How a Jeep Renegade Conquers Black Bear Pass (From the Passenger’s POV)Posted in Events on May 5, 2016
I kind of expected a Russian military van sporting 44-inch tires powered by a double-expansion steam engine or maybe a portal-axled Winnebago cut in half with a claw foot bathtub in place of the driver’s seat. I mean, I was going 4-wheeling in Colorado with Fred Williams, right? The guy can’t leave anything alone. So when he picked me up at Flagstaff airport in Jeep’s new Fiat-based Renegade 4x4 I felt a sense of doom. No way was this minivan going to survive.
I climbed in the little rig and two small mutts began assaulting me. Fred said, “You like dogs, don’t you?” I looked around at our gear stacked to the roof, the dogs, the dog food, the dog water, ice chests, and the insistent, wet tongues. Then I looked at Fred, who was grinning like a lunatic. I began plotting my exit route for the inevitable rollover.
There were actually two Renegades, both painted bright red with a blacked-out section on the hood. The second Renegade contained Jason and Kenneth, who were shooting video of our trip for an episode of Dirt Every Day, Fred’s YouTube show. Jason and Kenneth seemed like nice enough guys at first. Later I came to realize that they wouldn’t hesitate to kill me if it made four seconds of interesting video. I was expendable, a meat puppet.
The first really solid crunch came when Fred drove the Renegade up an old concrete loading dock by the railroad yard. There was a ramp, but of course that wasn’t the line he took. The Renegade scraped and clawed its way over the sharp edge of the loading dock leaving long black streaks of Jeep’s optional Trail-Rated skidpan in our wake. I said, “I’m not sure this is exactly what Jeep had in mind for this model.”
“We’re testing Loading Dock mode on the terrain selector knob,” said Fred. “This is urban wheeling.”
Next we met Fred’s wingman, Verne Simons. Verne drives a TJ that resembles the worn bucket from a 1947 Caterpillar loader. Verne rode with us to this weird volcanic spoil zone. The volcano site was an open area where 4-wheelers can run around without causing too much trouble. The video guys wanted some shots of the Renegade getting airborne through the soft, black cinders.
Verne took off across the place like a maniac; the big rubber tires on his TJ-bucket were oscillating over the bumps so fast they looked like figure-eights. Tiny nuggets of volcanic rock were flying everywhere, and a Park Ranger (or maybe it was Homeland Security) drove up and asked us who that guy is. We honestly didn’t know. He certainly wasn’t anything like Verne; he was a freaking demon.
After the Homeland Dirt Police left, Fred started doing high-speed ground-to-air launches over huge volcanic moguls. I was sure the floor was going to drop out of our Renegade. There was a loud belt-sander noise when we stuck our landings, and it felt as if our Jeep were buckling in the middle. A dog flew past. Then another. Travel gear was bouncing off the ceiling and water bowls were spilling. It was like being in a clothes dryer except with dogs instead of clothes. Jason and Kenneth got the airborne shots they needed, and after I managed to extract my upper incisors from the dashboard we headed north.
The little Renegade ran straight and smooth all the way to Colorado. The thing cruised 80 mph (closed course, professional drivers) all the while sipping gas at the rate of 1 gallon every 30 miles. At night Fred let me drive the Jeep until I woke him due to my screaming at the built-in navigation system. The Jeep’s dash GPS tends to underestimate your next turn, going from “Turn left in 1 mile” to “Turn left now!” in approximately 50 feet.
Black Bear Pass into Telluride, Colorado, is well marked. Signs saying, “High Clearance 4-Wheel-Drive!” followed by those saying, “Short Wheelbase Only!” normally convince minivan drivers to turn back, but Fred plowed the Jeep Renegade over rocks and ledges, rolling boulders the length of the undercarriage as we descended. The Jeep’s stiff, street-biased suspension hangs lots of wheels in the air, sometimes three at once, while all manner of electronic traction control devices apply brake and transmission corrections for your driving pleasure.
I’m not going to lie: Black Bear was scary. Mostly because the margin for error is slim. Mess up and it’s a long way down. If I didn’t have a dog on my head I might have gotten out and walked but the Jeep Renegade took it in stride.
I know purists are going to complain. They will say Jeep is losing its tough image, that the Renegade is a glorified Fiat and not a real Jeep. I don’t know about that. All I know is the Renegade went everywhere we pointed it. I figure that alone makes it a Jeep.
Our Renegades came with a cool backup camera incorporated into the dash-mounted GPS. Very handy for checking to see whether you disconnected the dog’s leash before driving off.
This is just the first of many scrapes the low-slung Renegade suffered on our trip. Unless you are driving off the end of loading ramps or tackling full-on 4x4 trails, you will probably hit the ground less than we did.
Fred Williams kept insisting that there were only two dogs onboard. I swear at times it seemed like 10 or 12. Thank persistence of memory for the illusion. The dash-mounted dogs were excellent early warning systems: When the trail got tough they ran to the back and hid.
The tail end of summer saw water crossings at their lowest. We were on a mission to find mud, rocks, sand, and snow to test the Jeep’s four-position, traction-control knob.
Our camera crew traveled fully loaded with video junk. Progress was slower than a normal trail ride due to setup and takedown times. Still, for sadistic dudes, Jason and Kenneth were fun to travel with.
Backcountry trails were right in the Renegade’s wheelhouse. We should have run lower tire pressure, but none of the five experienced off-road team members remembered to bring an air compressor.
All those sharp rocks over the passes would test the Renegades’ tires. We bruised one so bad it was a takeoff; another sidewall puncture was plugged and survived the trip.
At the end of County Road 124 we reached a gap in the rocks where the road was closed. Technically we could have kept going, but it was a cliff dropping several thousand feet and we felt the Renegades would not survive the fall.
We bumped into one of Fred’s Ultimate Adventure buddies near Durango. There’s definitely a Jeep family resemblance, kind of like Uncle Fester and Morticia Adams.
The rocks were softball-sized and sharp. This tire was bruised so badly we needed a replacement. A tire shop in Ouray, Colorado, had a fairly good used tire for $30, mounted. This is the reason for low pressure on the trail: Besides the extra traction, a soft tire is less likely to puncture.
One would think this message is clear. However, it had no effect on Fred or his dogs. We plunged on, ignoring the fact that the Renegade is not a hardcore 4x4.
Along the way our camera crew fitted GoPro cameras to the Renegade and captured every conceivable angle of the action. I felt the story veered off course whenever the cameras weren’t on me.
As we descended Black Bear Pass the trail got narrower. A group of cautious Georgians were ahead of us driving big rigs. Toyotas, I think. Even with filming we kept catching up to them as the little Renegades has no problem with the sharp switchbacks.
Nice view in the Colorado mountains. Snow was scarce, but we found some and tested snow mode. Then we found mud and tested mud mode. I’m not sure what, if any, difference there is between the modes, but they worked.
Traffic jam on the pass. Sometimes light and agile is better than heavy and cumbersome. The Renegade hardly weighs enough to break things. It is ideal for grocery shopping if your grocery store is at the bottom of a quarry.
The scariest part of the descent into Telluride is the first bit. The road just disappears in front of you. We tried the Renegade’s hill descent mode on this section and it worked pretty good except it was very slow. Finally Fred got impatient and drove down working the brakes manually. Want to see if we survived? check out the Renegade episode of Dirt Every Day on the Motor Trend Channel on YouTube.