Dream Jeep: The Jeep Wrangler Unlimited
March 30, 2010
Filed under RV & Trailer Reviews
Until recently, the idea of a camper based on a Jeep seemed illogical. If you had a Jeep, you camped on the ground, and with limited cargo area, your accommodations would need to be compact. But with the 2007 introduction of the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited, a long-wheelbase, four-door SUV with Jeep capability became available.
The Wrangler Unlimited opened up a range of possibilities, which have been illustrated in the Overland concept vehicle you see here. Jeep and the Mopar Parts division built this “camper Jeep” to demonstrate how much could be done using the new Unlimited platform. They combined readily available, existing products to come up with a camper that could safely and comfortably take the adventurous outdoor enthusiast far off the beaten path, retaining practicality at the same time.
This Jeep Overland is a concept vehicle, so you can’t buy one exactly like it directly from Jeep. But it’s made from off-the-shelf equipment, so anyone can create an exact replica of this vehicle. We recently had a chance to try out the Overland to become familiar with the gear and how it all works together.
Jeep Wrangler Unlimited’s Upstairs Bedroom
The most obvious component of the Overland, other than the Jeep, is a Simpson II rooftop tent from ARB, an Australian company with dealers in North America. The rooftop tent packs into a 55×47-inch rectangle that sits about a foot high on the roof rack, which is also an ARB item. The tent system weighs about 133 pounds, so it’s not flimsy by any means. Once unzipped, the container flips open, like a clamshell, to produce a sleeping area larger than a queen-size bed. An aluminum frame supports the tent structure and side awnings, which permit the dormer-window vents to remain open in the rain. A high-density sleeping pad about 2.5 inches thick unfolds with the tent, so the rooftop tent is quickly ready for sleeping.
It took two of us about 15 minutes to figure out how to set up the tent and awning, first time out. We found that we actually had to get up onto the roof to zip/unzip the front part of the rubberized casing that holds the tent, meaning that we tested the strength of the ARB roof basket with our full weight. We would say an experienced user could set up in less than 10 minutes. It took about 10 minutes to take it all down, get everything stowed and zipped up, and move on to the next spot, but again, we had to climb around a bit to do it.
Unfolded, the sleeping area is just a little less than 8 feet long, easily big enough for two, plus miscellaneous gear. We found the high-density foam pad to be quite comfortable, with no need to add an air mattress or other padding material. Inside, the tent is about 4 feet tall, so you can’t stand up in it. Otherwise, it’s quite accommodating, once you climb the retractable aluminum ladder and hop in. The advantages of the roof location include the fact that you have distance from the cold ground, away from whatever critters might be lurking about.
The tent itself is made from waterproof poly-cotton. A raised fly helps to keep the tent cooler in the sun and reduces condensation in the cold. The material is resistant to mold, but like any tent, it’s best to let the material dry out before re-packing if you’ve been in wet weather. If that’s not possible, the manufacturer recommends opening it up again once the opportunity permits so it can air-dry.
The tent system comes with the aluminum ladder, mounting hardware, tools and well-detailed instructions. It installs without drilling into an existing roof rack, and can be removed for storage when not in use. The Simpson II tent system is available with accessories, including an awning, and the annex, an enclosed area tall enough to stand in that sets up under the shelter created by the fold-out.
The Overland did not have the annex, but was equipped with the optional ARB awning. It took us about five minutes to deploy the awning using twist-lock aluminum posts. There is also an optional mosquito net for the awning, should you camp in areas where flying insects are an issue, but our camping was in a dry, warm area where the awning functioned as a much-needed sun shade. We did have a chance to experience the setup in strong wind, up to about 30 mph, and were pleasantly surprised at how well the tent and awning tolerated the gusts.
Going Overland With The Jeep Wrangler Unlimited
Combining the tent and awning with the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited makes for a comfortable shelter free from crowding at established campgrounds. That means it’s designed for use where there are no hookups and very little company, if any. That’s why the Jeep has other modifications that improve performance and self-sufficiency.
To increase cargo capacity for hauling gear, the Jeep Wrangler Overland’s rear seats were replaced with a large, flat, rubberized utility floor. That makes the Jeep into a two-passenger unit, but increases storage space immensely. A standard Unlimited has 83 cubic feet of storage space with the two back seats folded flat; this arrangement exceeds that. With this much space, you could carry all kinds of gear, including a generator, plug-in cooler, extra fuel, a couple of mountain bikes — you name it. The fact that your tent and mattress are on the roof means there is all the more storage space.
The Jeep Wrangler Overland’s interior is designed to tolerate long periods of outdoor use, using water-resistant Mopar front-seat covers, slush mats and a Daystar dash bin and lower switch panel. Because the Jeep can act as a generator, it’s easy to charge batteries using the utility plugs and run 12-volt DC appliances.
Helping to assure safe off-road travel is a new Mopar 2.5-inch suspension lift, allowing the addition of aggressive 35-inch BFG tires mounted on 17-inch steel Mopar winter/off-road wheels. Additional off-road protection at the front and rear is provided by American Expedition Vehicles’ steel bumpers and, for added security, a Warn 9.5ti winch. The rear bumper is designed with a plastic container that holds up to 10 gallons of fresh water. To prepare the Overland for desert duty, an American Expedition Vehicles (AEV) Jeep Wrangler heat-reduction hood and snorkel kit is fitted to the vehicle. Mopar windshield-mounted off-road lights and Daystar bumper-mounted lights provide additional lighting for nighttime and off-road driving. There is also a Mopar Trailguide Navigation system, which is a small portable GPS unit that parks on the dash.
All of the parts used in the Overland are available for purchase — from the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited itself to the enhancements provided by Mopar, ARB, AEV and others. How much would it cost to replicate the Overland? This is quality equipment, and none of it particularly cheap. We took a quick tally of prices on the equipment from ARB ($2150), AEV ($2625) and Mopar ($5800), plus the cost of wheels and tires ($1000), and came up with at least $11,580 in improvements, plus installation. Add to that the cost of a new Wrangler Rubicon Unlimited — top of the Wrangler line at $32,090 — and you have an RV that approaches $44,000.
The Jeep/Mopar Overland concept is specifically aimed at the most adventurous, those who live to camp out in areas that are accessibly only by Jeep. Certainly, there are some limitations to the design. It won’t accommodate the whole family — there are only two seats — and it’s so tall with the ARB unit on top that it might not fit in the average garage. On the highway, it doesn’t get the greatest mileage — we averaged 12 mpg cruising at about 70 mph — and we noticed a fair amount of wind noise at that speed. Still, when all is said and done, we can say we would love to have a Jeep like the Overland concept in our garage. It’s a dream machine.
American Expedition Vehicles (AEV)
Daystar Products International