For those interested in getting into the overland hobby, there are countless off-road capable vehicles straight out of the factory. Here are some of the most capable options.More
A post in a Land Rover group on Facebook alerted me to this: the True North Collections Jeep Wrangler—described in TNC’s words as, “AN AMERICAN LEGEND REIMAGINED.”Uh oh. Any time I see the word “re-imagined” these days, the first thing I think of is a ghastly tart job on some unfortunate, formerly workmanlike and practical classic vehicle: diamond-pleated, contrasting-stitched, distressed-leather upholstery, digitized (and leatherized) dashboard, video monitors in the headrests of the Recaro seats, extraneous exterior styling bits. Usually you’ll find special badging embossed in the leather and/or displayed in bronze escutcheons on the fenders.(There are exceptions. Singer’s glorious “re-imagined” Porsches reach a sublime plateau of craftsmanship and performance we might have expected had God spent the eighth day working on his personal 911. Another story entirely. But in general such projects have all the taste of a Middle Eastern potentate’s bathroom.)My initial reaction to the TNC Wrangler—advertised as a 2017 model with only 400 miles on the odometer— was that for some inexplicable reason they tried to turn a Jeep Wrangler Unlimited into an original-version Land Rover Defender 110. Second reaction—same thing. The all-white U.N. paint job recalls the 500 limited-edition NAS 110s of 1993-1995. There’s the raised, Defenderesque roof with not one, but two Alpine windows, just so we get the point. folding, Defenderesque steps. The weird white solid-disk wheels, however, don’t very well replicate Land Rover Wolf wheels. De rigueur tail lamp brush guards are there. But, no checker plate on the bonnet?Then there are the limb risers. On all but a very few vehicles, limb risers (also called brush wires) are more or less the ultimate poseur accessory. They were originally designed for vehicles that had to push through extremely thick brush—think overgrown Central America rain forest. A few regions in the U.S. grow vegetation quickly enough that vehicles on a legitimate route might employ them effectively—narrow forest trails back east, for example. Otherwise, unless you’re driving somewhere you probably shouldn’t be, they’re strictly a fashion statement.Look at these closely. Assuming an owner of a TNC Wrangler might actually take his vehicle somewhere limb risers might be necessary, I’m dubious that the flimsy looking mounting hardware would hold up to the stress of shoving chest-high branches and limbs up to roof height. And if it did? Take a look at the roof rack, which will function as a beautiful limb-catchment device, with a front mounting bracket a good three feet behind the front edge. Any limbs raised there would be stuffed into the gap between roof and rack, and either rip the rack off its mounts or rip bushels of branches off passing trees and leave them wedged in place. An automatic firewood-gathering device, perhaps? Let’s hope you didn’t pick up a fer-de-lance with the kindling. Additionally, the dinky Hella driving lamps perched atop the front bumper’s bull bar would either be ripped off as well or at the very least wind up aimed skyward.There’s a winch in the bumper as well, but I can’t tell anything about it from the photos, and the TNC site is silent on its specs. On to the interior, about which, sure enough, TNC says, “We took the stock interior and elevated it with bespoke vintage inspired brown leather leather.” (sic) The photos only show snippets, but I have to say this facet of the vehicle at least appears restrained and handsome—if you’re into leather upholstery in an overlanding vehicle. They also note “billet aluminum shifter, AC vents, and knobs to replace the original plastic.” (Have you ever thoughtlessly grabbed a billet aluminum shifter that’s been basking in the summer Arizona sun for an hour or two? I have.) Obviously I’ve not seen this vehicle in person, much less driven it. But it’s fair to wonder about their target customer. A serious explorer, or just someone who wants the look and attention? Perhaps the final paragraph in the (consistently atrociously edited) pitch is a clue: “Included with the sale of this Wrangler is our bespoke leather luggage option, and handmade bespoke key tag with the Editon (sic) # of the vehicle as well as a coffee table book with breathtaking imagery of this Jeep in city and mountain settings. There is no truck/suv on the market today, this unique and this much press (sic) anywhere in this price range.”If you’re, um, interested, the True North Collections site is here.
My full review of the new Defender is scheduled for the spring issue of Wheels Afield, and as that was contracted I can’t offer all my thoughts here. However, I can offer a few, and a general conclusion.My basic conclusion (Roseann’s as well) is that if Land Rover had named this vehicle anything but “Defender,” Land Rover fanatics would have greeted it rapturously. It’s really only the heady baggage of that name that created the uproar.Over the course of five days we employed it for everything from serious rock crawling to freeway driving, and everything in between. And it handled them all with more aplomb and balance than any vehicle either of us has experienced, including JLR’s own premium models.How so? Because the Defender’s all-independent air suspension offers 90 percent of the highway comfort of the Discovery and Range Rover—in other words, lots—while clearly being more biased toward backcountry capability than either. Exactly what most overland travelers I know want. The superior ground clearance and approach/departure angles were apparent while maneuvering around and over boulders, while Rock Crawl mode on the Terrain Response menu provided plenty of traction. Yes, I would prefer a full manual front locker instead of the traction-control version supplied, but with the center and rear diffs locked there was never anything we couldn’t climb.Styling? It will certainly never be mistaken for a Series II, but some of that was inevitable in this day of aerodynamics and safety systems. I still give a thumbs down to the Angry Birds headlamp look and the Martha Stewart sample swatch of body color stuck in the middle of the greenhouse.All is forgiven once you step inside. A dashboard I never dreamed would make it beyond the prototype stage in fact went straight to production, and it is simply stunning. Bentley should accomplish such elegance in a dash. More important, the cargo area with rear seats down is eminently practical—rubber matted and perfectly rectangular. There is just enough room for my 5’9” to lie down inside; if, for couple-only travel, you removed the rear seat squabs (the back edges of which protrude above the flat floor) you could easily arrange a platform six inches longer. On the road any resemblance to the old defender vanishes. My test vehicle had the Ingenium 3.0-liter straight six (hurrah for straight sixes!), electric supercharged and turbocharged, with 395 hp and 407 lb.ft. The owner’s manual recommends “not driving for long periods above 100 miles per hour.” I’ll bet no warning like that has ever appeared in a Defender manual before.Of course . . . sigh . . . the big question, as always with Land Rover, will be reliability. There have already been a couple of alarming experiences documented on YouTube and elsewhere. I’m praying to the overlanding Gods that the Slovakia production plant can exceed its predecessor in Solihull in this department. Yes, that’s right: The British icon is no longer built in Britain. Some will gasp in horror; some will think smart move.I will say this: Roseann and I both agreed we’d be happy to own one.As long as we got to keep our original one too . . .
