Does technology make the off-roading experience that much easier?
On the last episode of our Cheap Jeep Pickup Challenge, we took two 1980s off-roaders up Pennsylvania Gulch in Colorado. Of course, one of them was our 1989 Jeep Comanche, the star of this season of Cheap Jeep. The other was our long-term 1987 Suzuki Samurai, a scrappy — if technologically challenged — off-road SUV. Modern automotive technology has moved on quite a bit in 30 years, but does it really make the experience that much easier?
To find out, we took one of our newest acquisitions, a 2019 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon, up the exact same trail. On one hand, our 1989 Jeep Comanche is rocking a 4.0-liter straight-six engine with 177 horsepower. At least, that’s when it was new. This new Wrangler, though, uses a new 2.0-liter turbocharged engine with 270 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. The Comanche uses a five-speed manual, while this Wrangler has an eight-speed automatic. You can still get the Wrangler with a six-speed manual, but only mated to the 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 engine.
Our 1989 Jeep Comanche has open differentials at both ends, while the Wrangler Rubicon comes with locking front and rear differentials. The Wrangler also has coil springs all around, while the Comanche has leaf springs in the rear. Modern Wrangler Rubicons have an electronic sway bar disconnect as well for even better articulation.
One area where these two particular rigs are similar is their tires. The 2019 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon comes with BFGoodrich KO2 all-terrains. We lifted our Comanche 3.5 inches in order to fit 33-inch BFGoodrich KM3 mud-terrain tires, while the Wrangler Rubicon comes with 33s from the factory.
Cruising up the trail – Wrangler vs. Comanche
Off-road technology has certainly improved since the 1980s. The Jeep Comanche is a fun truck to take off-road, but its open differentials and lack of modern tech make it more of a challenge. The same goes for our long-term Suzuki Samurai. Meanwhile, the 2019 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon was able to climb its way up the trail without any issues.
That said, our long-term Wrangler came with a $51,815 price tag. Most of the critical components are protected, but if you do cause any damage off-road, it’s going to hurt a lot more than using a project rig. The Suzuki only costs $2,500, while the Comanche only cost us $6,500, plus the cost of the modifications.
Some will say they don’t make them like they used to, while others may argue modern technology makes off-roading so much easier. Whichever way you go, this episode of our Cheap Jeep Challenge shows just how much off-road technology has shifted in the past decades.
Check out our truly classic 1980s off-road experience below, if you missed it: