Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Tire Comparison & Review: Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac vs. Toyo Open Country ATII (AT2)

Tire Comparison: Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac vs. Toyo Open Country ATII (AT2)

Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac
Trying to garner an unbiased opinion about which tire for a 4WD truck/SUV is “the best” is nothing short of asking Chevy, Ford, and Dodge owners why they’re partial to their respective brand – except in the world of tires, there's ten times the choices.  The number of all-terrain (A/T), mud-terrain (M/T), and crossover tires (a new genre, those that bridge the gap between the two) is seemingly infinite.  The good news is that it's hard to find a bad tire, but the flip-side is that deciding on a tire suited to one’s desired price range, load rating, tread pattern, domestic/foreign brand, size, look, etc. is bridging on the verge of impossible. Rather than explore the “safe options” (BFG A/T, Nitto Terra Grappler, Micky Thompson ATZ, General Grabber AT2, Cooper AT3, etc.), I’m going to get very detailed with two of the “hot tires” of the moment which, while not technically new-comers, are popular and well-respected in their own right.
Toyo Open Country ATII (AT2)
Furthermore, to help us differentiate between a tried-and-true “all-terrain” and one of the newfangled “crossover tires,” this comparison features one of each: Toyo’s ATII (the clear all-terrain) and Goodyear’s Wrangler DuraTrac (a mud-terrain with road-going manners, or an all-terrain that thinks it's a mud tire -- depending on how you look at it).  Both were 285/70/17, with the Goodyears being D load rating and the Toyos bearing an E.

In short, both of these tires will help you keep your 4WD bragging rights and off-road ability, but neither will make you feel like you were irresponsible in buying an all-out mudder for your rig that has to be able to handle street duty.  The following compare/contrast is here for those of us unsure as I was as to which type tire best fits their wants/needs.


No 4x4 should be wearing shoes that look like those commonly run on a minivan, end of story. The number of compliments and questions I got while running the DuraTracs became borderline absurd. People asked, “what are they?,” “how do they do in the mud/snow?,” “where can I buy them?,” and on and on and on. They simply look like nothing else out there and give off an air of aggression that even some mud tires can’t match. The tread pattern seems to mimic that of the bottom of a Timberland boot (a real Timberland)...all good stuff here for the Goodyear, and the pictures speak for themselves.

While the ATII’s sidewall isn't overly menacing, the tread has enough meat and depth to it so that you won't mistake it for something stock. This doesn't look like a tire you want to attack the Rubicon Trail with, but you probably wouldn't hesitate to run it through some mud, decently deep snow, or do some mild wheeling with it. Think “street tire with lugs that are open enough to clean out fairly well.” It’s tame and understated, but not weak. Still, it can't match the absurdity that is the Goodyears' design.

Advantage: DuraTracs - no question here


It's easy for a tire with an aggressive tread to wobble at low speeds, especially when accelerating and decelerating between a stop and 10 MPH. Luckily, the spacing and pattern of the DuraTrac minimizes this...when compared to something geared even more towards off-highway use. The lugs are positioned close enough together so that the voids don't cause a shake or wobble, and since it doesn't have a totally horizontal layout (ex. Super Swampers), vibration truly is minimal. The Pro Comp A/T’s I had years ago were worse.
Even with its Load E rating, the Toyo is undoubtedly smoother around town, sometimes eerily so.  Additionally, the tires help to eliminate some of the smaller disruptions in pavement that you would otherwise feel in your lower back. Very refreshing after 25K miles with the DuraTrac.

Advantage: Toyo


Be it the regular commute or towing the quad trailer, a good tire has to inspire confidence in you when you're moving at speed. It really does help to know you won’t suddenly wander out of the lane, and it’s also nice to feel that in a panic-stop situation the tires under your vehicle will work to your advantage.

With low mileage on the set, the DuraTracs were surprisingly pleasant and had good characteristics overall at higher speeds: wander wasn't bad and braking distances were “good enough.” They did, however, squirm a fair share under hard braking, which only got worse over time. Overall, highway quality was decent but dropped off quickly after 20,000 miles, the point at which they became drastically worse riding and exhibited some characteristics – wander, bad braking distances, excessive noise – that were enough to force me into buying a new set (they were replaced by the Toyos).

On the contrary, the Toyos performed admirably on the highway. Wander was even less than the DuraTracs, braking distances were great for a tire of this genre, and they were smooth riding and coasted with ease. Honestly, these tires portrayed the best driving characteristics of any tire I've ever owned, aggressive or not.

Advantage: Toyos


Noise is commonly a big issue when dealing with truck tires in plus-sizes. Highway hum can be overly aggravating if you're not accustomed to the noise of the M/T's, and it can truly make you enjoy the time spent in your vehicle less than you otherwise would.

