Jeep Wrangler Moab Edition
10-plus years ago a Jeep like this would have been amazing, but back then we got something even better, the Rubicon. This Wrangler Moab is the second most capable Wrangler ever to roll off the factory line, but by modern Jeeper’s standards it is undergunned. Equipped with only a rear selectable locker and tires that are only slightly more aggressive than those on a base model, this JK Wrangler, though capable, is no Rubicon. Although we dislike it compared to a Rubicon, we love it compared to a base model JK, not to mention compared to the other two competitors in our test for most terrains.
The Moab edition starts as a Sahara package and then adds front and rear steel bumpers (the front is ready to drop in a winch), 245/75R17 Goodyear Silent Armor tires on17-inch black aluminum Rubicon wheels, rock sliders, and a selectable rear locking differential. It also adds a bunch of other stuff that does nothing to improve off-road performance, such as a Power Bulge hood, leather seats, a black gas door, and a bunch of electrical gadgets.
The single locker and body armor are the most important options for dirt use. The 3.73 gears are just not low enough with the manual transmission. Where we often crave a stick shift, this time we longed for an auto with its torque converter, or some proper low gears.
We foresee many a new Jeep buyer being dazzled by the off-roady looks of the Moab and taking it home. Plus, we can’t deny it may be a good starting point to build off of, except for one big flaw: the price. When our test took us to a local Jeep dealership to swap in a new alternator (yes, we killed the Wrangler’s high-mounted alternator by splashing through a big mud puddle, a weird fluke that Jeep engineers claim to have never duplicated), we perused the new car lot and found a ’13 black two-door, soft-top Rubicon for a price $1,725 less than the Moab! We were amazed.
The Wrangler Moab is the smallest, most agile, lightest, least expensive, and only dual-solid-axle-equipped vehicle of the three in our test. The Moab has the tallest tire (though all three share the same tread pattern) and has recovery points at each corner (though some judges disliked the fact that the Moab uses shackle hangers and not towhooks). The Moab climbs better, crawls better, and even outshined the competition in the dunes, though it doesn’t exactly inspire confidence on the high-speed sections. In the mud the little Jeep V-6 winds up and spins with glee while the short wheelbase bounces through the ruts and turns on a dime. The armor is appreciated, as we didn’t leave the trail with the normal Jeep JK dented plastic bumper of years past.
So it should win, but will it? The engine either needs more low-end grunt or lower gears, as we said earlier. Better yet, just choose the automatic. The transmission seems to need a better mount because the shifter rattles like crazy at high speeds off-road. However, every judge still chose the manual over the competing autos. The Power Bulge hood isn’t bad, but half the judges wondered what the point of it was. The leather seats are nice, but not as nice as in the Grand Cherokee where you expect them to be. The soft top on the Wranglers just keeps getting better, but some judges just prefer a steel or hard roof above their heads. Plus, the virtues of a small off-road powerhouse often result in diminished attributes for cargo and highway driving.
This Jeep is an oddity. It looks better than it actually is, but it is better than most of the others.
• One selectable locker
• Bumpers and rock sliders
• Great visibility
• Only one selectable locker
• Expensive for off-road value
• Geared too high
Ram 1500 Outdoorsman
In our Dec. ’12 issue we told you about the new Ram 1500 (“First Drive: Ram 1500 Refresh”) and gave you the inside scoop on the new Pentastar V-6 option, eight-speed transmission, and air-spring suspension. The truck we are testing here is similar but with the Hemi V-8 and the old six-speed automatic transmission.
Ram Truck’s goal is to build the most fuel-efficient half-ton truck on the market; however, we tested just a portion of those eco-upgrades. It does have the four-wheel air suspension and electric steering rack, which help lower the truck for better aerodynamics and reduce parasitic power loss due to a steering pump. We didn’t get to test the V-6 engine with eight-speed transmission or the grille-mounted shutters that bypass air around the engine bay for improved mileage when cooling isn’t needed, but these are options you should consider if you’re looking for a truck with maximum fuel economy.
This new Ram has kept the solid rear axle with five-link suspension but replaced the coil springs with air springs. The front also received air springs, and this allows the vehicle to be raised and lowered depending on off-road use and speed. Plus, the air suspension can level out the truck depending on load, all aspects that make this half-ton one of the most dynamic in the market. The Ram’s air suspension, which is developed off the Grand Cherokee’s Quadra-Lift design, seems better tuned than the Grand. It doesn’t top out and clunk when tested in its highest position.
Compared to the two Jeeps in our test, the Ram stood apart as a great truck but just an average 4x4. We can appreciate the power of the Hemi for mud and sand, the long wheelbase for hillclimbing, and the height offered by the air suspension when in the rocks. We wouldn’t mind seeing a selectable rear locker such as other trucks in this segment offer instead of the Eaton clutch-style limited slip, though we felt the traction control in the Ram outperformed that in the Grand Cherokee. Plus, the truck acts weird in low-range crawling: When you release the brake pedal there is a second of lag before it will start to crawl forward—great on hills, odd on rocks.
The body styling of the Ram trucks, where the body hangs down low for better aerodynamics, is again a hindrance off-road. We would appreciate a set of quality rock sliders similar to those on the Trailhawk or Moab. Maybe in a special half-ton Power Wagon Light version?
We expected the Ram to take the cake in the high-speed off-road section but found it light in the rear and less stable in corners than the Grand. We do find the RamBox bedside cargo boxes priceless for stowing a dirty tow strap and other recovery gear, and the fact that they lock with key fob is brilliant. We would like to see them designed to work with a camper shell, though.
The Ram felt more powerful and was extremely smooth-riding and all-around more useful than the other two 4x4s in our test. From a seat-of-the-pants standpoint, the big truck just seemed to get up and go better than the similar-powered Grand. However, the visibility doesn’t compare to the Jeeps for technical off-roading, and the length can also be a problem in the same situations. The Ram earned a solid second place in almost every driving category and would have won if we were looking for the best truck in the lineup—but we were judging best 4x4.
• Good power and sound
• Ride and cargo capacity
• Locking RamBoxes
• Wheelbase and visibility
• Low-hanging rocker panels
• No locking rear differential