May 24, 2019

Extreme Off-Roading With Jeep, Ram In The Badlands...Of Indiana

When you think of exotic off-roading locales, your mind probably races to Moab, Rubicon Trail, and assorted rock dens in Arizona.  But, you don’t have to travel that far to put your off-roader through its paces. 

To torture the Jeep Gladiator, Ram Rebel, Ram Power Wagon, and Jeep Renegade, we went no further than Attica, Indiana to assault all The Badlands – a former rock quarry with over 1,000 acres of rugged terrain – has to throw at them.

Jeep Gladiator

The Jeep Gladiator Rubicon is capable of pulling up to 7,650 pounds or carrying 1,600 pounds of payload.

Leading off the adventure was the new Jeep Gladiator pickup, in Rubicon trim.  It’s essentially a stretched Wrangler Unlimited with a five-foot steel bed.  Like the Wrangler, it comes with a removable soft top or hard panels, doors the can be removed, and a folding windshield.  It’s a Jeep.  Our Rubicon was jacked with electric front and rear axle lockers to grip the slick, electric sway bar disconnect to enhance suspension articulation, and hill descent control to bring it back down safely.  It’s capable of fording 30 inches of water with its 11.1 inches of ground clearance.  A forward facing camera with spritzer to clear mud provides a clear view ahead.

Behind the familiar grille is a standard 3.6-liter V6 delivering 285 horsepower and 260 lb.-ft. of torque.  A six-speed manual transmission is standard on Renegade, but ours had the 8-speed automatic.  Fiat Chrysler’s 3.0-liter EcoDiesel with 260 horsepower and 442 lb.-ft. of torque will be optional.  It’s a real truck, too, able to pull up to 7,650 pounds or carry 1,600 pounds of payload.  Put it in 4Lo and mountain goats will seem wimpy as skid plates cover all of the vulnerable bits beneath.  This jacked pickup starts at $33,545, but you can push $60,000 for a loaded Rubicon.

Ram Power Wagon and Ram Rebel

The Ram Power Wagon has a standard 6.4-liter V8 engine that delivers 410 horsepower and 429 lb.-ft. of torque. 

Representing the heavy duty truck crowd is the Ram Power Wagon, an all-capable version of the Ram 2500.  It sits high on its 33-inch Goodyear All-Terrain Tires and Bilstein shocks or available rear auto level air suspension.  Easing it through tight, challenging trails was made easier with electronically disconnecting front stabilizer bar to allow better articulation and electronically locking front and rear axles to keep wheels moving in unison.  Should it get stuck, the Power Wagon packs a 12,000-pound WARN electric winch in its nose.  A forward view camera help navigate obstacles beyond the driver’s view while a standard 6.4-liter V8 engine delivers 410 horsepower and 429 lb.-ft. of torque to get it through almost anything.  Prices start at $53,045.

If the Power Wagon seems a bit too beefy for your daily drives, the Ram 1500 Rebel would be a better choice.  It’s stoked with a 3.6-liter V6 delivering 305 horsepower and 269 lb.-ft. of torque to the four-wheel-drive system through an eight-speed automatic transmission.  Get it in Quad or Crew Cab.  We had the former, which is a bit snug for adults in the back.  That won’t matter when you’re banging skid plates for the transfer case, front suspension, fuel tank, and steering gear.  An air suspension would tame rear jostling, but the standard coil springs worked fine.  Prices rise from $44,940.

Renegade Trailhawk

The Renegade Trailhawk is a Fiat-based crossover with a new 1.3-liter turbo-four generating 177 horsepower and 210 lb.-ft. of torque.

Perhaps the most surprising vehicle off-road is the Renegade Trailhawk, a fortified Fiat-based crossover built in Italy.  One expects a Ram or Jeep to hold court when trails disappear, turning into creeks and slick rock faces, but the Rebel held its own like a little puppy keeping up with daddy.  Its abilities start with a new 1.3-liter turbo-four generating 177 horsepower and 210 lb.-ft. of torque and extends to Jeep Active Drive, which configures the powertrain for Auto, Snow, Sand, Mud, or Rock. 

Low range gearing, 8.7 inches of ground clearance, tow hooks, hill descent control, and a round of skid plates keep it moving.  It can even ford up to 19 inches of water or pull 2,000 lbs.  None of this is typical for a compact crossover.  Prices for this Trail Rated Renegade start at $27,545 – quite a bargain for so much capability.

We had a great day at The Badlands.  Trails that are the usual playground of side-by-sides proved a worthy challenge for the Jeeps and Rams as we power slid through sand, clawed up wet rock races, slogged through mud, and washed off in boulder-strewn creeks.  You know you’re having fun when you can hear skid plates banging rocks as if creating their own symphony.  Except for a few pebbles in the brake rotors and a couple of scuffed bumpers, the vehicles were no worse for the wear.

Storm Forward!

Send questions and comments to Casey at; follow him on YouTube @AutoCasey.

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