JEEP BRUTE UTE
AEV’s LWB Brute ute is a welcome addition to Jeep’s local line- up. NZ4WD Editor Ross MacKay explains why.
The story of the Brute and the path of the shipment imported here by Jeep franchise holder Fiat Chrysler NZ is an interesting one. And worth a few words here before we delve into the ‘what’s-she-likes?’ and ‘what’ll she dos?’ Stretched wheelbase double cab Brute utilities are created and marketed by American Expedition Vehicles (AEV), a Montana-based boutique re-engineering business which specialises in Jeep Wrangler accessory products and limited edition builds – the latter completed to award-winning Chrysler-spec at the company’s engineering shop in Detroit. The Brute is one of four limited edition ‘specials’ AEV makes and the examples on sale here started out as factory RHD models. The example Fiat Chrysler NZ has on its press fleet is a Sport-spec model with an NZ RRP of $114,990 plus on-road costs. The one-off shipment included Sports, plus the higher-spec Rubicon (RRP $124,990 plus on-road costs) in approximately equal numbers.
With its lift kit, 17 in. dia. wheels and 35 in. tyres, integrated front bumper/winch bar and trick, vented hood, Sport-spec (as you can see from the photos) is fairly serious in its own right. As befits the name, though, the Rubicon cranks up the off-road cred several more notches. Where the Sport uses Jeep’s CommandTrac drivetrain with full-time (Hi or Lo-range) 4WD recommended for loose and/or slippery surfaces only (because when required to the transfer case simply locks the front and rear axles together with no differential action), the Rubicon gets the higher-spec Rock-Trac one which adds a
Dana 44 heavy duty front axle, Tru-Lock electronic locking diffs front and rear, a lower (4.0:1) low-range ratio, as well as an electronically-disconnectable front anti-roll bar for extra axle articulation. For years Jeep faithful have been asking the factory to build a long wheelbase, double cab Wrangler ute and just this year one was included (see pic of the Jeep Crew Chief) in the limited edition, design exercise line-up ahead of the 50th Jeep Safari meeting at Moab.
While stocks last
For now the Brute is the only game in town and though it is nominally still an aftermarket build you can buy one at a Jeep dealer here (or at least you can while stocks last!) complete with factory-backed three-year/100,00km warranty. AEV calls the Brute ‘the ultimate overlander’ and is happy to admit that the inspiration for it came from Lander Rover’s Defender 130. No Defender 130 looked – or performed on and/or off the road like the Brute though. Sure, it’s a bit of a clamber and climb to get into the thing. Without a reversing camera (or even sensors) backing the thing, especially at night, is more a matter of guesswork than anything else. There’s no disguising the effect the extra length has on the turning circle. And if you are serious about towing your boat/off-road race car and/or loading up the tray, the relatively modest towing (1588kgs braked) capacity might be something worth asking your dealer about. If it was me doing the buying you’d need more than the odd misgiving about on paper figures to change my mind.
To get the extra length to accommodate the trick (at 1550 x 1530mm it’s as big as that of a VW Amarok) lightweight composite tray, AEV adds 584mms (23 inches) of new steel into the standard Wrangler chassis ladder ahead of the rear axle line and an extra 406mm (16 inches) behind it. To the lengthened ladder they remount a LWB cab with pressed steel rear roof, back and side sections (the rear doors retain the cut-out for what on a standard model is the rear wheel arch and you can remove the section of roof above the front seats) and spray-on liner/ four tie-down hoops/steel tail gate-equipped tray. Complementing the factory-like look of the completed Brute is a veritable raft of AEV bling from the wheels, badges and (yes, even) monogrammed speedo and rev counter, to the tough-as-nails front bar with pre-mounted Warn winch and IPF spot lights. Along each side is a sleek, sill-hugging steel rock slider, under the engine there is a
full-width skid plate and cleverly integrated into the rear bumper/protection bar is a pressed-in 25-litre plastic water reservoir. The spare wheel is mounted under the tray and the whole kit and caboodle is topped off – up front – by a trick vented bonnet; probably not 100 percent necessary for the V6 models but essential, one would imagine, for the 5.7 or 6.4 litre hemi V8 conversions optional in the US...
Familiar look and feel
Like the familiar look, the tactile feel will be familiar to anyone who has even ridden in a Wrangler. To get in you still have to thumb a large button in the door handle, and once inside you have to relearn where things are. Because the doors are designed to be clipped on and off, the electric convenience controls are mounted centrally. Which you do get used to. But is not instinctive. Even my teenagers, for instance, struggled to find the electric windows… which are mounted slap-bang in the middle of the centre console below the entertainment/ screen and between the two ventilation ducts. I also found myself missing a rest for my left foot, something I’ve come to expect in all auto-equipped vehicles but conspicuous by its absence in the Brute (and presumably, RHD Wranglers). The seats themselves are large and both supple and supportive. You tend to sit more upright in a Wrangler than in other, similar vehicles, but that’s a good thing in a vehicle as large as this!