The compound Goodyear uses for its DuraTrac is much softer than that used by Toyo in the ATII, and such is one factor why it makes a lot more noise. Furthermore, the open, criss-crossing tread of the DuraTrac does itself no favors here. Chalk it up to the Goodyear being geared more towards traction in off-road situations, prioritizing grip and ability over pleasantness. Still, it could be worse; the DuraTracs are noticeably quieter than the typical mudder.

As quiet as the Goodyear is for a tire of this style, the Toyo is drastically quieter, silent to extent that you almost forget they're rotating continuously beneath you. To call the DuraTrac bad in the noise department is a totally relative statement, because Goodyear has made a valiant effort in helping the DuraTrac to be easy enough to drive around on without them humming your ears off. Meanwhile though, the ATII is outstanding when it comes to road noise. Again, different styles, different purposes; these only become more obvious as you spend more and more time with each.

Advantage: Toyo


Yes, this does matter when it comes to trucks;, seeing as nobody wants their vehicle to feel sloppy going around a corner even if said vehicle weighs upwards of three tons. The DuraTracs, with their soft makeup, did well on mountain roads and really gripped the pavement when pushed hard. Likewise, the Toyos did mighty fine for a tire not designed to be driven like you would a sports car, but that didn't stop me from doing so when the Avalanche was my only vehicle. The one big difference between these two was that the Toyos were much more progressive in their limits whereas the Goodyears would hang on and then give up suddenly with little to zero notice. Either way, unless you're on a race track, both tires do very well, better than one would even expect. The nod goes to the Toyo though, for having less sidewall roll in the corners and for being more forgiving in their ways when driven hard.

Advantage: Toyo


Be it in slow-speed traffic, at cruising speed, or especially with a trailer hitched to the back, braking performance is crucial when it comes to truck tires, if not the most important aspect. Here the Toyos reigns supreme, with absolutely zero drama to them and dead-straight, worry-free stopping qualities. The DuraTracs, while largely problem-free, do squirm a little under hard braking which is only worsened when there's a trailer behind the truck. It's nothing that would be considered “worrying” and they really are competent enough to handle any kind of towing duty you can do with your light-duty vehicle, but if you know you have to slam the brakes often it's something to consider. Both are good, but the Toyo continues to shine when it comes to on-road personality.

Advantage: Toyo


Presumably you also drive not only in good weather, but in the bad as well: rain, snow, ice, and the like. You don't want your truck to let you down, and you expect the same from your tires.

Rain should be fairly straight-forward: hydro-planing is bad, end of story. Luckily, neither of these tires showed even the faintest sign of inability to cope with water on the roadways, be it constant rain or post-downpour standing water. And both tires will, when given the cattle prod, handle wet-condition drifting with ease (a friend told me this). I'd probably choose the DuraTrac though, for it stays a little more sure-footed when coming across puddles in the road.

Snow is probably my favorite condition to drive in, but while stepping the back out in the winter is hysterical childish fun, you want to feel safe when you're not fooling around. Let's start with how the tires perform in a dusting: in 2WD the DuraTrac does well, though it gets a little tail-happy when you're hard on the gas and the snow is light. The Toyo is similar but to a lesser extent. In 4WD the tires handle light snow flawlessly (really as if it isn’t even there). Medium-depth snowfall is similar, with the DuraTrac pulling a slight lead as the Toyo's lesser ability to clean out becomes evident. In deep snow, however, the tires' differences suddenly become major: the DuraTrac will go places in 2WD where the Toyo requires the extra two front wheels spinning.  There's pretty much no snowstorm that the Goodyears can't handle once you engage 4WD, and it's reassuring to know you can still get wherever you need/want to go when the winter weather suddenly turns bad. I live at the top of a massive hill and there were situations in which the Toyos required the handy 4WD switch when I could still make it in 2WD with the Goodyears and some modulated wheelspin. Summary: the DuraTracs definitely portray the better snow-going abilities and were a more competent drifting companion as well.

Advantage: DuraTrac


Pardon the poser pic...
You don't have to be an expert in tires to know how this is going to go. Just by glancing at the two tires side-by-side it's almost laughably easy to tell that the DuraTrac will perform better off-road. A more intricate pattern, more openly spaced lugs, more aggressive sidewalls, and a softer compound all help contribute to the DuraTrac's benefits versus the Toyo's closer lug spacing and harder-composition. Put simply, this is a matter of being deliberately designed for more off-road use, and it shows. Here's a *quick* breakdown of off-road characteristics:

Mud: Toyo has obvious disadvantage with more road-friendly tread; DuraTrac does well and cleans out as one would expect.
Rocks: DuraTrac likes to throw rocks hard and far but otherwise climbs like a mountain goat. Soft sidewalls are concerning, though. Toyo does well on rock-only surfaces but doesn't like climbing as much due to harder makeup; also picks up many smaller rocks in tread-blocks and holds them there.
Fire roads: DuraTrac holds straight and reacts well to inputs, whether small or large. Toyo rides more harshly and is twitchy at speed. Drift-ability is a wash; the DuraTracs drift better at higher speeds and the Toyos are more cooperative in low-speed sideways action.

