With the Jeep Wrangler to the Nürburgring of off-roading

When you visit the town of Moab, it would be nice to participate in a great American tradition

I'm on the edge, both mentally and literally, peering over the edge of the obstacle that gave this route its dubious fame. A series of huge ridges, flanked by apparently loose rocks and several thousand kilometers of fresh air.

When driving up here, you should use all available off-road techniques - brake with your left foot and give small amounts of gas with your right to ensure that all movement is mainly of the forward kind, all the while moving the steering wheel back and forth wobbling to find even the slightest bit of traction. And my personal favorite: accelerate and hope for the best.

But during the descent there is only one option: go for it with as much mechanical sympathy as possible. Also known as 'row forward and laser down'. I aim the nose over the edge, then the rear, clatter the body over the stones and thus provide the exhaust pipes with all kinds of new, interesting shapes.

This is just the parking lot for the souvenir shop, the route hasn't even started yet

I repeat this three, maybe four times, squeezing my buttocks and jaw even tighter each time, until the horizon is back to its familiar height and I can exhale in relief. And then it dawns on me that there is only one way to leave this death road... The way we came.

The black slope, but for off-roading

Cliff hanger. The name of the route says it all. And yet apparently no one during the various preparatory meetings felt it necessary to point out to me that this outing would in fact amount to taking a pitch-black slope with nothing more than a few stalks of celery at our feet.

Okay, to be completely honest, our guide Jim did mention that some of the slopes were high enough "to read a book on the way to the bottom," but that's hardly a surprise. My relationship with gravity is shaky at best, and plummeting 1,100 feet to reach a valley doesn't require much explanation.

Our Jeep Wrangler is completely damage-free

But what I also didn't anticipate was squeezing this brand-new, factory-smelling Wrangler between truck-sized rocks, driving it up ramps that would normally be the end of a dead-end road. mark it, and send it like a climbing goat over narrow paths cut into the mountain slopes.

I thought we were going to admire the landscape here, not be a smeared and scratched part of it. The irony is: we weren't even supposed to be making a heroic story about danger and survival here.

It was supposed to be a story about a small town in Utah called Moab. A place with a wide sky, the place of Thelma and Louise, of red rocks and ravines – America at its most American. Moab is the Mecca of off-road driving fans, who come here in their hundreds of thousands every year to scare themselves into various accidents and lose immense amounts of no-claim discounts.

The routes were created in search of valuable metals

But this is about more than playing games of rock-paper-scissors with the Grim Reaper – the town itself is a lively, atmospheric affair. It was founded by missionaries and miners and was once the uranium capital of the world. That is also how most of the off-road routes, better known as trails, came into being here: in search of valuable metals in vehicles that were considerably less suitable for this than ours.

But partly thanks to friendly-sounding route names such as Hell's Revenge and Metal Masher, four-wheeled tourism has now taken over. The town has grown and turned the cash injection into bars, restaurants and a few hundred T-shirt shops to keep all the adventurers refreshed, fed, clothed – and kept coming back.

Moab is the Nürburgring for off-roaders

If you've ever been to the Nürburgring, you know that the experience begins long before you've parked your chipped Golf R in the barrier at turn two. You'll notice that the road into town is lined with loads of tuning companies, the amount of interesting cars increases and once you're there, the circuit is literally all around you, packed with iconic places to eat and to stay.

Moab is the Nürburgring of the United States, albeit with considerably less speed and significantly more wiggle room for axles and bodies. There are companies everywhere specializing in four-wheel drive, who are happy to help with preparation before and repairs after a trip.

There are many companies where you can rent something suitable and you will find true institutions such as Milt's (the oldest diner in Moab), Moab Diner and Lin Ottinger's shop, filled to the brim with fossils and dinosaur bones that Lin has owned since the 1950s. 30 has been excavated. And, last but not least, the original anvil on which horseshoes were hammered for Butch Cassidy's horse. I have no reason to doubt the legitimacy of this claim.

Why are we taking the Jeep Wrangler to Moab?

Over to our vehicle. It's a Jeep, which isn't so much a car manufacturer as a cult thing in these parts. We could have done this in a Land Rover, or a Toyota, or even a Rivian, but we could very well have gotten an unfriendly push from an otherwise nice local on a scary slope.

A Jeep, a Wrangler Rubicon 20th Anniversary 4xe to be precise; a plug-in hybrid with a four-cylinder petrol engine and two electric motors that together provide a power of 380 hp and 645 hp of pulling power. More than enough for our purposes. I even have about 40 kilometers of pure electric power for ascents that have to be made in absolute silence.

This anniversary model is a full centimeter higher than a standard Rubicon, which should be more than enough, I tell myself, while I have no idea yet of the terrain that awaits me less than two miles away.

We remove the doors and rear quarter windows (to save weight, reduce the physical distance between myself and oblivion and, let's be honest, to sort of look cool for the photos), peel back the sardine can roof and let in some air running out of the tires for maximum traction.

