Willys Wheeler a highlight at the Texas Truck Rodeo

Having two days to sample 75 different trucks, SUVs and crossovers sounds like being handed the keys to the candy store. But the old admonition about being careful what you wish for is is very appropriate: it’s a lot of candy, you get only a little taste of each kind and you have to eat very fast.

The reality is that you get about 12-13 hours of total driving time to sample as many of those vehicles as possible; you have to share those vehicles with 60 other people that have the same requirement and you have to be able to compare those vehicles in a large number of categories.

In spite of all of that, it’s a great opportunity to test a variety of vehicles side-by-side as well as drive some trucks that don’t routinely appear in media review fleets.

One of the most memorable vehicles at the event was a Hydro Blue 2015 Jeep Wrangler Willys Wheeler which, along with a 2015 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon Hard Rock Edition, nailed down the Off-Road Utility of Texas title for the second year running.

Like almost all the vehicles at the Rodeo, the Willys was very well-equipped with options like automatic transmission, air-conditioning and hard top. They took the price from around $27,000, including destination charges, to about $32,000.

At most media events like this, the automakers send a team of managers, engineers and marketing people. These folks ride with you, filling you in on all the nifty stuff about the truck you’re driving and making sure you don’t do anything too weird, like taking off to Guadalajara for an extended test drive or testing the rock-climbing capabilities of vehicles that were never intended to climb rocks bigger than gravel.

However, on the afternoon of the second driving day, a lot of those company folks had to leave in order to make flights back to Detroit or wherever they called home.

While a desire to see events like this continue prevented anything too outlandish, the journalists had an opportunity to drive by themselves. This is a time to be cherished as you can focus on the vehicle instead carrying on a conversation.

The blue Willys Wheeler, which had been pretty busy since the driving began, was available so a drive was in order, especially since I had never driven a Wrangler with an automatic transmission.

Jeep-Willys-2-Web

There are two courses at the Knibbe Ranch. One is a road course that includes a few miles of country roads and a short stretch of highway. The other is an off-road course. The off-road trail isn’t like traversing the Rubicon Trail or mastering Moab but it does offer the chance to try out real four-wheel drive, hill descent control and other features. There are rocks to climb, creeks to ford and what many would consider moderately rough terrain to conquer.

My first time on the course, there were other drivers. As each challenge was approached, our parade would stop as we engaged the four-wheel drive or switched on the hill descent system and then each in turn made the crossing.

The Willys Wheeler handled it all with aplomb and the automatic transmission made shifting in and out of 4 Low a breeze.

As we circled back to the staging area, I noticed that no one was on the course, so I opted for a second pass, this time in two-wheel mode, and left the transmission in drive.

With no other vehicles ahead of me, I was able to open it up a bit. The ride was bouncy in places and the Willys and I may have been momentarily airborne a time or two, but it was a hoot: I grinned the whole time.

The Jeep never missed a beat, whether it was descending a rocky stair-step track or climbing a muddy incline. It was in its element.

All too quickly it was over and time to return and let another writer have a chance to enjoy the Willys Wheeler.

But it sure was fun while it lasted.

Read more at:http://www.allpar.com/news/index.php/2014/10/willys-wheeler-a-highlight-at-the-texas-truck-rodeo

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