Going on a roadtrip sounds simple enough right? Get a car, invite some friends, pack your stuff, have some good tunes ready and be on your way. But what exactly passes as a roadtrip vehicle? To be frank, any vehicle can be called as such, but high riding vehicles like 4x4s seem to be the go-to vehicle when it comes to covering huge tracks of land.
The Jeep Wrangler has long been viewed by many as one of the few go-to vehicles that can go off-road without a hitch. Essentially the spiritual descendant of the Willys and the direct descendant of the classic CJ, the new Wrangler aims to continue that tradition.
Normally we’d go off the beaten path and see how this off-roader can take on the rough stuff. But with most buyers treating these five-door utes like family cars, we took a different approach in testing this very capable 4x4.
To do that, we recently went on an overnight camping trip to Lake Caliraya in Lumban, Laguna to gauge the Jeep Wrangler’s capabilities in a roadtrip. I've had my fair share of driving long distances, but having to drive something purpose-built for off-road on paved roads? That's a first.
It was quite a hectic Monday when I had to depart for Ayala-Alabang to pick up my roadtrip buddy and colleague Jenna (the mastermind behind this trip). From Marikina to White Plains, traffic was still smooth sailing. Traffic came to a near crawl, however, once I arrived at Oritgas Center. While stuck in Metro Manila traffic, I noticed how tamed the Wrangler was. With solid floating axles all around, I expected the 4x4 to be wobbly. It is by no means a sedan or a crossover but I was quite surprised of the Wrangler's decent on-road ride quality.
Dealing with morning rush hour traffic, the heavy accelerator pedal meant that one had to have firm footing. This may be a struggle for city driving folks, but it was fine for me nonetheless. At first, I thought it could just be because of the Wrangler's truck-like construction. It was only along highways that I realized the rationale behind Jeep's use of the heavy gas pedal which I'll get to later.
After nearly two hours on the road, I finally arrived at Ayala Alabang at around 9:00 AM. Even though the morning traffic was just a taste of things to come, I didn't feel tired after driving the 2.2 ton 4x4 around the streets of the metro.
It was then time to depart for Caliraya. We estimated that the 88.4 km journey from Alabang to Lake Caliraya would take us roughly 2 hours and 15 minutes, enough for the both of us to get more familiar with the 5-door Wrangler.
Believe it or not, I was actually looking forward to driving the Wrangler for more than 2 hours through expressways, town roads and national highways. With a high-output V6, 5-speed automatic and RWD (set to 2-High), I wanted to see how the Pentastar engine performed on the open road.
With 290 PS and 353 Nm of torque on tap, the Wrangler's V6 has more than enough grunt to keep it mobile. But even with those kind of figures, power delivery was smooth and manageable.
Remember the heavy accelerator pedal I mentioned earlier? At cruising speed, the heavy pedal actually helped me maintain the engine at low revs. At a steady 80 km/h, the engine was just turning over 1,500 rpm. With an upright windshield and boxy profile, the Wrangler needed to keep the revs low for better fuel mileage. Other than that, it also allowed me to maintain a steady pace along South Luzon Expressway (SLEX) as I didn't need to constantly adjust my right foot.
After breezing through SLEX, it was then on to the National Highway in Sto. Tomas, Batangas. This meant having to go through several barangays that were riddled with tricycles, jeepneys and occasional stops caused by erring pedestrians. With that in mind, I had to psyche myself up for provincial driving.
Going through Los Banos, Laguna was quite the experience. I felt like I was driving in Metro Manila rush hour, only on smaller, tighter roads. The town itself has seen better days though it's nice to see it developing. While making our way through traffic and several intersections, I noticed that it had a somewhat heavy steering feel. This could be something of a concern for tight maneuvering, but it does provide a lot of road feel which I preferred more.
The roads opened up once again however as we neared Victoria. From there, it was a leisure drive all the way to Santa Cruz thanks to weekday traffic. By now I would have expected to take a short break after driving non-stop from Alabang. But it was actually quite comfortable in long drives that I actually wanted to keep going. The only thing that stopped us from continuing on was hunger which started to set in.
After grabbing some lunch at Calle Arco near the famous Arco Real, we were just a few kilometers away from Lake Caliraya where we would set up camp for the night. Catching our attention along the way was the Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish Church which was nestled between Brgy Poblacio Uno and Dos. Our plan for some photo-ops was dampened by the closed gates at the time.
It was at the final leg of the journey to Surf Camp Caliraya where we managed to see how the Wrangler would handle the twisties. From Bagong Silang, to Lumban, we had to carve through the mountain roads and fight gravity thanks to the steep inclines. The Wrangler was still quite a handful, thanks in part to its weight and solid axles, but was still a joy when tackling the tricky corkscrew turns. Power-wise, the V6 engine didn't let up and was able to channel all available power to the rear wheels. The automatic gearbox was also quite the match as it didn't have to hunt for gears even against changing elevations.
What was waiting for us after going through the mountain roads? A scenic view of Caliraya and the surrounding mountain range. I've seen several picturesque sights in my time but getting to see the clouds touching the mountain tops as a backdrop to Lake Caliraya was well worth the journey.
After passing through small villages, we finally arrived at Surf Kamp. Greeting us there were the gentle breeze and the soothing sound of water. It's one of those places that remind me that there will always be something beyond the confines of Metro Manila.
Done soaking up the views, it was time to set up camp. For a city slicker like myself, this was all unknown to me. Luckily, Jenna's the outdoorsy-type and is actually quite the expert. First thing's first, build a fire. In a nutshell this will provide us warmth, light and, of course, heat for cooking our food.
It wasn't as easy as I thought it'd be. With the rainy season in full swing, most of the wood provided by the camp site still had moisture in them. It took us several tries (along with the help of a lighter) before we got a decent fire.
Next were the tents, or rather tent since Jenna would be the only one sleeping in one. Why? For the sake of testing if one can actually sleep in a Wrangler, which I was able to. It's still a rugged vehicle so don't expect something very comfortable, just adequate space to get you comfy. One can even fold down the second-row seats and plop a mattress if desired.
I will admit, the Wrangler wasn’t particularly on the top of my list of vehicles for roadtrips. With its boxy exterior, body-on-frame construction, straightforward interior design and high-riding position, it’s better built to tackle its original intentions — the rough terrain. However, its ominous size did lend to its ability to haul lots of cargo while still delivering decent ride quality.
It has more than enough pulling power and 4WD capability to get you around and can even double as a temporary shelter. The only thing it lacks to make it even more ready for the outdoors is a generator and a water heater. To think that something originally built to take on any terrain can actually be a decent camper and roadtriper.