THE BADLANDS with Jeep and RAM - Doing It In The Dirt
THE BADLANDS with Jeep and RAM
Do it in the dirt
By Larry Nutson
Executive Producer and Bureau Chief
The Auto Channel
On the invite of the Jeep and Ram brands of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles I was making a road trip from my Chicago home to The Badlands.
It wasn’t a drive west to the Badlands of South Dakota as you might first think. I was heading south to The Badlands Off Road Park in Attica, Indiana. North a bit from Indianapolis, I was wondering what kind of “good” off-road trials would be situated in mid-America farm country.
As I drove south along US 41—a pre-interstate four-lane divide highway, I passed flat farmland after farmland, an area densely populated with electric wind turbines for as far as the eye could see, numerous abandoned farm buildings and an occasional small town.
US 41 runs from northern Michigan to Miami Florida and is one of those roads you can picture in Jack Kerouac’s “On The Road” scroll.
As an aside, I was reminded of another Attica. Located in my home-state of New York, it’s the site of a maximum security state prison. I’ve passed through Attica, NY, but never stayed there!
Attica, Indiana sits on the banks of the Wabash River and was founded in 1856. A quick look at Trip Advisor told me the the number one attraction in Attica is indeed The Badlands. Well, this might just be good.
Badlands Off Road Park got started in 1995 and encompasses about 1,000 acres on the site of a former gravel quarry. FCA hosted a small cadre of auto writers for an overnight stay in small, but new and attractive cabins. Following dinner at a local small-town restaurant we sat around a fire pit enjoying some friendly chatter and the quiet twilight. We had been told that on warm weather weekends they’ll see around 800 off-roaders in vehicles of every sort coming to “do it the dirt.”
With trail guides and spotters from Jeep Jamboree keeping us from getting in too much trouble, we would be driving the new Jeep Gladiator, as well as the Wrangler and the Renegade. From Ram a Rebel and Power Wagon rounded out the contingent of very capable go-anywhere vehicles.
Today’s off-roading is pretty hi-tech. Depending on which Jeep or Ram we were driving, 9- and 10-speed transmissions, locking differentials, low and high speed transfer cases, sway bar disconnect control, hill decent control with speed adjustment all helped put down the power.
We drove dirt trials, climbed rutted hills, powered through soft sand, slow-crawled a rock strewn hill, used a small river bed as our trail, and forded through water up to the axles. Front and rear view cameras gave us a view of the trial on a dash board screen.
I’ve driven the Jeep Wrangler at its launch program and around the streets of Chicago. What’s most amazing is its extreme off-road capability while still also having quite comfortable on-road manners. This latest iteration of the iconic Wrangler really improved its street-creds.
We plowed through the Badlands in a 2019 Jeep Wrangler equipped with the new 2.0L turbocharged inline four-cylinder engine with mild eTorque technology.
This was my first experience behind the wheel of the new Jeep Gladiator….a mid-size pickup built on a longer wheelbase version of the Wrangler architecture. Gladiator offers lots of versatility and is a perfectly suited life-style vehicle for the outdoors type.
Never underestimate the capabilities of any Jeep, and that includes the Renegade. This very streetable compact SUV stayed with the big boys and climbed rocks, conquered trails and made waves in the water.
The Renegade we drove was powered by the all-new 1.3-liter direct-injection turbocharged engine with engine stop-start (ESS) technology mated to a nine-speed automatic transmission. An increase in fuel efficiency with reduced emissions come from the new 177 horsepower engine.
The new Ram has received lots of accolades including being named North American Truck of the Year. It’s one of the best full-size pickups on the market today. I drove and reviewed the 2019 RAM at its launch program and came away very impressed.
The 2019 Ram Heavy Duty trucks are the most powerful, most capable pickups in the segment with a towing capacity of 35,100 lbs. and a payload capacity of 7,680 lbs. We experienced the new 2019 Ram 2500 Power Wagon, the most capable production off-road truck in the industry. The Power Wagon features a unique suspension, factory suspension lift, locking front and rear differentials, disconnecting sway bar and a 12,000-lb. winch.
For some, off-roading is a passion. Hobbyist spend countless hours and resources to maximize the ability of their vehicle. However, everyone should be aware of and have familiarization with the capabilities of the vehicle they drive on the road everyday. A sudden summer downpour can flood streets. What can your vehicle safely do to travel through flooded roadways or perhaps mount a curb to get you out of a tough situation?
© 2019 Larry Nutson, the Chicago Car Guy