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Reader: It is with great interest that I read your March 2006 editorial ("The Death of Jeep?"). I'm relatively new to four-wheeling but am an avid follower of what goes on in the automotive world. I think Jeep is doing the right thing by diversifying its product offerings. If offering a competitive front-drive on-road vehicle allows them to make enough money to invest in the improvement of their "Trail Rated" offerings, I'm all for it. I honestly think some people out there would rather see Jeep pack it in than come out with competitive, innovative product offerings that allow the company to be around indefinitely. These are the dopes who think that unless you're bouncing a rusted-out old CJ or YJ off trees, you're not drivin' a real Jeep. Do you think the JK would have half of the cool stuff on it if it didn't have a little infusion of Liberty sales dollars?
I've been very happy with both of our "new" Jeeps ('00 TJ and '02 KJ) and am looking forward to testdriving the new Compass. I have sense enough to know that Jeeps come in a variety of choices to suit consumers' needs. I am also secure enough in my masculinity to say I like the Liberty for what it is. Do I take it four-wheeling? Not really. If I want to go off-pavement, I take the TJ. For hauling, snowy days, and daily driving, the wife and I take the KJ. The TJ can't carry much more than a thimble collection and is downright spooky with MTs on the ice. Sure, a Cherokee might be better on the trail than the Liberty, but honestly, I've spent time in both, and I prefer the KJ all-around.
As I build up the TJ, I want to keep the miles off, so it's time to get a third vehicle. I've testdriven a variety of sub-$20,000 cars (including a Kia, of all things-better than a Civic if you ask me), but no decision yet. Then the Compass comes along, offering supposedly good gas mileage, low cost, great features and options, on-road four-wheel drive ... perfect for the true Jeep family that needs a low-cost daily driver or errand-runner. With the Compass, I could be driving through snow drifts in northeast Ohio while the Civics and Mazdas spin their wheels, just like I crawl past the stuck Hummers and Land Rovers on the trail with the TJ. Will it have a "Trail Rated" badge? No. Will it be a Jeep? You bet.
Sagamore Hills, OH
Reader: You hit the nail on the head with this article. I believe, like you, that if the automotive industry were to put out the same thing over and over, the manufacturers would cease to exist because people would just keep what they already have. I believe that Jeep and other manufacturers will still produce some very trail-ready vehicles like the Wrangler. Mind you, they won't be hard-core mud boggers or rockcrawlers, but they'll be able to go where most vehicles only dream of going. Look at when Jeep came out with the '97 Wrangler TJ. I'm pretty sure there were a lot of people who thought that Jeep went soft when it went to an all-coil suspension. But look at it now-it has the biggest aftermarket following around.
I will hope that Jeep continues to make a Wrangler with solid axles front and rear, but I would be the first to buy a Wrangler with fully independent suspension if they designed it right and there were aftermarket parts to further strengthen and enhance it.
Panama City, FL
Reader: Great article, Doug. How about larger, bolder print for us old-timers?
Editor: Douglas McColloch replies: I feel ya, Randy. Heck, I need magnifying glasses to read my own magazine these days! Thanks to all who wrote in about the March editorial-we can remember the YJ being referred to as a "Yuppie Jeep" when it first hit the market, so it's nice to know there are plenty of folks out there who are open to continuing changes in the 4x4 marketplace. With that kind of consumer support, Jeep should be in business for a good long time-and the way we see it, that's good news for the 4x4 aftermarket, and for the rest of us too.
Reader: I've been involved in four-wheeling for a while, and am a longtime subscriber. I enjoy all the projects you build, but why haven't you put Unimog or hybrid Unimog portal axles in any of your project trucks? Your Project Mega-Titan would have been even better and more capable off-pavement with portals. Will you ever be doing an axle comparison between normal axles and portals, with the pros and cons of each? I can't understand why people who pay big dollars for axles buy Dana 60s and not something with portal boxes.
via the Internet
Editor: For a lot of folks, it probably comes down to convenience. Compared to Unimog portals, Dana 60s are plentiful in the U.S. They're available from a number of sources, and can be quite affordable (especially for a rear application) from a junkyard; the Unimog axle, by contrast, will likely require more time to locate, and your odds of finding a junkyard bargain are pretty slim unless your junkyard is somewhere in Europe. For builders, Dana 60s offer a variety of spline-count, ring-and-pinion, and locker options, with wide availability via the aftermarket; the Unimog axle doesn't, unless you want to get into lots of custom fabrication and machine work-and again, replacement parts won't be the easiest or cheapest to find. The Unimog axle also requires additional modification to adapt to non-'Mog applications due to design peculiarities inherent in the Mercedes suspension.
Then again, the portals give you terrific clearance and gearing, they're legendarily stout, and they come with selectable lockers if you don't mess with the internals. For our project rigs, we tend to showcase parts that we feel would be of most interest to the greatest number of readers.