Brutal honesty. You wanna know how to make a long-lasting career as an automotive journalist? Tell the truth. I read so many glowing print and online reviews of products I know are crap it sometimes makes me want to barf. Just because a manufacturer doles out a part to a writer at a reduced (or sometimes free) price, or because a company spends big dollars on advertising it is never in my mind an excuse to lie to the readers. Don’t get me wrong; the Internet can be a really valuable research tool when planning your 4x4 build. However, it can also be a source of great frustration and wasted dollars if you can’t separate the wheat from the online chaff. So what’s my point? I promise you’ll get the brutal, honest, unvarnished truth about every product, vehicle, or news item you read about under the Four Wheeler brand, whether in print, online, in our forums, or even through our social media presences.
It’s nothing new. It’s how I’ve operated my whole career in this business. Does that mean you’re in for a bunch of stories trouncing products and throwing manufacturers under the bus? It’d be quite entertaining, but most likely, no. Normally when we run into problems with an install, find a product doesn’t live up to the hype, or just flat out hate something, we’ll give the company in question the option of either having us move forward with our review or pulling out of the planned editorial. Almost always they choose the latter. That said, not every editor sees eye-to-eye on every modification. What one may hold as great attributes, another may see as a waste of money or something that falls short of the mark. Speaking for myself, I’m a self-professed cheap bastige who often thinks less is more (unless you’re talking horsepower) and have a much lower tolerance for compromises that come with popular, sexy modifications image-conscious consumers turn a blind eye to. Take Four Wheeler’s ubiquitous 2007 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon project, Con Artist, as an example.
When I took the job as Four Wheeler brand manager/editor-in-chief, Con Artist kind of came with the position. It’s stocked with some really high-zoot and expensive aftermarket gear. And I hate almost everything about it. Kill it with fire? Not quite. But for the metric tons of dollars thrown at it, I thought I would find more redeeming qualities under its maroon sheetmetal. Granted, magazine project vehicles are often far from perfect. Nobody knows this better than I. But even after removing 4 pounds of stickers and countless gee-gaws and trinkets, I find my subjective dislike of it remains. Maybe I’ll modify it to suit my tastes but as it now sits, here’s my apoplectic take.
“Kill it with fire”
I hate the color scheme on the Jeep Wrangler. Maroon is okay, but the black grille? Ugh, no. Jeeps should have a body-color grille. If you need to accent something in black, do the windshield frame. Then there’s the interior. Unlike the classic grey panels that came with most JKs, Con Artist sports the dull greenish khaki plastics reminiscent of vomit that sat on a subway car floor for a week. It’s quite possibly the ugliest Jeep Wrangler ever.
The off-road lights mounted on the cowl aren’t hooked up to anything, but perhaps it’s just as well since the two incandescent beams on the bumper seem like two dim candles compared with the superb high-performance LEDs available nowadays. The coilover/bypass suspension is pretty slick, but the Jeep Wrangler sits way too tall for the 37s it currently wears. Still, even though one of the antisway bar brackets snapped off the front axle, it’s fairly stable in the twisties and on-road. However, the tires slightly rub the bypass tubes on the shocks even with a ridiculously shallow backspacing on the wheels. And speaking of tires, who puts all-terrains on a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon? That’s like adding a supercharger to your engine and then pulling two spark plug wires.
Oh, did somebody say supercharger? Yeah, there’s an intercooled supercharger sitting atop Con Artist’s 3.8L V-6. It surges periodically at idle and with the cruise control set and even with the required premium unleaded fuel, it knocks under load on grades so when you really need the power, you’ve got to drive it at part throttle to keep detonation from destroying the pistons. All that, plus it only musters an average of 10.8 mpg. Granted, the 5.13s make for 3,000 rpm engine speeds on the highway, but I’ve been able to eke 15-17 mpg out of similarly equipped normally-aspirated Jeep Wrangler JKs.
There is lots more wrong with it, like the ARB lockers and compressor that aren’t hooked up, the rear axle seals leak, the exhaust under load sounds like a UPS truck, and it’s sporting custom aftermarket axles yet still has the dumb 5x5 bolt pattern and no locking hubs. So there you have it. I could go on but I’m running out of room. It’s probably overly harsh, but it’s also overly honest. And going forward, honesty is what you can count on most in this magazine. Because at the end of the day, if you’re spending your hard-earned dollars on stuff we write about, you deserve the harshest truth we can muster. Nobody knows off-road like we do. We’ll be your wheat. Get the chaff somewhere else.