Advantage: DuraTrac


Tires don't last forever. Just like the cars or trucks they ride under, every model has a lifetime and, accordingly, that varies based on many factors. Composition, hard/soft, tread pattern, and others (especially driving style) have an effect on how long a particular set will last, and the two sets in this comparison are no exception.

At 20,000 miles or so, the Goodyears took a quick turn for the worst; by around 25K, they were showing heavy signs of wear: low tread, increased noise levels, and worsened braking/handling characteristics. 25K would be decent for a mud tire but it's a little disappointing here, where I expected 30-35K. And though I must admit my driving habits were no help to longevity, 25K equates to basically a year's worth of driving for me. That's not a lot of life out of a set.

On the contrary, the Toyos seem to have endless life in them. As of this writing there’s ~20K miles on the set and they look just as they did when they were brand new. My dad has the same tires (down to the size and load rating) on his 2500HD Silverado – a much heavier truck – and his set was just starting to show wear at around 50K miles, and that's with a fair share of towing and hauling. At this rate he will get 60-65K out of them before he buys another set, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the set on the Avalanche lasts even longer. This is shockingly good, and acts as a financial benefit as well.

Advantage: Toyo


Truck tires are, in a phrase, painfully expensive. $1000 for a set is totally commonplace for plus-sized kits, and your wallet will suffer accordingly. In identical sizes, Goodyear charges a fair amount more per tire – about $30-50 depending on the source – than does Toyo. It would be fair to argue that those who prioritize off-road performance are willing to pay more for their rubbers to minimize the hit in on-road performance and, for how well it performs, the DuraTrac is priced competitively versus other tires that only do slightly better when the pavement ends (yet struggle to hold themselves together at all when hitting the highway). For the price, the DuraTrac is a great value.

As for the ATII, Toyo has managed to create an incredibly long-lasting, quiet, pleasant, all-weather-capable tire that looks the part and is up to the off-road task 75% of the time. At $30-50 less per tire than the Goodyears and with a lifetime of about 25K longer per tire, Toyo scores extremely high in the value factor. It's a great tire that will last long past the point at which you're thinking about your next set, and performs well along the way.

Advantage: Even (both pose great values in their own right)


After spending years with both of these tires under the same truck, it's easy to hone in on where one betters the other and which is best in each discipline. It's impossible to belittle the Goodyear DuraTrac's off-road capabilities, but ignoring the Toyo ATII's on-road dominance wouldn't be fair either.

It comes down to this: if you drive your truck daily and really don't off-road it that much, stick to the Toyo Open Country ATII (AT2); its longevity and road manners are simply outstanding, it doesn't flop on its face when the going gets tough, and it'll never fail you in its duty. However, the Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac is a great option for the guy that wants the off-road look (or abilities) without the tradeoffs that typically come along with a dedicated off-road tire. It manages to handle regular on-pavement driving just fine, and adds a menacing look to any vehicle.

What we can conclude from this comparison is that the age of off-road tires having horrid downsides is well past us. Modern light-duty truck tires are in fact capable of multiple responsibilities and can in fact look good doing so. Additionally, this comparison has proven how different two tires that show up under the same grouping on a website can actually be. Both of these tires prove that retaining road manners is not mutually exclusive from performing well in winter weather conditions or when wheeling your rig, and also that it is possible to justify a somewhat more aggressive tire even if it's not what suits your driving best. Hats off to Toyo and Goodyear for two great creations.

Oh, which would I buy? Probably the DuraTrac, even though the Toyo undoubtedly suits my needs better.  I just can't get over how great the Goodyears look; in writing this article I realized I had taken easily 100 times as many pictures of the truck with the Goodyears than the Toyos, and with how minimal the trade-offs are, I would willingly suffer through a little extra road noise and shorter treadlife to love how the truck looks.

-Ross, 10/29/14

Edit: 11/12/14 - for proper/improper use of term "directional"

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Review: MBRP Single Side-Exit Exhaust for 5.3L V8 GM engines (w/pictures & video)

For when your limited budget parallels your disregard for manners

Those of us that live in the snow belt are far too familiar with the moisture-and-road-salt-induced rust that eats away at the underside of your winter-battling car or truck. Yet until scientists devise a practical, wide-scale way to treat the roads and effectively prevent such oxidization, we're stuck with snow plows, sanders, and the crappy road surfaces that result. As such, rust inevitably takes its toll on your vehicle, and my Avalanche was no exception. Exhaust system after exhaust system corroded past the point of repair and late in the winter of 2013, the same happened yet again. This time, a strict budget and the recent disintegration of a custom-bent “shop-floor special” in mind, I decided to try a mass-made example from a reputable company. Many forum threads and a $297 Amazon charge later, an MBRP Single Side-Exit Cat-Back exhaust system was en route to its new life fixed to the undercarriage of my Avy. This would mark the fifth aftermarket exhaust system I've had experience with on a 5.3L GM truck motor, in the order of: Gibson, Magnaflow, two random shop-floor custom-bent examples, and now the MBRP. Having gone through the same process so many times, it's safe to say I'm no stranger to the wide world of using a V8 Chevy truck engine to make noise. How did MBRP's budget-minded kit fare? Let's find out...
With tip installed