Our man checks his blood pressure before he leaves. Ah, 10 psi, very reassuring

There is little in our region that screams 'midlife crisis' louder than a Wrangler, but here, with our high expectations, newly purchased caps and that shiny sage green paint, it is perfect; and about twice as well put together as the Ford Bronco we drove from Los Angeles.

We follow Jim – a longtime Moab resident and senior trail guide for Jeep Jamboree (the company hired to keep us alive) – out of town to the rusty sign that marks the point where we'll be thrown into the deep end. become.

How does the Jeep Wrangler perform on the Cliffhanger trail in Moab?

We encounter the first obstacle: a series of steps that I would never have dared to take without Jim cheerfully waving me down. We don't have to lock the differentials yet on the way down, but we do lock the gearbox in low range and for the time being we stubbornly refuse to believe that the Jeep will do this so easily.

It arrives completely unscathed, despite several wobbles and 'is it going or not?' moments. That creates confidence as we turn the bend, plow through a bucket of water at speed and stop before a vertical rock as high as my belly button. The whole geometry – it's just not right. And geometry, as I'm about to discover, is everything. Especially the size of the tires, which dictate how far your axles and differentials are off the ground.

Our car has 35-inch tires on it – a bit too much for a camping trip, but in fact a kind of sneakers here. Jim is convinced that this will work, throws a few large stones on the track to reduce the corners and beckons me forward.

We get stuck…

To my astonishment, almost out of nowhere, the left front grips and the nose starts to rise triumphantly, while I grin and clench my fist at the cameras... Until we suddenly slide sideways and get stuck between two rocks.

The rear wheel arch rests on top of the boulder and is cracked, the left rear wheel has scraped against a rock while spinning and no longer looks good, and the sills do their job but are also badly damaged. I wonder how I am going to explain all this to the Jeep man who will come to pick up the car later. 'Here's the car back, and thanks, right? Oh, if you want the rest of the thing too, it's halfway up that mountain over there!'

And so we stand there scratching our heads for about ten minutes. During that time, a group of idiots on motorcycles roll past us over the mountain with varying degrees of success, followed by a bunch of mountain bikers who I can only assume are really lost. These are ten special minutes. There are no other options: Jim attaches us to his winch and pulls us free.

The Wrangler will not emerge from the battle unscathed

We continue, clattering and scraping, collecting scars as if they were stamps. We sail over smooth stretches washed clean by the rain, and over sandy paths that provide a moment's respite before turning into rugged rock formations with more cliffs and ledges than the depths of hell.

But we're still moving, we're still fighting – never faster than about seven or eight kilometers an hour, never with anything other than enormous caution, just slow but steady progress. And, despite an ever-increasing bill from the Dent Removal and Painting department, no flat tires or technical problems.

If I hit a curb with a rim in London, it can still wake me up two weeks later - I've been driving here for two hours now and have already become completely desensitized to the sound of metal on stone. I've resigned myself to the fact that this is a Jeep that does what it was born to do, a workhorse in its element, no matter how rough the terrain.

"At that rock that looks like Elizabeth Taylor, turn right, and then straight to the sunrise."

And persistence wins. After each obstacle overcome, the landscape reveals a little more of itself. Big red skyscrapers, a calendar of the Earth, streaked with millions of years of geological history. Despite the scorching heat here, I see snow caps on the peaks in the distance, while we trudge on to the top for the grand finale: the path from the first paragraph of this story, scratched in a valley that was carved by the hands of a giant from the landscape seems to have been cleaved.

The Cliffhanger Trail has saved the best for last

It's stunning, but I'll have to be patient – this territory has no margin for error. In general, I don't have a problem with height; I have done several bungee jumps and parachute jumps without any stress. But that's because there's a cord tied securely around your legs, or a parachute and an instructor at your back.

Here it feels like all it takes is one wrong movement of the wrist to say goodbye to the temporary. In the fastest accelerating Jeep of all time. Previously, the doorless setup was useful - you could lean out and check whether your front wheel was positioned correctly. Now it is mainly a constant reminder of an impending, premature death.

I won't drag it out any further, dear reader: we survived. We were able to tick the Cliffhanger off our bucket list, but before we turn around and do it all again in the opposite direction, we eat a sandwich at the top of the world. It's breathtaking. The view then, not the sandwich; it is a bit dry.

But the adventure we experienced to get to this place, and the satisfaction that we got there, despite everything - it leaves us speechless. Well, we might have been a little better prepared, but Jim and his team pulled us through and our Jeep – a Jeep that you can buy at any dealer, without any extra shenanigans – survived. Isn't that amazing? Almost as amazing as that little town in Utah called Moab.

Specifications of the Jeep Wrangler 4xe 380 Rubicon 20th Anniversary

Engine 1,995 cc four-cylinder hybrid 380 hp, 645 Nm Drive four wheels 8v automatic Performance 0-100 km/h in 6.4 s top 200 km/h Consumption 4.1 l/100 km 94 g/km CO2 Weight 2,309 kg Prices ( 4xe Rubicon) € 94,100 (NL) € 81,700 (B)