The great outdoors––almost everyone says they love it, but who’s actually got the nerve to go there? And I don’t mean glamping in Grandpa’s backyard in the Catskills. I’m talking deep woods, into-the-wild, find-the-gaps-in-T-Mobile’s-coverage great outdoors, man. There’s nothing like the serenity of a truly silent landscape totally devoid of human influence. The trouble for most folks is that such places are kinda hard to get to––but that doesn’t stop you. Leave the coordinated outfits and Starbucks-on-the-beach Insta posts to Karens in Corolla Crosses––you’re going off-roading, my dude.
Whether you’re a prospective newcomer to the scene or an old hand looking to try the latest and greatest boulder-dasher, you’d be well served to chat with the experts about what’s what, like at a Jeep dealer in Colorado Springs or someplace. They might not let you take their Wranglers onto the trails for a test drive, but the Rockies have trails for everyone, and there are few vehicles more adaptable to them than a Wrangler. Don’t believe me? Then I’ll prove it with a quick look at Wranglers of every ilk and some famous Colorado trails they’d be ideally suited for!
Base Model for Base Camp
There’s no better place to start than the beginning, and that’s a Sport or Sport S trim Wrangler. Classic retro styling is even more nostalgic in 2-door form, but that’s not the only reason to stick with the 2-door––chopping nearly 2 feet from the wheelbase boosts the breakover angle from 20.3 degrees to 25.0 degrees and improves the turning radius by more than 3 feet versus 4-door models!
The 2-door Wrangler is hands-down the best configuration for highly technical off-roading. You can enjoy the manual transmission that comes standard on the base V6 engine, or opt for the torquey turbocharged 4-cylinder for a little more oomph when the going is slow (and which will save you at the pump to boot)––I’d recommend the 4-cylinder to anybody who kept reading past “manual transmission.” Either way, the 2-door saves about $4k off the sticker compared to the 4-door and is the cheapest way to get into a new Wrangler.
Extremely capable at the technical stuff and inexpensive to get into––could there be a better combination for taking on Colorado’s most challenging trails? I mean the kinds of places where a group of friends in their own well-equipped Wranglers is an essential part of your survival kit. Places you probably won’t go if your 2-door Jeep is also your daily driver (if it is, I say, bold move, respect for the commitment, and have you maybe considered not living in a swamp that’ll suck down anything easier to drive?).
In case you don’t already know the trails that I’m thinking about, this would be the Jeep to take to Engineer Pass (and earn one of your 61 Jeep Badges of Honor for your efforts). Fishing, camping, and challenging switchbacks await, but if a whole weekend adventure isn’t what you have in mind, I’d dare say this is the best Wrangler to risk on Heart Attack Hill in Kelly Flats as well. This location is much easier to get to from most of Colorado’s population centers but is generally considered more challenging (it’s actually recommended to mod your ride with a lift, at the very least, before hitting it up) and will surely be the more rewarding accomplishment if you’re the kind of thrill seeker who thinks getting stuck someplace is a sign of a good time.
The Hybrid Approach
From behind curtain number two, I present the Wrangler 4xe (four-by-eee)! The first plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) from Jeep has been a tremendous hit for many good reasons. First of all, it’s only offered with high-level Wrangler trims and in the Unlimited body style, making it the closest thing to a proper daily driver and family utility vehicle in the entire Wrangler lineup! Well-equipped, powerful, fuel-efficient, and spacious, the Wrangler 4xe also provides an off-roading experience unlike any other: a completely silent one.
20 miles of on-road EV range translates to a few hours’ worth of off-roading, according to Jeep, and no competitor with engineless off-roading is remotely able to compete with the Wrangler’s price point (you could probably get three Jeeps for the price of a single Hummer EV these days). So if you’d like to experience the breathtaking silence I spoke of earlier without needing to stop and get out of the car, this is the SUV to do it!
