JEEP BRUTE UTE

AEV’s LWB Brute ute is a welcome ad­di­tion to Jeep’s lo­cal line- up. NZ4WD Ed­i­tor Ross MacKay ex­plains why.

NZ4WD - - CONTENTS - Story by Ross MacKay pho­tos by Gra­ham Hughes

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.

High-spec

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.

Lux­ury length

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!

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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.

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