I have driven a lot of different cars over my driving years so far. This is mainly due to work and also use of rental cars instead of owning outright until recently. I had never driven a jeep before though as they are not a very popular car in the UK. In Hawaii though they are the rental car of choice. The Jeep Wrangler is a compact four-wheel drive sport utility vehicle vehicle produced by American automaker Chrysler, under its Jeep marque. A defining feature of all Wranglers is that they continue to use live axles both front and rear like their original Willys civilian Jeep form the 1950s.
When I first got a first look at the Jeep at Alamo in Hawaii I was stunned to see such an abused car being rented out again. The soft cover was not on properly, there were scratches all over the place and they had warning stickers on everything inside the car. Things did not get any better when I turned on the engine either. The ride height was really high yet it was still difficult to judge the width of the car. The handling was non existent and driving around in windy conditions was even worse with the wheel being turned every millisecond to compensate. The noise was intense too with the soft cover being blown to bits as the car was swaying side to side. I’m not a great fan of automatic transmission but being the USA I didn’t have any choice in that sense. The Jeep Wrangler had the worst automatic transmission box In any car I’ve ever rented. It revved itself to hell before changing up and it wanted to stall before switching down gears. The acceleration was non existent as was the top speed as it struggled at 50mph. Whilst cruising at 50mph I had a look at all those warning sings on the doors and windscreen and sun visors. The Jeep Wrangler had no side crash bars, hardly any air bags, no safety column at the windscreen pillars. The 4 wheel drive was also difficult to engage and required the use of the car manual to operate. Driving the Jeep Wrangler was like going back 30 years and driving a car before computers decided how we drove our cars.
So where am I going with this ramble you may be asking? Well I need to point out the good bits. It handles very well off road which is really the purpose of having this type of vehicle. It is a true 4 wheel drive vehicle and not a computer enhanced all wheel drive. It feels very reliable on 4 wheel drive mode and we drove off road, up a mountain, down a mountain and through a major flash flood. It was pretty stupid on reflection but we ignored warnings that a tropical storm was going to hit Hawaii and everything was fine until we were on the wrong side of the island trying to get back home. The storm hit hard and driving on the side of a volcano next to the ocean didn’t inspire confidence in itself let alone when the rain was so hard it went up to a metre high near a small bridge. The small bridge was totally flooded and it was hard to tell where it even was. It was a very scary evening with the wipers struggling to clear a decent view driving at 2 mph. The high clearance and high riding position came into it’s own at that point. I could see where the bridge was and I got over safely. I had another 5-6 patches of flash flood like this to deal with which was very difficult. The wind was hard and with the water gushing in the same direction, nature was constantly pulling us towards the ocean. the car in 4 wheel drive mode had other ideas. It felt like it had loads of grip and I could compensate for this push. Later on was a moment when I thought we were going to die. A tree fell down onto the road blown over by the power and intensity of the wind. I hit the brakes and we hit the tree hard. amazingly we went over it. We couldn’t stop because the flash flood was still around and getting out would have been suicide. We had just driven over a fallen tree and just carried on through the flash flood and the car was fine when we finally got back to the hotel. The clearance was truly high and the bottom of the car was water tight. We owe our lives to the off road elements that the car was designed for.
So to summarise, the car is crap to drive on road but off road it is King! If you are going on holiday somewhere like Hawaii then go with a Jeep as you can venture and explore and feel safe.
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