Nissan has introduced an interesting all-electric van in Europe, called the e-NV200 Evalia (why not just Evalia I have no idea). In its standard form (below) it looks good, and promises a range of “up to” a middling 187 miles. Now the company has released images of a pop-top camper concept, shown adventuring in snowy conditions somewhere. Consider that for a moment. An all-electric vehicle obviously uses a lot of energy to heat the interior in frigid weather, which means that “up to” maximum range is going to be butchered. In fact one of the publicity shots shows a couple who look for all the world as though they’ve just awakened from an frigid night to find their vehicle stone-cold dead and immobile, and are dully trying to heat some water for coffee to stave off hypothermia while waiting for the concept vehicle’s roof-mounted solar panel to recharge the battery bank enough to drive home on—a process that shouldn’t take more than a week if they don’t turn on a single LED accent lamp in the interim. However, in the next photo they look much, much happier—I suspect because in the meantime they’ve pulled out the front seats and burned them to warm up and/or signal for help. Ah, well, I guess that didn’t work. Here they are preparing to attempt to ski back to civilization. No word on when or if the Evalia will be released in the U.S.—or whether the couple survived.
How do you build an overland vehicle? What are the best modifications? Overlanding involves driving long distances in your off-road build, usually driving on remote roads to remote places, far away from the conveniences of civilization, so an overland vehicle has different requirements from an everyday driver. Here are some recommended mods for your rig to turn it into the ultimate off-road vehicle.More
It’s well-known I’m a huge fan of Jeep’s Wrangler Unlimited and, more recently, the long-anticipated Gladiator. I recently spent a week with a Gladiator Rubicon equipped with the 3.0-liter V6 turbodiesel, and I can say it’s made me even more of a fan. The diesel is a significantly updated version of the engine that’s been available in the Ram pickup for several years. Among other tweaks, the block has been modified to reduce weight by 15 pounds while increasing stiffness. Power in the Gladiator is 260 hp and 442 lb.-ft., the latter available virtually full-fat from 1400rpm past 2800. Now that is a proper truck engine—none of this 4500rpm torque peak silliness common to so many gasoline V6 “truck” engines these days. It’s mated with one transmission, a superb ZF eight speed, honestly the only transmission it needs (I know, I know). Besides effortless off-idle power in traffic and on 35-degree climbs alike, the turbodiesel returns excellent fuel economy. First I calibrated the computer’s fuel economy estimates the old-fashioned analog way and found them to be accurate within three percent. In a week of mostly around-town driving, plus a strenuous day of low-range use, the Gladiator turned a tick over 23 mpg. On the level stretch of 65mph highway out to our desert place, the computer bounced back and forth between 29 and 30mpg. That’s outstanding in a 5,000-poundish (with the 270-pound-heavier diesel) truck on 33-inch all-terrain tires.Cynics point out how many hundreds of thousand of miles one needs with that economy to make up for the $4,000 premium of the diesel. They’re missing the point, which is that a high-torque turbodiesel is simply a better engine for a 4x4 truck, fuel economy notwithstanding. And once the pain of the initial price is gone, you’re still left with the long-term satisfaction of mid-size sedan frugality and a 500-mile freeway range.Accepting the inevitable compromise in breakover angle of its 19-inch longer wheelbase (compared to a Wrangler Unlimited), the Gladiator diesel proved totally unflappable on a well-known four-wheel-drive circuit in Redington Pass east of Tucson. It even took the challenging Three Feathers rock face in stride, helped by excellent marshalling from my friend Brian DeArmon. Elsewhere, despite the wheelbase, I only made solid rock contact twice—and those were both on the front radius arm mount—user error as I came down off boulders too quickly. The center skid plate (which desperately needs a stouter aftermarket solution) only scraped lightly a couple of times. The only downside to the truck I drove—and it is significant—is payload. The highest payload available in a gasoline-engined Gladiator is an okay 1700 pounds. The diesel in the Gladiator Sport drops that to 1,325 pounds, and the diesel/Rubicon option cuts it even further to a measly 1,075 pounds—not very much for a pickup. Subtract the weight of four occupants and you’re left with less than 500 pounds of actual cargo.Personal opinion, not suggesting this, do not attempt at home: Given that the Sport and Rubicon share virtually everything load-capacity-oriented except springs and shocks, if I were lucky enough to own my test Gladiator and wanted to put something like an Alu-Cab shell on it, I’d have no hesitation in simply uprating the rear springs and shocks to handle the load. In a world where proper body-on-boxed-frame, solid-axle, expedition-worthy 4x4s are disappearing, FCA continues to work magic on the Wrangler line, bringing it up to modern safety and comfort standards while retaining its capability, durability, and, last but not least, damn good looks.