What we have here is the basic “swept-side” single-exit, which is a fancy way of saying it occupies the same location and has the same style as the factory system. Some like the stock look, others don't; to each their own. The factory-spec appearance does have a “stealth mode” draw to it, and it forces you to focus on the other traits that can really set it apart. Up close the pipes are nicely made (and look much better painted black...more on that later), with nice bends and clean welds. Nothing of show-quality here, but it doesn't look like a hack-job either. Running it without the provided tip creates an even smoother, almost-hidden look, which is fairly badass in my opinion.
Score: 4/5

People generally fit into one of three groups: those craving a NASCAR-style sound, those who want dead silence, and those looking for the “perfect pipes,” which roar when revving and under hard acceleration but packing a quieter demeanor on the highway or when simply cruising along. I fit into the third demographic; there's nothing that can replace a V8 rumble and I absolutely wanted to hear my truck's engine bellow when hitting the loud-pedal, but regularly blowing my eardrums during my eighty daily highway miles wasn't appealing. Hoping for the MBRP to fit into this formula, it didn't turn out to be perfectly on-point with what I had been looking for.

So, how does the MBRP sound? On startup it's not unlike an LS-series motor: thunder upon turning the key, followed by a smooth settling, and an almost subdued but evil character when sitting at idle. Rev the engine and it speaks directly to your inner straight-pipe craving. In gear, though, full throttle produces a sound that is undoubtedly more pleasant on the outside than the inside; there's no escaping the bellow, and inside you lose much of the guttural growl.

Despite this downside, there is a notable upside: deceleration from higher in the RPM range results in barks and pops that are reminiscent of the truck's bowtie-bearing siblings with names like “Corvette” and “Camaro.” (You can hear some of this in the video.) It does indeed evoke muscle-car thoughts, and this is possibly the MBRP's strongest point. Overall, it makes good sounds, those that are only disappointing when you're behind the wheel and on the relentless on the accelerator.
Sound: 3.5/5

Here we have a bi-polar being. Cruising while very low in the RPM range is quieter-than-expected, dare I say even pleasant? Under slow acceleration the noise is audible over the radio, but not overbearing; however, hit a slight incline where the engine is taxed even minimally and out comes every bit of the drone you know has been hiding somewhere in your ears' nightmares. From the middle to the higher end of the powerband there's a semi-unpleasant, very loud sound the emanates everywhere, and you can't do anything about it unless you manage to trick the automatic transmission into upshifting, or turn the radio up to damaging levels. The sound is so prominent and there's simply *so* much of it that you find yourself subconsciously doing everything possible to avoid hitting this range. Bottom line: it's most certainly not for the faint of heart.
Score: 2.5/5

Performance Gains
No, adding an exhaust system won't give you noticeable power gains on its own unless you believe everything the Need For Speed video games taught you. But combine a less restrictive air intake with a free-flowing pipes and you're likely feel a slight improvement to throttle response and see a couple of tenths increase in gas mileage as well (some even claim to gain 2-3 MPG). In my observations, fuel economy gains were similar to those on the power front: a minor but noticeable change if you spend a lot of time behind the wheel. Keep in mind that your results may vary.
Score: 3.5/5

You usually get what you pay for in this department, especially at this price point, and I was pleasantly surprised by the MBRP's quality...until a problem arose only months after it was installed on my Avalanche. In short, the post-muffler hanger cracked off of the pipe in a spot where welding would have been more work than it would have been worth. Usually this would be unacceptable (and don't get me wrong, it was pretty frustrating to have a new exhaust break), but MBRP replaced the damaged section under warranty without question. It wasn't a next-day affair, but after a few weeks (and some black high-temperature spray-paint to prevent further rusting/corrosion) the exhaust was back in full working order and hasn't caused a problem since. Spray painting it was an inexpensive and worthwhile extra step to ensure longevity, and I would highly recommend doing the same for anybody who buys an exhaust that is not stainless steel. Other than this minor hiccup, the quality has been just fine, especially when you factor in the total investment of around $310.
Score: 4/5