The release of the Wrangler 4xe heralded an interesting initiative––it turns out that Tesla’s not the only one building a nationwide charger network! Jeep has partnered with Electrify America to install Level 2 chargers at the trailheads of the Jeep Badge of Honor trails, so you can take on each of them with the maximum electric range that the Wrangler 4xe has to offer. Sure, they’ve only installed a few so far, but it’s only a matter of time. With one of those systems in place, a full recharge will take about two hours––but everything else off-road is slow, too, so no biggie, right? Right?
Hey, it’s not for everyone. Manage your battery usage on the way there, and it won’t be a problem; plus, the gas engine is totally capable of delivering a conventional Wrangler experience when the batteries run dry, so no worries! Still, given that the biggest perk of the Wrangler 4xe for off-roading is that silent driving experience, I think it’s best to take full advantage whenever possible, so I’d suggest sticking to Badge of Honor trails (if that’s within your skill range, of course).
Ophir Pass (located near the Alpine Loop and Engineer Pass) or, for the bolder and more experienced, the high-flying Imogene Pass are a couple of excellent places to make the most of your Wrangler 4xe’s electric range, remote as they may be. On the other hand, if you really want to stay near Colorado’s population centers, you could consider the short but challenging Saran Wrap trail in Pike National Forest, still getting a lot out of your battery pack while only committing a day to the trip.
All-Out All the Time
Of course, not all of you are going to be fans of the EV experience. Some of you have virtually unlimited money and a dangerously uninhibited need for speed. You’ve probably owned and beat the crap out of a Wrangler or five already, and you are sick and freakin’ tired of having nothing better than a V6 to work with. You’re also probably already on the waitlist to get a Wrangler Rubicon 392.
The Wrangler Rubicon 392 is insane. A 470 hp, 470 lb-ft, V8 engine––the first ever in a stock Wrangler––roars through a dual-mode exhaust with volume settings for merely obnoxious or outright avalanche-inducing. As Car and Driver found, it accelerates like a C6 Corvette and handles like a 1970s Chevelle, is capable of 4-wheel burnouts after three drops of rain hit the asphalt, and is incapable of holding more than 0.7 g on the skidpad.
It is the ultimate Wrangler in every sense of the word. Available half-doors and 35″ tires, plus a standard 1.5″ factory lift, make it seem modified before you even start––and it had better be since it costs $80,000 brand-new (nearly twice the price of a Wrangler 4xe and three times the price of a base Sport model). Maybe it took the Bronco’s revival for Jeep to pull the trigger on an option that fans have long clamored for, but either way, it’s here, and it’s letting everybody know it.
As a heavily-upgraded Wrangler Rubicon, the 392 is capable of handling virtually anything, marked trail or otherwise. Still, the star of the show is the engine, which just doesn’t get the chance to show off much on challenging, technical trails. Yes, you can and should drive those too, but I think the best place to use a 392 is somewhere you can really let it loose. Deadman’s Road in the Red Feather Lakes area of Roosevelt National Forest comes to mind, and other easy-going trails such as Mt. Baldy or Switzerland Trail (which is open year-round if snow drifts are your thing) might offer more opportunities to make that V8 roar.
You’re not going to earn any Badges of Honor that way, though––you’ll need to get serious and head out to Poughkeepsie Gulch or Black Bear Pass for that. What a shame. The good news? If you find the trail blocked by someone who got stuck in a lesser vehicle, your Rubicon 392 can probably climb over them (Seriously though, don’t do that. Help them out, and rev the engine a lot while you do it. That’s the way).
Still the Standard Bearer
Wrangler has had an entire market segment to itself for decades. Maybe Jeep was complacent in that security, and maybe we have the Bronco to thank for the Wrangler 4xe and Rubicon 392. Even so, a narrower track gives the Wrangler an edge on the big new Ford, and that’s without doing anything special like dropping a Hellcat under the hood or introducing Lobster Walk for the future Wrangler EV. Today’s incredibly diverse Wrangler lineup has something for everybody. Though I would personally avoid it as a daily driver, the Wrangler can absolutely be a family mover, and it can also be an expendable toy or a downright hooner. The only question is, what kind of Wrangler are you?