Mike spends most of his days filling out a Herman Miller chair toiling in an office at a job about which he feels increasingly ambivalent. His hips no longer afford him the flexibility to hop the boards during shift changes with his beer league hockey team. The text in his Powerpoint presentations seems to be growing smaller by the day and he has recently been spending time in front of the bathroom mirror attempting to flex pec muscles that he hasn’t seen since he completed 40% of the P90X program (on a bet) ten years ago.

Mike is a fairly average middle-aged dude and he’s making best efforts to navigate his way through this phase of his life.

Mike drives a 2020 Jeep Gladiator Rubicon in a bright red that Jeep calls ‘Firecracker Red’. From the moment he saw it in the dealer’s lot he knew that buying it and naming it ‘Rocky’ were both foregone conclusions.

Rocky rolls on 33-inch OE tires, boasts Dana 44 axles and Fox shocks (in front and rear), an electronic sway bar disconnect and skid plates to protect both the transfer case and fuel tank. Rocky’s doors and roof can be removed, and Mike is looking forward to taking them off in warmer weather. He’ll cruise with his left foot casually resting on the exterior frame (Rocky is an 8-speed automatic – no clutch for Mike) and one of his favourite 80s power ballads cranked on the Alpine system. He may have lost the mass of teenage curls and outgrown the pimply face and squeaky voice for which he was known thirty years ago but Mike is proud to have retained what he believes is excellent taste in music.

With a class IV hitch receiver, heavy-duty engine cooling, spacious rear seats and a spray-lined 60-inch bed, Rocky is currently under-utilized, having been parked for an inordinate amount of time in line at a Tim Horton’s drive through. Four cars ahead, a driver has hopped out and begun lifting the hood of an immobile winter-beater that appears thoroughly winter-beaten. The conga line of cars behind Mike now stretches back through the parking lot. Growing anxious, Mike notes that his two teens will shortly be finishing swim practice. In his ongoing efforts to not ‘be embarrassing’ Mike knows he must be in the pool parking lot to pick them up (but under no circumstances should he go in to meet them) in less than fifteen minutes.

Mike knows what to do. He pulls the wheel to the right and brings Rocky’s passenger side front tire over the curb. Easing forward at full steering lock, he has enough room to bump the driver’s side over without swiping the car in front. With plenty of ground clearance to spare, Mike makes quick work of bringing the rear wheels into the spongy grass at the top of the embankment adjacent to the drive through. Rocky’s suspension articulates to easily accommodate the oblique angle and with a confident application of throttle, Mike powers to the mud-filled culvert at the bottom.

Easing to a stop in several inches of muck, Mike drops the transmission into low range and locks the differentials, just for kicks. Availing himself of Rocky’s tall breakover angle and well-metered torque from the 3.6-litre V6 engine he plots a course directly up the opposite side of the culvert toward traffic on the main drag. With very little to-do, Rocky tackles the steep and slippery incline, bringing Mike to crest the opposite side with a broad grin on his face. With sill rails now liberally coated in mud, Rocky joins the flow to head for the freeway onramp and leaves the line of double-double seekers in the rearview at double time.

At highway speed Mike quickly navigates Rocky’s large and intuitive touchscreen, lodged in the middle of a tall vertical dashboard that is uncompromisingly ‘Jeep’. Undecided between the playlists on his iPhone, he opts for no tunes and is fairly content with the muted hum from Rocky’s tires and moderate wind noise. A tall driving position and great outward visibility don’t make up for the need for constant steering adjustments and minimal road-feel but if Mike had wanted to drive around in a waiting room, he’d have bought something else.

Well aware that he’s carrying twenty-five extra pounds, Mike wonders if his cramped footwell would be more comfortable if he shed some weight. He needs to routinely adjust the positioning of his left leg to relieve strain on his knee and hip during longer rides and has to stop and stretch much more frequently than he’d like. He’s aware that this one notable point of discomfort would have been apparent if he’d taken more time with Rocky on their one and only test drive.

Pulling into the parking lot at the pool, Rocky’s muddy cloak is drawing attention from parents in idling cars who must have also been instructed to wait for their charges outside. He comes to a stop alongside another chauffeur and exchanges a knowing and sympathetic look.

Mike reflects for a moment and accepts that navigating through middle age is periodically a little trying. But making the journey from behind the wheel of Rocky (not from an ergonomic office chair) makes tackling some of the obstacles en route just a little easier.

2020 Jeep Gladiator Rubicon 4×4
Base Price: $52,495
Price as Tested: $68,050
Drivetrain: 3.6-litre V6 engine, 8-speed automatic transmission
Performance: 12.5 litres per 100 km in mostly highway driving
VVUZZ Recommended: For everyone (including middle-aged dudes) wanting to go anywhere. Pretty much literally.


Images courtesy of the author.

Published on May 26, 2020