If soft-topologists studied the evolution of 4x4 soft tops like biologists study the evolution of animals, they might divide the history of top design into a few evolutionary epochs. In the beginning tops were fashioned of canvas and relied on straps, buckles, footman loops, snaps, and turn-button fasteners. We’ll call this era the Strapocene.
Fabrics evolved and changed, and zippers were incorporated, which allowed windows and sides to be opened easily and did away with some straps, some snaps, and footman loops. That era is the Zippercene.
Then someone invented channels, belt rails, and plastic strips that pop into place, adding tension and retaining the top forming the plastic, and we have arrived at—wait for it—the Chanelcene. Channels did not replace the venerable snap, or strap and footman loop, but did clean up and secure the installation of tops.
Fabrics continued to evolve. They became quieter and more weather resistant than the early sewn canvas. In more modern times soft tops received major design changes that allowed the front of the top to easily open, giving Jeeps a quick fold-back sunroof called the Sunrider, allowing people easy access to the open air. We’ll call this time the Sunriderocene, and truth be told this era is still under way, with this feature a common component of modern tops.
But did you hear that? A radical sonic boom of change has just occurred. That is the focus of this story. The latest epoch of the soft top? The Glidecene.
Zippers are great until they’re not. Dust, dirt, mud, sun, and use all contribute to zipper damage. Zipper sliders can get worn or spread apart. Pull tabs can break off. Zipper teeth can be damaged by debris and sun exposure. When zippers die your soft top fails and either needs extensive zipper replacement or, gasp, full top replacement.
The first step in the install of this top (assuming the hard top is off the Jeep) is to lay out the goods and make sure you have the tools on hand to install it. Chances are if you have ever installed anything on a vehicle you have the tools to install this top. Bestop says you will need a drill driver (that’s a drill with a Philips head bit), a No. 2 Philips screwdriver, a t-30 Torx driver, a pair of locking pliers, an adjustable wrench, and a pair of safety glasses.
The Trektop NX Glide convertible soft top has no zippers—no zippers at all. Instead, innovative plastic channels and plastic tubes with tapered ends mate to attach side and rear windows to the top. Like zippers, these gliding channels and tubes allow windows and panels to be easily removed as you desire. The beauty of this top is that these channels don’t suffer the same weaknesses as zippers and should last well into the next soft-top era.
To get firsthand experience with this soft-top revolution, we asked Bestop too send us a Trektop NX Glide in black twill for a 2015 four-door Jeep Wrangler JK. Installation was easy. The no-drill system uses existing holes and mounting hardware to secure the top with straps, springy bows, and even a couple venerable snaps. After a few hours our new top was in place and testing could begin. Although our testing will continue for years to come, thus far the top and its revolutionary parts have yielded some impressive results.
Oh, we also nearly forgot to tell you that it’s a good idea to install this, or any, top on a warm, but not hot, day. Why? First, hot days are better spent at the side of the pool, and second, when it’s cold outside the soft top won’t want to stretch and conform to its new surroundings, making installation difficult. Our install day was warm, and we also laid the top out in the sun (bottom up) so it would be nice and pliable and any bends and creases from the box would be erased. This position also helps with assembling the top, which we’ll get to in a minute.
Install the cable guide brackets onto the rear door rails per the instructions. These folding plastic door surrounds, along with the front door rails, are held in place on a JKU via these threaded knobs much like the door surrounds on a TJ. First install the rear door rails using two of the 75mm-long threaded knobs and then the front door rails using one 75mm threaded knob forward and one 30mm knob to attach the front door rail to the rear door rail.
The front and rear top arch (we’d call them soft top bows) are then installed between the door top rails. The rear top arch (PN 486.56) is slightly longer than the front top arch (PN 486.55).
We then installed both right and left bow mount brackets to the rearmost down tubes of the Jeep’s sport bar. We found it easiest to partially remove the sport bar cover per the instructions and then zipped the cover back into pace once the bracket was installed. Weaseling the bracket in through the pocket in the cover and installing the screws in an attempt to complete the task more quickly was too difficult and thus wouldn’t have saved any time.
Next, install the side bows to the header and top fabric that’s been out in the sun. You have to remove two small screws per side to access the holes you will use when you put screws into the side bows. Take note of the orientation of the hook-shaped bracket on the side bow, shown here. This is with the bottom of the top facing down and the header folded over the top. With all four screws installed (per side), we stuck the foam over the screw heads.
