From trails dotted with melon-sized rocks to full-on boulders.
Cappa: If everyone else has a long-wheelbase fullsize, I want a Jeep. If everyone else has a short-wheelbase Jeep, I want a long-wheelbase fullsize. It’s not just that I want to be different, I want a challenge. That’s why I go four-wheeling. If I wanted it to be easy I’d leave the transfer case shifted into 2WD and stay on the street. Also, I don’t want to be spotted through a section of trail. If I wanted someone else to drive for me I’d ride in the passenger seat. For me, wheeling is a fun challenge and sort of a memory game. I try to recall where I want to place my tires and where I don’t. Having a spotter is like cheating on a test and stealing the answers from the guy next to you. It has nothing to do with ego, don’t steal my fun. Anyway, I don’t mind winching my short-wheelbase 4x4 up climbs that the long-wheelbase guys can drive right up, and likewise I don’t mind having to drive my long-wheelbase rig over different lines than the short-wheelbase guys.
Holman: I’m going to go ahead and throw a wrench in the works. For rocks, I want a long-wheelbase Jeep, such as the JK Unlimited or an “LJ.” They pack the perfect mix of size, maneuverability, and stability, while still being able to tackle the toughest obstacles. To me, a short-wheelbase Jeep is too sketchy on climbs and off-camber situations, and a fullsize is just too big to take the line I want, yet a long-wheelbase Jeep allows it to split the difference, hit the obstacles with the rest of the Jeeps, but take a more interesting line for the challenge of it.
Brubaker: Maybe I’m a glutton for punishment, but I’ll take a long wheelbase in the rocks. Through the years I’ve done a fantastic job of successfully damaging both short- and long-wheelbase rigs on rocky trails, but interestingly I’ve damaged less of the long-wheelbase rigs. Why? I dunno, maybe it’s because I actually pay more attention when behind the wheel of a bigger rig. I tend to choose lines better and be more cognizant of the rig’s sheetmetal. Be aware though, long-wheelbase rigs need more modifications to be self-sufficient in really big rocks, so they’re not for everybody. Boat sides and narrowing vastly increase their capability and lightening up the rig helps, too. Personally, I like the stability of a long-wheelbase rig when tipped every which way. A long-wheelbase rig may spend more time tethered to the winch cable, but that’s OK with me. It saves wear and tear on the drivetrain.
General Trail Riding
A potential hodgepodge of obstacles, whether deep in the woods, winding through a canyon, or high in the mountains.
Cappa: If I’m planning on general trail use, I typically want a fullsize, unless the trail is really tight. Why? Because I’m probably going camping. And it’s not that I need all the extra space for a hair dryer, portable shower, generator, or anything like that. I actually pack pretty light. But I hate unpacking nearly everything just to get to my cooler or snacks. And speaking of coolers, I like to bring a big one. There has to be plenty of room for frosty beverages and food. Big coolers don’t fit well in small vehicles. I also like to bring lots of firewood, and where better to store it than in the bed of a fullsize truck? Nobody wants firewood tearing up their interior, and putting heavy firewood on a roof rack negatively alters your vehicle’s center of gravity. In the end, you just can’t physically or conveniently fit as much stuff in a short-wheelbase rig. If you try, you’ll typically find yourself dependant on someone else to carry or bring something you need. I like to be self-sufficient. Also, a loaded-down short rig will never handle the bumps and whoops as well as a fullsize 4x4 carrying the same amount of gear.
Holman: For general trail riding, I’ll take the fullsize. I like having the extra room and if there aren’t hardcore obstacles in my way that extra space makes for more comfortable camping and driving. Plus, a fullsize can carry more of what makes you self-sufficient, allowing you to stay out in the backcountry longer. All things being considered, the long-wheelbase offers a much more comfortable ride for long days in the dirt.
Brubaker: You never know what you’re going to encounter when exploring a backcountry trail. If I was planning a trail tour I’d want to be planted in the driver-seat of a short-wheelbase rig. Why? Because I’d rather err on the side of caution and have a lightweight, agile machine. After all, there may not be a way around that stinky, deep mud hole or that towering sand dune. And the rocks they casually mentioned back at the general store/bait shop/tattoo parlor may turn out to actually be car-sized boulders. There’s an economic element, too. Most often, the short-wheelbase rig will be less expensive to purchase, it’ll return better fuel mileage, and replacement parts may be less expensive. Heck, you won’t need to buy as heavy a winch either, which’ll save you more green.
Obviously, the Four Wheeler staff has opinions that are as varied as the terrain we wheel. The take away is that choosing between a short- or long-wheelbase rig depends on a number of factors including where you live, how and where you wheel, and what kind of budget you have.