A great looking, great sounding, highway-friendly, high-quality exhaust system usually tickets in the $1000 range, give-or-take a few hundred bucks, with high-end prices dancing around the $1500 mark. In the past I bought two of these other systems for the same engine and, though they were better all-around, they also made a much more noticeable dent in my bank account. Accordingly, those on the much less expensive side have a major compromise somewhere, it's just a matter of locating that downfall. At $297, the MBRP kit was definitely inexpensive, but there's a big difference between inexpensive and cheap. What I found with the MBRP system was a pretty decent compromise of money spent vs. overall satisfaction with the exhaust's traits. Simply put: you can't get as much off-the-shelf exhaust for the price, and with the class-leaders costing easily a thousand bucks more, this is truly a hell of a value.
Score: 5/5

Final Thoughts
So would I recommend it? The short answer is yes, but not to everybody. The exhaust makes some great sounds (some of the time) and looks near-stock but makes itself heard through its angry vocals, and all for a fraction of the price of the “brand-name” systems. MBRP's customer service was solid and they stood by their product, and the price was absolutely unbeatable. I'd say if you're rolling in money or don't mind spending the extra for something that will outlive your truck, spring for the exhaust you're dreaming of. However, if budget is even remotely a concern and you can handle the drone, don't hesitate to give the MBRP Single Side-Exit Cat-Back exhaust system a try. And hey, even if you really do regret it, the whole thing only cost as much as a few tanks worth of gas anyways.

Final Score: 3.75/5

Pardon the rust and dirt
-Ross, 10/1/14

Monday, March 24, 2014

Interco Reptile Radial Update #2

Cigars, wine, muscle cars: all items that get better with age.  Interco Reptile Radials?  Not so much.  When we last left off, the budget do-it-all tires were holding up but taking an absolute beating in the process.  Put simply: time and mileage has perhaps done more bad than good for these tires.  The Reptiles are still going, though not strong, and will probably make it through the spring on the 'ol Brute, but come the summer when a very much anticipated Maine trip is happening - including between 200 and 300 miles over 2 days of riding - I don't think the Reptiles will be around to see the beautiful trails up north for a second time.  Unfortunately, the years aren't as kind to the Intercos as they are to the aforementioned cigars, wine, and muscle cars.

First and foremost for a tire is durability: turns out the Reptiles are not meant for the rocks like we have in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts.  The extremely choppy, jagged, and abusive terrain chews away at the rubber worse than I could have expected and, accordingly, the result is that the tires end up losing air in some way or another.  Durability: fair at best.  2 tubes later, I still have 3 slow leaks.  As for treadwear, the rears have about 1/2 tread left at around 900 miles.  For a soft tire on such punishing surfaces (including a fair mix of drifting and spinning while stuck in the mud) this is still a pretty poor showing of wear characteristics.  The fronts are better at about 2/3 treadlife remaining, but hey, you don't slide the back end out on the front tires.  Admittedly, I've undoubtedly accelerated the rate of the Reptiles' wear; wheelspin is among my favorite things about riding, powerslides in particular, and I only use 4WD when I have to (which in turn abuses the rear tires even further).  As such the rears have worn down a fair share because of the way I ride.  And as I always say, your results will vary, but I can't see these tires going for more than 2000 miles on any machine.

Otherwise, the Reptiles' performance hasn't changed and the decreasing tread depth on the rears has not yet become an issue worth being concerned over.  In the mud they still do great but are by no means an Outlaw and, to be brutally honest, they haven't proven to be that much better than Bighorns (in some situations Bighorns have even out-done the Reptiles).  On the rocks it's the same story: not as good as a Bighorn but not as helpless as a true mud tire.  Trails?  You guessed it, middle of the road here too.  Better than if you were running a full-blow, open-block tire, but worse than a horizontally-biased trail tire.  The one real "trouble area" is when climbing a hill littered with (or composed entirely of) wet, offset, less-than-ideally-located rocks.  Here the Reptiles fall flat on their face and can be utterly difficult to control.  This isn't new; I've been saying it since my first ride on these tires.  Other guys who have dedicated trail tires can climb in 2WD while the Reptiles claw for traction and spin wildly until they grab or until your frustration turns to anger and you hit the 4WD selector.  Or, as I've experienced on isolated steeper obstacles, you simply can't make it and have to go to the all-mighty savior and put those front axles to use.

Everything about these tires screams middle-of-the-road, and that's fine by me considering how much they cost.  You give up treadlife for ability in the mud, but pay less for the tire itself.  Let's call the Reptile a good compromise.  Not the best, not the worst: the compromise of compromise tires.

So here's my advice: if you ride primarily in the mud, buy a mud tire.  If ride primarily on the trails, buy a trail tire.  If you're looking for something that can do both on a budget, don't overlook the Reptile.  But, conversely, don't limit yourself to Interco's "do-it-all'er" as there are other options out there worth exploring.  The number and expanse of tires on the market seem to multiply daily, and with great options from companies like GBC, Pitbull, STI, and those old-school names like ITP and Maxxis, you should really think long and hard before making a purchase.  As much as I've enjoyed my time with the Reptiles, and as much as they've made me a better rider because of how much they struggle on certain kinds of obstacles, it's a guarantee I'll be looking elsewhere for my next set of tires.