Now attach the No. 3 soft top bow to the bow mount brackets on the down tubes of the Jeep’s sport bar. This bow snaps easily in place with spring-loaded catches.
One plastic bow stop (per side) is installed onto the bracket with the smaller end forward on the No. 3 soft top bow using two No. 8x1/2-inch screws. Then snap the spring-loaded catches of the No. 4 soft top bow into the tabs on the No. 3 soft top bow, and snap the No. 4 soft top bow down into the plastic bow stops.
Put the header, top fabric, and side bow assemblies loosely on the top of the Jeep with the fabric hanging over the hood of the Jeep. You can cover the hood of the Jeep with a towel or blanket. Extend the side bows on top of the door rails. Then pivot the No. 3 soft top bow forward and use the supplied screws to attach the side bows to the bracket on the No. 3 soft top bow.
With the legs extended, lay the No. 2 soft top bow on top of the Jeep. The front legs of the No. 2 soft top bows are bolted to the J-shaped bracket on the front of each of the side bow assemblies; the rear legs bolt through two holes on the side bow assemblies shown here. Then push the side bow assemblies forward until you can secure them to each of the door rails using the spring-loaded catches.
Here is a quick tip. The No. 2 soft top bows have fabric straps called stay straps that need to be attached to the No. 3 and No. 4 soft top bows using five pan-head screws (per side). To predrill the holes for these screws, we ran a hex-head No. 8 self-tapping screw into each of the holes in the two soft top bows with a wrench. This will help preserve your sanity and keep you from stripping the Philips crosses out of the supplied pan-head screws.
We then threaded on the cable pockets and cable springs per the Bestop instructions. With the cable springs attached we could install the cable pockets using two screws and nuts per side. The fabric of the top is then laid back over the top of the Jeep and then screwed and Velcroed to the Nos. 2, 3, and 4 soft top bows.
The rest of the soft top install goes much like the install of any modern top with plastic rails slipping into plastic channels. The result is a bikini-style top that gives you shade but doesn’t have a side or back. This is where the Bestop Trektop NX glide differs from all older tops. The side windows slide into place using the tapered plastic tube and C-shaped plastic channel, then the front edge and bottom of the side window’s plastic channels slip into the built-in rails.
The rear window uses a similar method of attachment to the back of the top and then keys into the tailgate using a tailgate bar and the sloped sides of the top using more traditional channels.
Our one and only gripe about the top is that the rear window is hard to snap into the rear corners of the Jeeps tub. We feel that some small tabs sewn into the corners of the rear window would help with securing these corners.
Here are the three possible rear configurations of this top: Bikini top, top with rear window removed, and all sealed up. The angled styling of the rear of this top is probably one of those things you either love or hate. We like the sloped roof look but can also see that the factory-style soft top rear would afford a little more interior space if you need every cubic inch possible.
You can also open up the Sunrider top to get sunlight and fresh air. Also, the Bestop Trektop NX Glide can be folded all the way down into a fairly compact retracted top with the rear and side windows removed.
The Sound of Silence
Scientists get all huffy if you play fast and loose with specific words to describe a test, such as significantly different
. So right out of the gate we are going to say that this is not a scientific test, but it’s good enough for us. We simply wanted to know if the Trektop NX Glide was louder or quieter than the factory Jeep hard top it replaced (honestly, we were betting it would be a little bit louder). Real scientists would have gotten a grant and bought the latest and most high-tech equipment, some half-million-dollar sound analyzer in a hermetically sealed sound chamber where our Jeep would run on a gigantic treadmill. All data would be run through the latest nonparametric statistical program that removes human error and yada yada.
Yea, that’s slightly outside our budget, so instead we downloaded a decibel-reading app on our iPhone and tried to reproduce the same speed and conditions for this “test.” Like we said, it’s not scientific, but we’re off-roaders, not scientists.
Our tests showed very little difference between the two tops (less than the generally accepted scientific 5 percent). The hard top was slightly quieter on surface streets, while the Bestop Trektop NX Glide was slightly quieter on the highway. Either way the look, modularity, or the glide channels of the top make it hard to deny that this top is at the pinnacle of soft top evolution.