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New Car Review: 2018 Jeep Midwest Mudfest Trail Rated - Enjoy The Drive By Larry Nutson

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2018 Jeep Midwest Mudfest
Trail Rated

By Larry Nutson
Senior Editor and Bureau Chief
Chicago Bureau
The Auto Channel

On the invite of Jeep a couple dozen Midwest-based auto writers and social media influencers were invited to spend a day playing in the mud. The invite read: be prepared to get dirty.

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We joined up at Cliff’s Insane Terrain a 300-acre off-road park about 80 miles southwest of Chicago near the confluence of the Illinois River and Fox River. Bordering along Route 6 in Marseilles, Illinois, a morning chill was in the air but the spring thaw was very evident with lots of mucky mud everywhere.

We would be driving the all-new 2018 Jeep Wrangler and the 2019 Jeep Cherokee through some flowing creeks, over hills and around trees following what would turn out to be some very challenging muddy trails. The Wrangler would take on the tough stuff and the Cherokee would take a little less challenging path through the forested park.

On hand to brief us on what’s new with the Wrangler and Cherokee was Kevin Metz, Senior Manager of Jeep Brand Product Marketing. An experienced off-roader himself, Kevin has his own highly modified Jeep Wrangler. Guiding us, keeping us out of trouble, and trying to help avoid any dents and dings were Jeep’s off-road experts and trail guides, the team from Jeep Jamboree USA.

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I had previously driven the all-new 2018 Wrangler at a product launch event in Tucson, Arizona last December. And, I had also driven the new 2019 Jeep Cherokee at its product launch in Southern California in January of this year.

The Wrangler is entirely new for 2018. Its on-road manners have been significantly improved while at the same time its off-road capabilities have too. Go to this link HERE. to get caught up on what’s new on the Wrangler.

Similarly, the Cherokee for 2019 has a more Jeep-like exterior design, a refined interior, power train upgrades and general all-around improvements that positions it as a capable entry in the very popular mid-size SUV segment. You can also read more about the new Cherokee right here.

We hit the trails in a bunch of Wranglers in a lead-follow arrangement behind our guide vehicle. Jeep’s off-road team had spotters throughout the trails to coach us through the more challenging areas. We drove across and along stream beds that were running about 6 to10 inches deep. Many of the trails were quite soft and very muddy. In some areas along the way they had us going through 8 to 10 inches of mud.

Rubicon models are equipped with the Rock-Trac 4x4 system, featuring a two-speed transfer case with a 4:1 low-range gear ratio, front and rear next-generation Dana 44 axles, Tru-Lok electric front- and rear-axle lockers, and electronic sway bar disconnect.

Wrangler Sport and Sahara models are equipped with the Command-Trac 4x4 system, featuring a part-time, two-speed transfer case with a 2.72:1 low-range gear ratio.

It is often said that tires make the difference and that held true today. The Rubicon is equipped with a tall and knobby 33-inch all-terrain tires. The Sahara has a more street-appropriate all-season tire. As Murphy’s Law would have it, a Sahara got stuck. It wouldn’t go anywhere. The Jeep team hooked up a tow harness and we tried to jerk it out of the mud with another Sahara. That didn’t work. Finally, the Jeep team had a Rubicon with a front winch. They rigged up a pulley-system on a tree and pulled the stuck Sahara free.

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I think another message here is, don’t go off-roading alone.

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We took the Cherokee over milder trials, but still drove through some creek beds and up step inclines. Throttle modulation is key in off-roading but sometimes you need to put the power on to keep momentum going.

The Cherokee is offered in 4x2 and 4x4 models. We had 4x4s all of which come with Jeep’s Select-Terrain system that has on- and off-road settings that include Auto, Snow, Sport, Sand/Mud and Rock.

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As Jeep says, a Trail Rated badge is not given. It’s earned. Every Trail Rated 4x4 Jeep Brand vehicle has succeeded against a series of grueling tests in five categories: Traction, Water Fording, Maneuverability, Articulation and Ground Clearance.


All in all we had a great day and didn’t get too muddy. However, the Jeeps did.

This report comes from an invitation-only Jeep product event that allowed special access to the vehicle and executives. Jeep provided my overnight accommodations and meals.

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