Just to solidify my point: I'm not alone on this.  My dad is running identically sized Reptiles on his RZR 800 and has the exact same complaints.  No, the Reptile wasn't the best choice for him either (especially on the heavier RZR) but at the price point they were hard to argue with.  He'll be replacing his this summer, and I'll likely follow suit.  For what they cost and what they are, the Reptiles are a great option - but they're not great tires, and that's quite a problem.

-Ross, 3/24/14

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Justifying the all-new Jeep Renegade's existence

They may as well have named it Divide, Split, or "Haters Gonna Hate," because it seems like with the all-new Renegade, Jeep has sparked the most well-defined love/hate reaction ever seen in the automotive world.  When the dust settled from the previous day's botched embargo, the biggest and most important reveal of the 2014 Geneva Motor Show took form as a small CUV with heavy traditional Jeep design influences, a Fiat platform, and the automotive world's most heated response ever over a new vehicle.  The haters, those shouting things like, "this isn't a Jeep at all" or "why is Jeep making something so small?" are entirely understood in their opinions - everybody is entitled to think as they want, after all, and Jeep fans are among the most loyal out there.  However, I'm here to justify why the new "baby Jeep," a geeky little truck that has more countries working on it than the number of streams it'll ever cross once in the owners' hands, is not only the best vehicle in its class, but why I love it and why you should love it too.  Haters, taken note: this is going to be an all enCompassing justification of the most Patriotic of cute-utes.  See what I did there?  No?  We'll get to it later.  Now, on to the justifications, of which there are seven - seven reasons for the seven slots in the grille - get that one?

POINT ONE  To understand the Renegade first we must have a basic understanding of the American auto industry and realize that at the end of the day, the manufacturing and selling of automobiles is a business and, like all other industries, it is overseen by the federal government.  And, not unlike other industries, there are mandates on the products the car-makers create.  For example, the governmental agencies protecting the environment are equally as omnipresent in dealing with the big three automakers as they are in cleaning up a river after a major company has been dumping waste into it for years (GE on the Hudson, anyone?).  Back to how this affects Jeep: the administrating NHTSA and EPA and subsequent CAFE [Corporate Average Fuel Economy] standards mean that Jeep must meet company-wide gas mileage requirements.
Now, if you're at all familiar with the Jeep brand and how its vehicles do on gas, let's recall that the Wrangler isn't exactly fuel efficient...nor is the Grand Cherokee.  Things are certainly better than they used to be (a big thank you to the 8-speed auto and diesel engine in the GC as well as the Pentstar V6 and pair of new transmissions in the Wrangler), but the current Jeeps are nowhere near good enough to satisfy our governing bodies.  Likewise, the new Cherokee is a step in the right direction but cannot solely put Jeep where it needs to be to abide by the government's standards.

Enter the all-new Renegade.  Riding on a front-wheel-drive platform and utilizing technology like a segment-first nine-speed transmission, the baby Jeep is sure to do much better than anything you can buy at your Jeep dealership today (aside from the aforementioned diesel Grand Cherokee, depending on official EPA estimates when the Renegade goes on sale).  And being that it rides on the Fiat Panda 4x4's platform, it shouldn't be any more than 2,750 pounds - light weight being a positive influence on fuel economy, handling, and off-road prowess.  Additionally, automakers typically sell many more of their smaller, lower-ticket vehicles than those in the higher price bracket, which means the Renegade should sell well on principle.  All of this means one thing: Jeep will meet or beat the feds' mandated standards and the company will live to see another day.

POINT TWO  Although it's front-drive and smaller than every other model in its lineup today, the Renegade truly is a Jeep at heart; even the Renegade name itself carries quite a bit of history.  Yet, people are saying that "Jeep has no business being in the small car market" (as is counter-argued in Point One), but is this thing really that small?  Maybe by today's standards, but if the real "Jeep" is the original MA/MB Willys, consider this: that vehicle rode on an 80" wheelbase and checked in at 130" long while the new Renegade has a 101" wheelbase and an overall length of 166."  So after reviewing those facts, let's not call this a small vehicle, okay?  You'd be making grandpa feel bad.

Now, let's look at some of the other aspects of the Renegade that make it a Jeep.  First of all, it has a seven-slot grille, as do all Jeeps, and round headlights - that's more than you can say for any Cherokee, Grand Cherokee, Wagoneer, the second-generation Compass, etc.  So if having round headlights is what makes a Jeep a Jeep (as it is for many of the Wrangler fanatics out there), we're in good shape so far.  Next, it has a super-low 20:1 crawl ratio and a real transfer case, sacred and delightful words to the off-roading cult.  There will also be multiple all-wheel drive systems available, a terrain management system, hill-descent control, and the all-coveted Trail Rated badge.  Even better: according to an article from Allpar, it has the approach/breakover/departure angles to match its stout list of off-road parts and will handily show up the Compass, Patriot, and even Trailhawk Cherokee that just hit the streets.  Take that, big bro.  Add in multiple engine choices and a *gasp* manual transmission and things are looking pretty sweet.

