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March 2006 4x4 News - RPM

Posted in Project Vehicles on March 1, 2006
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It's official: Jeep Wrangler fans can breathe freely again. We've examined the all-new '07 Jeep Wrangler JK and, even though it is substantially more refined and user-friendly than the current TJ, it doesn't sacrifice the rugged capability that has made the Wrangler a trail legend. As a matter of fact, it seems to improve on it in a big way. The exterior is significantly revised, but as you can see it continues to carry on the familiar Wrangler styling cues. The doors are still removable, the windshield will still fold down, and removable hard and soft tops are still available (a new three-piece modular hardtop features three panels that provide more options for open-air driving). The functional exterior revisions are said to reduce wind resistance and improve interior sound levels. Speaking of the interior, increased shoulder and hip room are on tap for passengers, due in part to a 2-inch-longer wheelbase and a 5-inch-wider body. Those lusting after modern conveniences will be happy to find that the '07 Wrangler can be factory-equipped with power windows and locks and a full-screen navigation system.

Jeep purists can celebrate the fact that the Wrangler still sports a pair of solid axles-a Dana 30 up front and a Dana 35 in the rear (a new towing package offers a rear Dana 44, and the Rubicon still offers Dana 44s with electric lockers). Like the current TJ, the JK sports a five-link coil-spring suspension, though it's said to provide more jounce and rebound travel than the current TJ suspension. A brand-new feature for the Wrangler is an available electronic-disconnecting front stabilizer bar, which is said to improve the vehicle's Ramp Travel Index score by 28 percent when disconnected. The Wrangler will be available with one engine-a new 3.8L OHVV-6 that generates 205 hp and 240 lb-ft of torque. The Wrangler will be offered in Wrangler X, Sahara, and Rubicon models. Clearly, there's a lot about the '07 Wrangler to get excited about. We'll have much more information on the new Wrangler in upcoming issues of Four Wheeler.

For those of you who have been eagerly anticipating a Chrysler SUV, you'll both be pleased to know that the Chrysler Aspen is going into production. Yes, it's true. Chrysler has resurrected the Aspen nameplate-remembered by old-timers as last being used on a frugal car with rusty front fenders-and it will adorn this luxury SUV that is based on the Dodge Durango. The new Aspen is slathered in chrome, earning it the nickname "Chromezilla." Chrysler is marketing this first-ever Chrysler SUV as "affordable bling." It will feature such accouterments as a scalloped hood; 20-inch wheels; DVD player; full-screen navigation system; remote start; power liftgate; and wood trim. Like the Durango, it will be available with the 4.7L V-8 or 5.7L Hemi engine and a two-speed transfer case.

Hold on to your Trail Rated hats, because production is slated for Jeep's first small AWD car, the new Compass. This transfer-case-less front-wheel-drive Dodge Caliber-based machine gets its all-wheel-drive capability via a driver-activated electromagnetically controlled coupling that engages the rear wheels on demand. A 2.4L World Engine makes power. The standard transmission is a five-speed manual, while a CVT transmission is optional. We're anxiously looking forward to seeing one of these on the trail, any trail. Even Prius owners are probably wondering if the car-based Compass is pointing the Jeep brand in the wrong direction.

Luke Telford is the lucky winner of the Pro Comp/Stylin' Concepts' Offroad Truck we showcased in the July '05 issue of Four Wheeler. Telford's name was randomly selected from thousands of entries. He was awarded the keys to the beautiful truck during a special ceremony at the 2005 SEMA Show in Las Vegas. Telford is a native of El Paso, Texas, but is currently serving in the Marines, stationed at Twentynine Palms, California. "It was so surreal. It was so unbelievable," he said when asked what it was like to win the Roush-supercharged '05 Ford F-150 XL SuperCab 4x4. He didn't waste any time hitting the trail either-one week after taking possession of the rig, he was 'wheeling in the California sand with six-year-old daughter Shaina and two-year-old son Daniel.

Champion off-road racer Jason Baldwin, known for his successful career in the SCORE and CORR racing series, died November 19, 2005 in a tragic light plane crash off the Southern California coast near Dana Point. Jason was returning to his Orange County home after completing the Tecate SCORE Baja 1000, where he placed 19th overall in a field of 342 vehicles, when the Cessna 210 he was riding in went down with three other people aboard. Jason is survived by his wife Eve Baldwin, young daughters Annabelle and Sabrina, along with his parents, Nancy and Jim Baldwin, sisters Jami Baldwin and Kelley Renezeder, brother Josh Baldwin, and grandmothers Rita Baldwin and Shirley Mayfield. The four-wheeling and racing community mourns the passing of a great competitor and the thoughts and prayers of the Four Wheeler staff go out to the Baldwin family.

