For Me, Jeep is a Lifestyle
By: Joe Incognito, Jeep Enthusiast
Long before I even had a driver’s license, I was a fan of Jeeps. I became fascinated with Jeeps from the first time I saw one driving on the beach with no roof and no doors. I thought that was the absolute coolest. That was in the 80s or 90s – and from there, I was hooked! Once I got my driver’s license, my Jeep enthusiasm had to sit on the sidelines because I just couldn’t afford a nice CJ-7. Looking back, it may have been a good thing that I couldn’t afford one because they might not have been as safe or reliable as they are today.
No question, Jeeps have an incredible allure to them. In my mind, it always seemed that people who owned Jeeps seemed to be having fun or were always up to one adventure or another. Clearly, this “car” was far more than just transportation. Since my younger days, when I could only dream of owning a Jeep, my Friday night ritual focused on ordering pizza and reading every Jeep classified advertisement I could find. I was determined that one day, my daydream would become reality, and I would have amazing adventures in my very own Jeep.
My interest in Jeeps reignited in 2006 when the four-door Wrangler Unlimited was released. Timing was perfect and I finally was able to chase my dream of Jeep ownership! While the early models were somewhat compromised by a 3.8L engine, Jeep soon delivered an even better model with an upgraded interior and a 3.6L Pentastar engine. I jumped on it, finally purchased my first Jeep, and the rest is history.
I drove the Jeep in its stock form for a few months, took the tops off, and got into some awesome adventures with it. I quickly realized the Jeep could be even better with modifications to the suspension and wheels. Back then, modifying a Jeep was a lot of work requiring plenty of research and expensive visits to installers for upgrades. The upgrades usually improved the Jeep, yet it never quite felt like OEM quality. When it came to gear swaps and driveshafts, or even Hemi swaps, the Jeep’s capabilities were enhanced. Yet, considering the high expenses and extensive labor efforts, the resulting quality was not quite perfect.
I started with a mild JKUR and eventually made my way up to a fully built AEV JKUR with a 6.4L Hemi engine. It was very expensive and highly capable, delivering almost OEM-like execution. These built Jeeps were good daily drivers and great off-roaders. I even travelled to Easter Jeep Safari in Moab, Utah, which I’ll add is an adventure every Jeep owner should experience. Along the way, I owned a TJ Brute and JK Brute built by American Expedition Vehicles (AEV), because I needed more storage than the standard four-door Unlimited model could offer for surfboards, bikes, and snowboards.
Fast forward to 2021, and there has never been a better time to own a Jeep. Today’s Jeeps are reliable, have low depreciation, and offer an incredible range of factory-installed engines, doors, and other options. AEV, and others, led the way for a long time in the aftermarket category, but now you can build a Jeep from “mild-to-wild” directly from the factory and have your dealer install the entire Mopar parts catalog on day-one before you even pick-up your new Jeep.
Jeeps of today are safe and reliable, and even built-up off-roaders are suitable for comfortable, everyday driving. The JT is one of my favorites. Today, I own a 2020 JT Rubicon (AKA Gladiator) that runs on 37-inch all-terrain tires with stock gears and a 2” Mopar® lift. This Jeep is loaded with features like auxiliary switches, front and rear trail cameras, and off-road lights previously were only available as aftermarket. Aside from a FOX ATS steering stabilizer, everything on my Jeep is OEM and was installed onsite at Cross Jeep in Louisville, including my winch and off-road lights!
In fact, I used my Jeep’s WARN® winch last Christmas Eve. I was eating dinner and saw an Escalade accidentally drive right onto the ski slope, sinking both axles into the soft snow. I grabbed my gloves, a hat, and the keys to my Jeep Gladiator. I pulled the SUV right out on a snowy night when no one else would’ve come to their assistance. Using my Jeep like that, even if it’s not for every day, is the best part of Jeep ownership.
In exciting Jeep news, Fiat Chrysler has fast-tracked production on Jeep’s upcoming Rubicon 392 Edition, thanks in part to Ford’s release of the new Bronco. This new model is a dream come true for avid Jeep enthusiasts. I expect additional innovations and improvements will come as a result of the competition being put forth by Ford. For a long time, Jeep has had very little if any domestic competition, and Jeep owners will only benefit from this development. I am still holding out hope for a single-cab Gladiator with a small diesel engine, manual transmission, and ventilated seats! A guy can dream, right? The only product Jeep does not offer is a single-cab pickup variant like the old Comanche, but they do keep us guessing – so who knows?
It’s true that with a good driver at the wheel, a stock Unlimited Rubicon can cross the Rubicon Trail in California without a problem. Yet, part of the awesome fun of owning a Jeep is making it your OWN Jeep. A huge part of the fun is customizing it, getting into countless adventures, and sharing the ownership experience with the enormous, friendly, community of Jeep owners. I spent the summer at the beach and not a single Jeep went by without a friendly wave.
It was a bumpy ride for Jeep to get this point, but in my opinion, there has never been a better time to own a Jeep. Whatever you can imagine is now so much easier to achieve as a factory-built option. Despite all the changes of the last decade, I will still spend Friday night eating pizza and thinking about what to do, and where to go next, with my Jeep. This time of year, it might just be a late-night cruise through my snowy neighborhood in the mountains with the off-road lights up, all while I look to pull an unlucky driver out of a snowy ditch with my winch.
If you’re looking to get started on your own Jeep ownership adventure, visit my friends at Cross Jeep in Louisville – the experience will not disappoint!