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Trail’s End: December 2006, Wheeling The Jeep JK In Zambia

Posted in Features on December 12, 2016
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Photographers: DaimlerChryslerDouglas McColloch

It seems that almost daily we’re teased with a new rumor, speculation, or question about the next-gen Jeep Wrangler, designated the JL. Will it have a turbocharged gas engine? Will it have IFS? Will it be body on frame? Will it get a diesel engine? Will there be a long-travel suspension option?

Burning questions and conjecture is nothing new. Back in 2006 when the Wrangler TJ was on the way out and the Wrangler JK was on the way in, there were rumors and speculation galore. Some wondered if the “new” Wrangler would be softened and unable to live up to the nameplate’s outstanding off-road reputation.

To help quell those fears, Jeep went big right out of the gate to show the JK’s capabilities by inviting a select group of journalists to Zambia to drive the then-new rig in Rubicon trim. We were part of that incredible Wrangler JK “first drive,” flying 22 hours through 10 time zones before being belted into the driver seat in the middle of nowhere in Zambia’s Luangwa Valley. The story detailing our experiences published in the December 2006 issue of Four Wheeler.

During our two-plus days behind the wheel we logged close to 250 miles in the new JK, which doesn’t sound like much until you consider that virtually all of the miles were driven off-road in brutal terrain. “In all, the degree of wheeling difficulty we encountered was as demanding as anything we’ve ever seen inflicted upon a fleet of stock vehicles,” we wrote. “Simply put, the Wranglers took a beating. Even in the hands of experienced ‘wheelers, nearly every test Jeep evidenced bashed bumpers, bent license plates, ripped fender flares, frayed soft tops, dented rock sliders, and scratches everywhere by the end of our test,” we noted. One Jeep even rolled hard on the first day when it slid off a slab of slickrock during a hillclimb. Once back on its wheels, its doors were removed because they wouldn’t open and shut anymore, but the dented up rig took it like a champ and was driven the rest of the trip.

In the end, after subjecting the JK to off-road abuse, we said, “…it may not have much low-end torque, it’s bigger and heavier, and it’s harder to see the trail, but with a stout chassis, flexy suspension, solid axles, and low-low gears, it’s still All Jeep where it really counts. And that, to us, is a very good thing indeed.”

Now, as the JK is on the way out and the JL is on the way in, rumors and speculation abound again. The Wrangler JK is a hot seller, and the Wrangler nameplate is known the world over for its unique design, features, and right-off-the-showroom-floor off-road capability. Ultimately, the pressure is on Jeep to produce a JL that carries on the tradition.

If you were the person making the decisions at Jeep, what design elements, equipment and features would you include on the Wrangler JL? Drop us an email at and sound off.

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