Like a man cave
Once in, front or back, the black-trimmed cabin has a warm, clubby, almost (man) cave-like cosiness, though getting in and out is not as easy as it could be because of the extra height from the lift kit and lack of suitable grab handles. I spent a week using the Brute as a daily driver (in 2-Hi) and a full day putting it through its off-road paces on friend-of-themagazine Duncan Munro’s farm property south of Auckland in (2 & 4-Lo). In daily use the Brute is – given its aggressive look, stance and attitude – remarkably easy to live with. Jeep’s recirculating ball steering system remains no match for a modern rack-and-pinion system but if you’re reading this mag you’ll no doubt already know that and wonder why I even raised the point. Action at the tiller is smooth and doesn’t weight up as you change direction, but lacks precision when in the straight ahead position. That said, there seemed little downside to those giant-sized BF Goodrich boots. Sure they thrummed away on the open road but no more so than similar aggressively-treaded M/T-style tyres. What surprised me most about the test truck on the road, however, was how well-
matched and calibrated the spring and damper rates were considering how high the Brute sits. Ride remains firm but not especially jiggly, and with such a loooong wheelbase there was none of the foreaft pitching you tend to get in high-riding shorter wheelbase off-road 4WDs. Of course you still get a trademark ‘thuthud’ as the impact from hitting a pothole or whatever is telegraphed from the ladder to the bolt-on body. But again, most of you will wonder why I’m complaining… What didn’t surprise me was the fact that the Brute is not exactly a fireball on the open road. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not exactly a slug, it is just that it is a big and – with it – relatively heavy ‘truck’ with upright ‘barn-door’ aerodynamics powered by a relatively modest, petrol-fuelled V6 mated to a five-speed automatic transmission.
The low down
Relatively low final drive gearing helps here. As it does when you venture offroad. You still have to stop and manually, er, man-handle a lever to select 4-Lo. Bu what the further reduction (from a ratio of 2.72:1 of the Sport model’s Command-Trac system to the 4.0:1 of the Rubicon version’s Rock-Trac) does to the Brute’s capabilities off-road I can only guess at. Suffice to say it must turn it into a real rock-crawler because it was hard to fault the Sport on Duncan’s farm. Despite heavy rain the night before and showers on the day, not only did I never even get close to losing forward momentum, not once did I think I might have to drop the tyre pressures down from my (32psi) road default. Despite its plus size and QEII-like turning circle the Brute threaded its way through the narrow ‘plantation’ zig-zag up to Duncan’s ‘summer pastures’ with consummate ease. And whether revved or lugged, the way I treated the engine had absolutely no effect on the traction those big BF Goodrichs were finding… on grass, gritty dirt or the slabs of slippery Papa clay poking up between the two. That lift-kit and those super-sized wheels and tyres are not just for show either. At a claimed 273mm ground clearance is positively stupendous (a whopping 53mm greater than a standard Wrangler) and with the front axle line so close to the front bar, the approach angle of a (on paper, hard to believe) 57 degrees is fully 22 degrees better than the standard height base model. Seriously. Where you can take the Brute off-road and never hook up a front bar, rear bumper or side rock slider will I’m sure, surprise and delight buyers for years to come.
The real deal
So the Brute is the real deal? Definitely. And until the factory produces one of its own we here in New Zealand are in a unique and rather privileged position. Sure you could order one to your own spec from AEV and have it shipped here. But it would take months, the final cost would be at the whim of global currency fluctuations, and a US warranty is not much use way down in our little corner of the South Pacific. For a limited time, however, you can save yourself the trouble. Simply make your way to your local friendly Jeep dealer and ask for a test drive. If my experience is anything to go by you will not only be well impressed, you could – I would imagine – quite easily drive home in one!
Jeep Brute perfectly suited to local farm and/or rural use.
Result is tough but civilised go anywhere/do-anything ute which dwarfs current one-tonners.
...Lift kit and 35 in. dia. tyres made short work of swampy bull paddock.
Off-road ABS calibration perfect for slippery clay downhill.
Lengthened wheelbase and chassis ladder allows AEV to fit full-size tray to standard LWB Wrangler body.
Models available here are powered by Jeep’s highly regarded Pentastar V6 engine.
Jeep’s version of ‘Karitane Yellow’ just one of a number of colour options.