Chicago Auto Show Blog

A Renegade a Gladiator and a Rebel drive into a sandbar

Posted by: Jim OBrill

It’s no joke that FCA is producing vehicles capable of taking the path less traveled. I made a return trip to Badlands Off-Road Park in Attica, IN to put some of FCA’s latest offerings – like the Jeep Renegade, Jeep Gladiator and RAM Rebel – through some off-roading challenges. It’s no surprise that the company that produces the ultimate off-road-capable Jeep Wrangler would utilize its skillset to expand to newer models in the lineup.
Similar to my recent trip to the Badlands in my 4Runner, a group of media journalists jumped behind the wheel of FCA’s vehicles to hit the trails, climb boulders, drive down river beds and tackle some deep ponds.
Vehicles on-hand included: Jeep Renegade Trailhawk; Jeep Gladiator Rubicon; Jeep Wrangler Rubicon; RAM Rebel; and a RAM Power Wagon.
Perhaps the most surprising note of the day was that the subcompact Renegade and the full-size RAM Power Wagon completed all of the same challenges as the nimble Wrangler. The Power Wagon took the lead in a “follow the leader” trail run that wasted no time getting these rigs dirty. I started my day in the Renegade, which has been refreshed for 2019 with a new front fascia and grille surround, and, more importantly, has an all-new 1.3-liter direct injection turbocharged engine. I admittedly was skeptical to see the Renegade in the lineup with all of these taller, rugged looking trucks. The Renegade quickly proved me wrong as we ventured down the rock-strewn river bed toward a rock/boulder climb. The Renegade’s 8.7” of ground clearance nailed the climb. While there was some banging on the skid plates, the subcompact SUV proved its capability on this obstacle alone. It was no surprise to see the higher riding Jeep Gladiator and RAM trucks climb through the same obstacle with all four tires on the ground at all times.
One of the more daunting challenges was water fording through a large water basin. The Power Wagon comes with 33” Goodyear Duratrac tires and a Bilstein lift kit giving it a 14.3” ground clearance -- which is 2.3 inches higher than the Ram 2500 HD. The Power Wagon, which RAM proclaims is the “off-road truck leader,” had a significant advantage over other vehicles with up to 30 inches of water fording capability. This truck blasted through the waters with both the Wrangler and Gladiator right behind it. Further down the line of vehicles was myself behind the wheel of the Renegade. The Renegade respectfully can ford up to 19 inches of water… almost 1 foot less than the Power Wagon. As the leader spoke over the CB telling me to go for it, I forged through figuring the worst-case scenario was that I’d get to see the Power Wagon’s winch in action if I didn’t make it. If you recall my previous blog post, one week prior I also watched a FJ Cruise go down in a similar water basin, so my expectations were minimal on this run. To my surprise, and to several other journalists’, the Renegade followed the same path and came out of the water with nothing more than water dripping off the wheels. So, we didn’t get to see the winch in action, but we did get to see an entire fleet of FCA vehicles go through some serious water fording with no issue. My only regret is that I couldn’t see the Renegade “knee deep in the water” for myself as I drove through.
After spending the morning in the Renegade, I swapped vehicles and hopped into the highly coveted Gladiator. After so much build up surrounding this Jeep, it had to live up to the hype. Thirty seconds in the Gladiator and I knew it would. No big surprises on the Gladiator’s capability other than visual differences from the Wrangler. Like the much larger Power Wagon, the Gladiator also has 30 inches of water fording capabilities, which we put to the test in water basins and during an exploratory river trail.  Four adults comfortably went for the ride as we took advantage of the open-air roof and utilized the forward-facing off-road camera which provided great visuals of the rocks and other obstructions in front of us. The Gladiator glided through all terrain types including a sand trap run. Punching the speed up to 40 mph in low range, it was a scene from a commercial as the Gladiator kicked up sand as it cruised around a makeshift track.
The Gladiator is everything a Jeep buyer would expect and then some. Available in four trim levels with lots of moving parts, this new mid-size truck is one to watch. The Gladiator is available in dealers now with starting prices of $33,545. The Rubicon edition with all the fun off-roading toys and rugged good looks starts at $43,545.
If you’re an off-roading enthusiast living in the shadows of tall buildings surrounded by buses and pedestrians, I highly recommend you make the trip to the Badlands Off-Road Park for a weekend getaway. And if you’re looking for a vehicle to do it in, there’s quite a list of capable vehicles at your local RAM and Jeep dealer. While everyone knows the Jeep Wrangler is built for the trails, it was both the RAM Power Wagon and Jeep Renegade that offered up the welcomed surprise. For a starting price of $24,820 for the Renegade Upland or $27,545 for the Trailhawk version, this small sport utility vehicle packs a lot of fun and capability into its smaller urban-friendly package.
At the other end of the spectrum, the RAM Power Wagon is by far one of the biggest trucks you can take off-road. At a $53,045 starting price you’ll get an electronically disconnecting front stabilizer bar, Tru-lok front & rear axles, Bilstein shocks, an 8.4-inch touchscreen and a 12,000-lb. electronic winch with a 90-ft. cable. The Power Wagon is a vehicle that can get you both in and out of trouble all on its own. Be sure to check out both the RAM & Jeep vehicles if you’re looking for a vehicle that checks the boxes for everyday use, work and – of course – PLAY!
We’ll talk more about the day with RAM Trucks' Communications Manager Nick Cappa on the June 8th edition of Drive Chicago Radio on WLS-AM 890. 
« Last Post Next Post »

View all Posts from this Blog