First drive: 2015 Jeep Wrangler Sahara at Jeep Jamboree UAE
“I. Am. Invincible!!!!!” That’s what I was shouting when, yet again, we accepted an invitation to the annual Jeep Jamboree back in December, and came out of it alive and in one piece. This year’s event was murder, to the point where about 99% of the participants came in with just Wranglers, whereas previous events have had a mix of Cherokees and Grand Cherokees as well. The course was that tough. And we were provided with a bone-stock 2015 Jeep Wrangler Sahara by the local dealer in Dubai.
The Jamboree is well-known to leave participants at their own will, with just a road-book that people can follow using visual landmarks and GPS co-ordinates, with almost no visible marshal presence except at a few checkpoints.
At the pre-event breakfast itself, we met up with fellow scribe Imthishan Giado and made a pact to follow each other along the vague route through the desert that eventually saw several get temporarily lost or quitting long before the end. Imthi was driving his own lifted Wrangler with fat tyres though.
The Sahara is almost exactly the same as the Jeep Wrangler Sport we drove two years earlier, at a previous Jamboree. Wranglers don’t change much, but the Sahara is a higher trim level, with body-coloured fenders and roof, leather seats, cruise control and a multimedia touchscreen, among a few other minor add-ons.
All Wranglers are still powered by a 285 hp 3.6-litre V6 mated to a 5-speed automatic, with 352 Nm of torque on tap from 4800 rpm. That means it needs to be revved a fair bit to climb the steeper dunes, but less-inclined sand mounds were taken care of easily as the Wrangler just floated over them, especially after we dropped the tyre pressures further down to 13 psi on Imthi’s recommendation.
Oddly enough, the 245/75 tyres are on the “thinner” side for an offroad-capable vehicle, so deflating makes a huge difference. While our friend was comfortably driving off into the sunset with his fat-tyred Jeep, we were having a more challenging time following him as we swerved and slittered our way on the sides of dunes, with constant steering inputs and dollops of throttle.
Previous experience tells us that the Jeep’s ESP is still partially active in 4-high mode even when turned off, but it didn’t seem to kick in at all this time when in the “off” setting. In 4-low, the electronics do turn off fully, and we only needed the low-range gearing when the tyres had sunk in on incomplete climbs or we ended up in a big sand-crater. Our Jeep always came out under its own power.
As we said in earlier reviews, the steering is lazy, the brakes are soft and the suspension is easy to unsettle, as all the mechanical bits are geared towards offroading. While on-road handling remains “casual” at best, with a loud and choppy ride, it is still more refined than older-gen Wranglers while retaining its core offroad abilities.
Having chased the modified red Jeep through everything offroad with our stock Jeep — albeit more haphazardly, swinging tails et al — we were more impressed than ever before by this ancient body-on-frame live-axled trucklet. We had reached the desert-safari camp by late afternoon and hung around for dinner, while Imthi had left. We should’ve left with him, because when we wanted to leave at nightfall, we realised there was no clear path marked to reach the highway again, so we had to go at it ourselves, following a fence in parallel, hoping to find a gap to make it back to civilisation.
In the darkness, we just kept on moving, up and down short but ridiculously-steep dunes, with no real tracks to follow and the headlights only lighting up the walls of sand a few metres ahead. At one point, we thought we had it when the front of the Jeep dug into a sand mound on a downward slope, splashing sand all over the windshield. Instinctively, I just kept powering on and our Wrangler simply pulled through it without getting stuck.
Eventually we had the highway in sight and didn’t stop until we were parked on tarmac. We then stepped out to inspect any damage….and there was none. Just thick layers of sand on the front bumper. Even the plastic “skidplate” at the bottom was intact, flexible and able to take hits without breaking.
While the Jeep Wrangler may not be for everyone, it is definitely for anyone wanting to start out in offroading and looking for an indestructible 4×4 that they can make mistakes in without penalty. The only question in our minds is whether we’re man enough to say yes to the next Jamboree.
For prices and specs, visit the Jeep buyer guide.