Two other features that help it fit in with the Jeep family: a removable roof that you can slide back like a sun-roof or stow in the trunk.  Let's pause for a second: a removable roof on an entry-level vehicle that isn't a traditional convertible.  How cool is that?  This is a detail that just screams baby-Wrangler.  Oh, and from the pictures at least, they gave it interior that is as functional as it is good looking.  All-in-all, the haters who are clamoring about how this isn't a "Jeep" in the traditional sense may be right - it doesn't have solid axles or removable doors (with the right tools...) or look ready to tackle the full Rubicon Trail - but it does have more "Jeep" elements most any other vehicle out there, and undoubtedly more so than anything else in its class.

POINT THREE  It has a look that's all-Jeep.  First of all, it has the mandatory seven-slot grille, obviously.  Next, it has elements inspired by off-road paraphernalia.  Those seemingly goofy taillights with the "X" through them?  No, that's not to signify this is a Renegade X (X being a trim available on the Wrangler) - they're supposed to subtly mimic the design of the ever-important jerry cans that off-roaders strap to the back of their rigs in case they run out of fuel far from civilization.  Additionally, there's a topo map of Moab, Utah - a location equally as famous for being an off-road mecca as the Rubicon Trail - on the interior.  And on the outside, they've done a great job utilizing the Fiat's proportions to make the Renegade come off not as a restyled Fiat but as a miniature Wrangler with cartoonish influences from the concepts they regularly tease at the annual Moab Easeter Jeep Safari.  That grille/headlight combo that looks enclosed in its own casing?  Cues from the Mighty FC Concept, which in turn draws heritage from the forward-control Jeeps of the '50s and '60s.

The bottom line is that while it looks "cutesy," the design is wholly aggressive for its size and especially so for its class.  No, it doesn't appear to want to go rock-crawling until the sun sets like the Wrangler does, but it also doesn't look like its competition in trying to come off as a canyon-carver.  In staying more off-road ready, or at least looking the part, it fits right in as a Jeep.

POINT FOUR  Continuing from the aforementioned style points, let's talk about the Renegade's heart.  This isn't the Nissan Juke, Kia Soul, or Subaru Crosstrek XV - the vehicles I'm guessing will be most commonly cross-shopped with the Renegade.  The all-new Jeep is completely unapologetic about its heritage and won't let you forget it is the most off-road worthy cute-ute out there.  Unfortunately this may have some drawbacks - those aerodynamics aren't going to help with wind noise (or fuel economy, for that matter) - but if it didn't have some compromises for the sake of being a Jeep, it wouldn't be a Jeep.  This style and theme will undoubtedly garner it some buyers.

POINT FIVE  It's American.  I acknowledge that using this as a leverage point as to "why you should love the Renegade" is entirely, completely, 100% subjective, but it's nice to know that the profits ultimately go to an American company.  It would be nicer if it were to be built here in the good 'ol US of A, but being that it has to be manufactured alongside its brethren, the Fiat Panda, it's being built in Italy.  Reliability and fire jokes aside, this could make it quite enjoyable to drive and, as I mentioned, profits for Jeep does mean that Jeep will stick around instead going the way of the dodo and, coincidentally, the same fateful direction of that other American off-road company - Hummer.  "But," you say, "Fiat is Italian and that means the profits technically go to Italy!"  Yeah, well the USA is massively indebted to China, so *technically* our profits go to China anyways - but now we're just being overly technical.  Oh, and Italy gave us the beauties known as Ferrari, Lamborghini, and Alfa Romeo; they can get a pass on principle for doing such great deeds.

POINT SIX  Continuing on with the prayer of Jeep sticking around to see the light of day after having narrowly escaped the bailouts, the Renegade is the best way to enter new markets for real this time.  Those jokes I made in the introduction were about the now-dead Jeep Compass and Patriot - vehicles destined to fail from the day they were introduced.  Riding on a hopeless platform borrowed from the Dodge Caliber, the Compass/Patriot were, in a word, underwhelming.  The idea of a front-drive Jeep shocked and appalled the masses, so perhaps the second time around it will be a little easier for people to digest.  In reality, the Compass and Patriot were under-designed, under-engineered, and, in all honesty, not great vehicles (if you've ever been behind the wheel of one you will understand why).  As such, they now reside in the great metaphorical car crusher in the sky - and now it makes sense why Jeep's ad agency has been running advertisements for the pair like crazy, trying to sell them off before the new model hits the press/showrooms and steals all of the potential profits from the now-defunct leftovers.  The Renegade, which replaces the pair, was what Jeep needed in 2007 when the Compass was introduced - it could have been the do-all, save-all vehicle for Chrysler.  Maybe that's a stretch as the economy was in the tank, but it would have done worlds more for the company that the Compass did.  Anyways, increased sales will hopefully do wonders for Jeep, just as the Cayenne did for Porsche upon its introduction in 2002 (and, if you remember, people were up in arms back then about Porsche making an kind of puts the insanity over Jeep making a "small car" in perspectives).

Back to Pt. 6: the Renegade will allow Jeep to enter new markets and new countries, to capture buyers they never had the chance to grab before, to expand its consumer base, to "go places where no Jeep has gone before."  They intend to use this vehicle to test the waters in other countries, many of which have even higher gas prices and in which larger vehicles are utterly useless (or frowned upon); thus, the Renegade "fits."

POINT SEVEN  It'll allow the hardcore off-roaders to get into another Jeep on a tight budget.  Let's say you have a dedicated trail rig that's not fit for the streets and as such you need a daily driver to get you to work so you can pay for the toy that only gets used on weekends.  And let's say you either spent most of your money on said wheeling toy, you simply don't have that much to spend on a commuter car, or you want the most fuel-efficient vehicle with a seven-slot grille.  All of these scenarios fall into place with the 2015 Renegade.  It's rugged enough to feel like a Jeep yet civilized and fuel-efficient enough to allow you to continue spending money on your "real" Jeep.  Instead of Jeep owners buying other companies' vehicles for the sake of simply getting from point A to point B, they can now do it in a Jeep that gets good gas mileage and and holds all of the heritage of the Jeep name wholly at heart.  If that isn't the spirit of Jeep, I don't know what is.

One further leverage point: Jeep as a brand is all about going and being outside.  Hopefully with the Renegade it will give the younger crowd and the non Jeep-owners the urge to expand their boundaries.  My point here is that maybe, just maybe, with the Renegade, Jeep will inspire people to get outside, to go on adventures, to see the wilderness, to do what Jeeps were meant to do.  It's a stretch, but a guy can hope.

HAVE I CONVINCED YOU YET?   Ten years ago my dad's friend showed me the wonder of the internet.  No, not that other wonder of the internet you're thinking of, I'm talking about the marvel of instantaneous automotive news rather than having to wait for your favorite magazine to arrive at the beginning of each month.  Over these ten years I've been a die-hard auto-news follower and as such I'm familiar with the internet's reaction to a new release (as is projected by paid writers, auto-blog responders, forum members, etc), and never in those ten years has a vehicle caused a stir like this.  In addition to the main points of this article, there are many, many other reasons out there on why the Renegade really is perfect to fill the role of "the Jeep for the masses," but for now let's let the subject rest.  At the end of the day, Jeep could have done far worse in designing its new high-volume seller, the car to take the company out of the Compass/Patriot era and into the modern automotive times of small-car manufacturing.  This new baby Jeep will look right at home next to the Cherokee, Wrangler, and Grand Cherokee.  Jeep fans can pray all day that the next-generation Wrangler retains its solid axles, removable roof, and the likes; that the Renegade has some of the characteristics of what one thinks of as a "real Jeep" is in itself a feat worth being happy about.  Consider that the company will no longer have to make excuses for the Compass and Patriot, and we're heading in the right direction.

BONUS POINT  Speaking of that "direction," the world of automotive journalism seems to agree with me, at least initially - this quirky, off-beat, awkward-looking baby Jeep has all of the elements that could make it a great addition to a lineup of vehicles all tied together by one of the richest histories in cars.  People are saying that they expect the Renegade to boost sales by quite a bit assuming it's a fairly well-made vehicle, and I wholeheartedly agree.  Jeep's baby has everything it needs to succeed, and now all it has to do is deliver on the promises it has made in its exciting first days of life.  Hey, Jeep, let's see if you've learned from the Compass and the Patriot; now is the time to do right upon your heritage.

Our loooooong-gone YJ
I'd like to give my dad a shout-out real quick, for without his adamant "that thing is fugly and I cannot comprehend why they would build it" attitude I would not have written this article.  He's one of those with an old-school Jeep mentality, having owned an old Jeep pickup (he always talks about the three-on-the-tree shifter that was nearly impossible to use), a 1989 Wrangler YJ that we had until I was 14 (coincidentally 10 years ago, around the same time I started down the path of auto-news addiction), and an assortment of XJ Cherokees and ZJ Grand Cherokees.  He's a lifetime American car-guy who's dead-set on permanently hating the Renegade and would only budge when I said, "wouldn't you rather see baby Jeeps than Toyotas and Hondas?"  So, dad, here's to hoping my persuasion is as strong as your love for old-school Jeeps.