Back in June, I took a trip down to the Atlanta area to visit Omix-ADA/Rugged Ridge.  While down there with a number of other journalists we toured their warehouse and museum and got to take several of their historic Jeeps for a drive around the industrial park in which the offices resides.  We also took several modified JK Jeeps out to drive offroad through some North Georgia trails and through a few water crossings.

One of the Jeeps that we drove on the trail, the one they called Mango, was shipped up to Detroit and put in the local press fleet.  For whatever reason, most pubs didn’t so much as get the rig dirty.  When I was contacted to see if I’d like to review the Mango Jeep, I said SURE and in doing so was determined to drive it in the environment it was designed for, as well as see how it did the daily grind.

First off this is not a vehicle if you’re an introvert!  It’s not just the color, it’s the fact that Rugged Ridge threw a good chunk of their catalog at this Jeep.  It has multiple different sets of lights, 35-inch tall tires on 20-inch rims, a four-inch lift, tall jack, winch, external cage, snorkel, and several other cosmetic details.  All told between body, suspension, and interior, there are well over $30,000 in mods to this Jeep.  Personally some of the mods are not to my taste, but that’s because I’m not really into the offroad scene.  This may be close to the perfect build though for those that do cherish the mud and dirt.

I won’t go off on a whole rant about some of the judgment I saw around this Jeep from the Detroit based car media but if you are interested I did do a post on LinkedIn about it, feel free to read it here and then come back.

I did about 400 miles in this Jeep in the week I had it.  It’s a JK 2011 model and as delivered had over 86,000 miles on the odometer.  For a vehicle with that much mileage, and given most of that probably hasn’t been easy miles, this was in very good shape.  With that in mind for the daily grind, this wasn’t my favorite vehicle.  With the taller tires and lift, you have to pull yourself up into the Jeep, and it takes a few days to find the best way to “dismount” when getting out.  With this being a soft top, anything over about 50-55 miles an hour the wind noise gets very loud to the point where with the stereo volume maxed it’s difficult to hear it.

On the highway, this is no daisy.  Between the tall tires, lack of aero and the gearing of the Jeep you can cruise down the highway on flat ground at 70, maybe 75 miles an hour.  After that, the Jeep does not want to stay in overdrive.  So rather than 2,500 rpm, you are turning 4,000 rpm or more.  Now, given that the best indicated fuel economy I saw was 12mpg trying to drive carefully, it was in the single digits at one point trying to keep up with freeway traffic.

Does all this mean that I didn’t like the Jeep?  No, not at all, in fact, I quite liked it!  Where so many current SUV and Crossovers are very wide, the Jeep is fairly narrow and makes it much easier to drive and park in tight spaces.  Little kids LOVED this Jeep, and we got a TON of thumbs up and waves driving around town and on some two-lane highways.

There is an offroad park about 70 miles north of where I live, and after doing some checking, I decided to head up there for an afternoon to see how this Rugged Ridge built Jeep did in the sand, mud, and rocks.  The Mounds Offroad Park has a little bit of everything.  They have basic trails, three different levels of rock crawling (level three you’d need a dedicated machine for) sand, some mud, a little bit of everything.

Basic trails and sand were no problem, a few washes to test the articulation, again, no worries.  The level one rock crawling, think empty river bed, no big deal.  So then, it was time to go through the mud.  It’s here that it went pear shaped VERY quickly!  While it had been fairly dry in the area for a few weeks and there seemed to be a good crust on the mud, it was very soft and very deep under that crust.  I made it maybe fifteen feet in when I got properly stuck.  A few people on dirt bikes and side by sides came by to make sure I was OK, but they couldn’t do much to help.  There were also no trees or poles around where I could hook up the winch to pull myself out.  Thankfully another gentleman in a Jeep came by about 10 minutes later and we used his winch to pull me out.  After that, I didn’t try the mud again, but I did spend another couple hours having fun in the park and thoroughly enjoying myself!

While I tried to drive over the rock washes a few times and generally try to knock as much of the mud out as I could, I did have to head to a quarter wash after I left and spent about $10 getting the mud out of the wheels as they were pretty out of balance.  After that, it was the hour drive home on some two-lane back roads and overall a beautiful late summer drive.

Now is this Jeep something I’d want as my only or primary vehicle?  The answer is no, for my purposes it’s far too compromised.  Would this make a great second vehicle?  Absolutely!  My experience with the people at Omix-ADA/Rugged Ridge and the offroad journos that were on that trip, along with talking to the people at the offroad park made it clear that this group is a community.  It’s as much or more about going out with friends and having a good time as it is about the drive or the vehicles themselves.  In the sports car niche, it’s very singular, very hierarchical and judgmental, it was a good eye opener for me.

This was a fun week in a fun vehicle and I’m glad I had the experience.  It’s like going on an adventure in an exotic location.  Would you want to live there or do it every day?  No, but are you glad you went, and would you go back, and the answer to that is an emphatic YES!