the Jeep in town for lunch.
I also found excuses to take the trails through the jungle instead of the roads. Sure, we passed lesser SUVs on said trails. But I didn’t see anyone else smiling as wide as us.
The island had long stretches of paved roads too. The Pentastar V6 offered enough power to pass almost any vehicle we encountered. To top it all off, the timeless Jeep offered ice-cold A/C, Bluetooth connectivity, and a backup camera.
An appealing anachronism
I was sad to end our trip and sorry to return our Wrangler. The Jeep had won me over. A soft-top Jeep Wrangler would be a poor choice for the frozen north where I live. But shortly after returning home, I found a rust-free 1998 Cherokee that had spent its life down south. I bought it.
It was Christmas weekend when I scored my new (old) Jeep. After inspecting the 4×4 and striking a deal, my wife and I climbed aboard and pointed its nose north. My new ride had plenty of power around town. On the highway, I began to accelerate to catch up with traffic. But the steering started to wobble by 70 MPH.
I pulled back into the slow lane and set the cruise control. We put on one of our favorite playlists and for the rest of the drive, we were on island time again.
I’ve learned that driving certain vehicles is not about what you gain. It’s about what you give up.
Just because we humans can make our machines faster and smoother does not always mean we should. Many people find objectively outdated things attractive: from folks who like to catch their dinner with a fishing rod to ones who listen to their music on vinyl records.
I once thought Jeep fans just wanted to appear ready for anything. But I’ve learned that driving certain vehicles is not about what you gain. It’s about what you give up.
The Wrangler is outdated because to drive one you must sacrifice fast lane performance. You may gain a little off-road performance. But you gain something else too, a different way of getting from point A to point B. A Jeep transports you to a different time, an era when mankind and our machines may have better complimented one another than they do today.
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