Without further ado, then, here's my armrest review of the 2008 Jeep Wrangler:
Routine handling is impeccable, as long as you're stopped at a light. Once you actually begin moving, the car steers as if it were purposely designed to wander back and forth between lanes. There are moments when you'd swear you were on one of those kiddie carnival rides where the steering wheel in your miniature vehicle isn't connected to anything.
Emergency handling, meanwhile, is downright scary. There is just no way to make a controlled high-speed maneuver in this car—not one that yields predictable results. Even at the moderate speeds you quickly learn to settle for, unexpectedly sharp bends in highway exit ramps will make you think you're on the verge of a wheelie. I've been driving for over 40 years in all types of vehicles, from shiny and new to ancient and rust-ravaged, and I don't think I've ever experienced the weightless "uh-oh" feeling that this Jeep provides at least once per drive. The moving van I piloted around SoCal for four days while my family and I looked for housing (it's a long story) handled more precisely than this Jeep. No joke.
But at least the ride sucks. Usually when a car handles this poorly, it's because the engineering dollars went into a so-called "boulevard ride." Not here. An unnoticed speed bump is a seismic event. And, rather shockingly (since this is a certified off-road 4WD we're talking about), even more modest topographical irregularities will cause the suspension to jiggle and sway, requiring corrections in course.
Acceleration is sluggish, despite the added horsepower that Jeep touts in its promos. On the highway, you hit the hammer for that surge of passing juice you need in order to escape from the kinds of local lunatics who take traffic personally, and it's just not there.
Another thing that's just not there: the horn. Seriously. You have to feel around for it to get it to toot, and by then, of course, it's too late. Even at that, the horn isn't always in the same place. Which is not good in a city like Vegas, because I wasn't kidding about the lunatics. Drivers out here seem to think "red light" means "only three or four more cars should speed through this intersection..."
The alleged climate control is perfectly adequate if you're traveling at a steady speed of 60 mph on a flat stretch of road. As soon as you accelerate or need to climb, the compressor cuts out, balmy air pours from the vents, and you get to feel the temp inside the vehicle climb by a fast 5 or 10 degrees. And don't tell me this is because it's 109 in Vegas. We rented a Caddy last weekend and it'd get so cold that we had to cut back the a/c to "economy" now and then.
In short, I think I know why there's that big "X" on the door of the Jeep. It's a secret message from some designer with a conscience, and it means DO NOT, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, BUY ONE OF THESE! Quite simply, my daughter's Jeep Wrangler is, with no contenders, the worst new vehicle I have ever driven.
She loves it. Luuvvvvvs it.
But why, Jen? I implore. Why? (When you're imploring, you have to repeat the key thought.)
"Because," she says, "it's so cute and fun!" A moment later, seeing the enigmatic look on my face, she amplifies: "It just does it for me. I had one before* and I always loved it and I hated giving it up, so I'm so happy I could get another one." She also mentions that it came with satellite radio.
Oh, OK. Now I understand.
The problem I have with my daughter's taste in cars is twofold. (Actually, I could cite about a dozen reasons, but to keep it manageable I'll focus on my two primary gripes.) For starters, Jen is a single mom. She's responsible for my grandson, Jordan, who is very precious to me, and it therefore bugs the hell out of me that she's driving him around in a Jeep. As it happens, I warned her about the Wrangler when she first told me she was considering it; I sent her the skeptical reviews of its viability as an everyday car and recited its litany of safety concerns. No matter; she plunked down her $25K anyway. Worse, half the time she doesn't even have the hardtop on—she likes the wind in her hair while she listens to that satellite radio at nuclear-fission volume levels—which leaves Jordan sitting in the nominal back seat, not only exposed to the desert elements but far more likely to be thrown from the vehicle during a collision (or if Jen drives over an unusually high speed bump).
Regrettably, my daughter's unapologetic attitude is symptomatic of the way many moms (and not just the single ones) think nowadays: Sure my child's welfare is important, but not so important that I'm going to sacrifice my own happiness, by gosh. If these moms can look out for their kid in a way that doesn't cramp their style, fine. Otherwise he's sitting in the back of a Wrangler with the hardtop off. (This, for the record, is another reason why I dedicated my book, SHAM, as I did. I don't have a copy with me so I can't quote it verbatim, but it's something like: "To mom and dad, and the rest of the parents of their generation who were codependent enough to put their kids first.")
You know, my wife and I have to laugh, in a gallows-humor kind of way, each time we drive to my older boy's house in Ossining. Once best known for its eponymous prison, Sing-Sing, Ossining these days is a gentrifying bedroom community of Manhattan, filled with double-income young-marrieds. The last leg of the 2.5-hour trip from PA to Ossining puts you on NY-9, a business route where you pass several day-care facilities that advertise "SATURDAY HOURS!" Come again? Could it really be that parents who don't see their kids all week (save for maybe an hour of "quality time" before bed each night) also need an additional respite from the poor creatures on weekends, too? If you're in that category and you're reading this, excuse my impertinence, but why did you have children?? So there's someone to visit you when you're old and gray? You might want to take a listen to Cat's in the Cradle.
Next time: The implications of my daughter's automotive choices for vanity and the American way of life.
P.S. Lest you think I'm being too hard on the Jeep, take a look at these answers to an innocent question about the Wrangler's suitability for a beginning driver. Or simply Google expert reviews using search coordinates like, say, "Jeep + Wrangler + handling." See for yourself what comes back.
* This was when she lived by herself in San Diego, pre-Jordan. (My wife and I had moved to Indy.) She got rid of it for financial reasons before I even knew she had it.