The Superlift Off-Road Vehicle Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas, celebrates its fifth year in 2006. The venue is a popular destination for 4x4s, buggies, dirt bikes, and ATVs. The famous Jeep Jamboree used the park's 1,254 wooded acres in October 2005, and the Superlift 4xAdventure Series makes regular stops there. This Hot Springs locale became an informal four-wheeling hot-spot in the late '70s as 'wheelers explored existing logging and power-line trails before the area was closed to the public. Superlift was part of an investor group-including 'wheelers and conservationists-that bought the property in 2001. The goal then and now is to keep the trails open while preserving the land's natural beauty. Five years later, many of the original trails and obstacles have been maintained, and new ones have been added. Park amenities include modern restrooms, showers, a 4,000-square-foot pavilion, and a store. Both tent and RV camping (electricity and water hook-ups) are available. Admission is by day pass, annual pass, or family pass, and group discounts are available. Superlift Off-Road Vehicle Park is located at 2100 Mill Creek Road, Hot Springs, AR 71901. For more information, call 501/625-3600, fax 501-625-3607, e-mail, or visit Also, a video tour is available at

For those of you who missed last month's issue, we gave our 2006 Four Wheeler of the Year award to the Toyota Land Cruiser, which bested SUV entries from Hummer, Jeep, Range Rover, and Suzuki in our annual street-and-trail test. Last November, at the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) Show in Las Vegas, we had the privilege to hand out the trophy hardware to Toyota Division Vice President Jim Lentz (right) at Toyota's annual SEMA bash. Presenting the award on our behalf was some poor guy who got lost on his way to the Barry Manilow show at the Hilton, but since he was wearing a suit, and nobody else on our staff even owns a suit, we let him onstage anyway. He was doing fine until he burst out singing "Looks Like We Made It," at which point he was forcibly ejected by security (sorry, Doug).

What, no low range? Who cares?We know, we know. A Jeep without low range is blasphemy. But, humor us here, if just for a moment. Is it really the watering-down of the Jeep brand if the product line still offered a model with all the 'wheeling credentials you could ever want, and on the side, just because, allowed you to partake in your own guilty pleasures with a limited-production 420hp AWD version of the same vehicle?

As long as you can still get the off-road version of the Grand, we think we can live with having a performance model in the offerings, especially after spending some quality time with the '06 Grand SRT8 on the Willow Springs racetrack in the California desert.

SRT (that stands for Street and Racing Technology, you know) recently invited us out to a track day, where we had an opportunity to sample the entire SRT lineup, from the amazing Viper supercar to the autocross all-star SRT-4. But what we really focused on was the new Grand SRT8 that Chrysler Group's go-fast boys worked their magic on.

Immediately noticeable is the muscular stance and clean design with performance cues. The low-slung exterior features 20-inch wheels and center-mounted exhaust tips, from which a hellish bark emanates at wide-open throttle. It is a pure mechanical symphony that is enough to cause the snobbiest of Europe's AMGs and Ms to take note. The 6.1L Hemi V-8 has torque all over the place and hustles the Grand from 0 to 60 in under 5 seconds, a claim we have no doubts about. In fact, the Grand SRT8 is so fast that on the front stretch of Willow, where the Viper reached about 130 mph, the Grand SRT8 was good for about 118. Not too shabby for a 4,800-pound SUV playing on a track with sports cars. We even tried to comment on some wind noise around the windshield, until we realized we were doing a brisk 100 mph without realizing it. The solid Grand SRT8 is that smooth.

Speed is not the only attribute the Grand Cherokee SRT8 has to flaunt, as this truck flat out handles. The ride is firm but not harsh, and the cockpit is nicely upgraded with some SRT design cues and grippy seats that are both comfortable on long jaunts and supportive while hustling around the track. The Grand SRT8's full-time AWD transfer case can send 100 percent of the power to the front or rear wheels at any time. Operation is imperceptible on the street, but on the track, we could feel the power transfer at the limit as the front tires began clawing at the track, pulling us through off-camber turns. Amazing.

Performance aside, the Grand SRT8 is still as functional as any SUV when it comes to people hauling, cargo carrying, and all-weather capability. It even offers a 3,500-pound tow rating, so there is no need to take any grief from your practical side. But if you are inclined to listen to the devil on your shoulder, indulgence is just a stab of the skinny pedal away. Go ahead, treat yourself, because when it comes to everyday performance, these SRT guys get it.
-Sean P. Holman

* Ford and Microsoft are teaming up to create "Mobile Office," complete with wireless connections and a rugged, vehicle-mounted notebook computer.
* Nissan has announced it is moving its Southern California headquarters to Tennessee.
* Despite fluctuating gas prices, Hummer's H3 has helped the brand to increase sales.

The Outdoor Channel has announced that one of the most popular programs on its original standard-definition channel, Four Wheeler TV, has made the jump to High-Definition. FWTV, with its large and distinctly loyal fan base, is now also available in vivid HD as a part of the programming lineup on the all new, all-HD Outdoor Channel 2 HD. All episodes are now produced utilizing the latest in HD cameras and technology, allowing viewers to experience the sport's action and power as displayed in never-before-seen clarity. For show information, airdates and times, please visit

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