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Having Fun In Good Ol' Mud

BY Azfar Hashim

Jeep brought us out for an off-road excursion – now we know why Jeep owners, well, do what they do…

Photos by Joel Tam and Azfar Hashim

I’m a car guy. Which means I eat, breathe and live cars; taking long drives on the expressways and highways, meeting up with likeminded friends to just chat about cars over coffee (and of course see what has been done to each other’s car) and also the occasional trips up north to have some track time.

My current car? A hot hatch. My previous car? A turbocharged sports sedan. And the car prior to that? A three-door hatch. The next car? Probably back to a turbocharged sports sedan.

What about an SUV or crossover? No way. An MPV? An even bigger NO to that. Simply put, you will never (ever) see me drive anything taller than a sedan; I have issues with body-roll you see.

FUN!

FUN!

So when Burnpavement’s Managing Editor, Joel told me we were invited for a Jeep trip across the Causeway, my mind went, "huh?!". Spending half of my day in either Johor Circuit or Sepang F1 Circuit, I’m all for it. But to spend that amount of time in some random forest with the potential to get all muddy and dirty? Not exactly my idea of fun. In fact, the last time I actually got all covered in mud and sand was during Basic Military Training (BMT) in Pulau Tekong. I remember the two weeks field camp: Getting wet courtesy of the rain, and then mud from all that crawling and digging trenches... Not a nice feeling.

We started our day assembling at the Chrysler Jeep Automotive of Singapore showroom in Chang Charn Road one early Saturday morning (read: 6:00 am). After a light breakfast (and most importantly, three cups of black coffee), we were chauffeured to Johor Bahru via the Causeway. Just shortly after we left however, the sky opened up with what must be ultra heavy rain to the point where visibility was poor while we were along the PIE and BKE.

The good thing about being the only passenger at the rear is I could actually take a quick nap. Cold air-con and cold weather: Even the amount of caffeine I consumed earlier had no effect.

There were seven participants for the day’s session; three in the Grand Cherokee, Joel and myself in the Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk and another two in the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited. Rather intimate, which equate to more time behind the wheel than waiting around.

Our off-road playground is located some 30 minutes drive from the Johor immigration checkpoint. The rain, although not as heavy by this point, doesn’t seem like it would stop anytime soon – so yes, I foresee myself getting all wet and muddy like the time I was going through BMT. And of course, me wearing the wrong type of shoe for an activity like this will undeniably make it a bigger challenge.

Well. I had a slight relief when we were driven straight into tents upon arrival – at least I could stay dry a little longer.

As the organising team were doing the final touches to the off-road track, it was briefing time for the seven of us: The Dos and Don’ts, how to tackle each part of the off-road track, maintaining safety, basic hand signals and lastly, to sound off if you do not have the confidence to drive.

With the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited and Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk available for all participants to experience, I began my Jeeply (heh… heh…) morning with the Cherokee Trailhawk. After all, this SUV brought me here comfortably, so of course I am curious to see how capable it is off the beaten path.

Despite using road-bias tyres, the Cherokee Trailhawk was surprisingly able to climb, dive and even wade through ankle-deep pools. A series of bumps were not enough to pose any problem still – in contrast to its ‘soft’ SUV looks (indeed, looks can be deceiving). Credit must also be given to the little Selec-Terrain dial located on the centre console, which allows you to choose a myriad of off-roading assistance; type of ground surface (e.g Sand/Mud and Rock), auto ascent/descent and rear diff lock, namely.

The rain hasn’t stopped; it was heavy one moment, light the next, stopped momentarily and suddenly, it was cats and dogs once again. This weather also made the track trickier; water level and number of ponding spots increased, and it was getting even… muddier.

Doesn’t matter though, as it was my turn with the Jeep Wrangler Sahara. One glance at this rugged looking sculpted brick and I just knew nothing is going to stop it. The soft mud along the entire off-road track posed no problem; with the right amount of steering and accelerator input, it ploughed through gallantly. There was also an instructor seated beside, helping me navigate on top of advising how to handle the Wrangler; because this is a whole different animal next to the Cherokee Trailhawk. Your driving position along with right foot’s angle on the accelerator and brake pedal needs some getting used to.

That escalated quickly - water level went from ankle deep to almost knee deep

That escalated quickly - water level went from ankle deep to almost knee deep

Unfortunately by my third round having fun, the elements worked in cahoots and started giving some issues. As the Wrangler was fitted with road-bias tyres, climbing the steep, muddy manmade hill became tricky: The wheels were spinning. There just wasn’t enough traction to help the climb.

Along came three event staff - all regular off-road junkies – who got me to reverse slowly down to even ground. The first thing they did was to remove air out of each rubber to give more contact area between tyre and surface.

That worked, because traction immediately improved. Then again, it was only on my third attempt - with one instructor guiding me in the car and another outside using hand signals - did I finally managed to climb up the muddy hill and smoothly descend on the other side; just like the saying, ‘slow and steady’.

The non-stop rain made things more challenging - the Wrangler had to rescue the Cherokee. That's what bros are for

The non-stop rain made things more challenging - the Wrangler had to rescue the Cherokee. That's what bros are for

At the end of the day, as sceptical as I was, I actually enjoyed this off-road driving experience. Despite the rain (and getting myself wet and going home with muddied shoes) and track that got trickier and trickier, the calm and relaxed instructors were on-hand to ensure you are able to handle this unfamiliar condition. Besides being able to exploit the Wrangler and Cherokee Trailhawk off the tarmac, you also begin to respect nature and learn how to appreciate teamwork; and as the hours go by, you interact more with fellow participants and throw in any suggestion when the situation calls for it. Now I understand why most Jeep owners do what they do.

(At this point, I even have that urge to get myself a Jeep. Yes, yes, I’ve just changed my tune…)

Our warm and lovely meal courtesy of a food truck - freshly cooked Italian food galore!

Our warm and lovely meal courtesy of a food truck - freshly cooked Italian food galore!

So if you want to experience this intimately with Jeep, simply check out this link: http://www.jeep.com.sg/en/jeep-life/news-events/jeep-no-road-experience/