An in­vi­ta­tion to hubris, and a warn­ing against it

The Washington Post Sunday - - CARS - War­ren Brown war­ren.brown@wash­post.com

There was a down­pour re­plete with thun­der and light­ning. It was an­gry weather, fright­en­ing in in­ten­sity and wind speed. I was tempted to plow through the hos­tile cli­mate, man and ma­chine against na­ture. But the 8.4-inch Ucon­nect screen was car­ry­ing an emer­gency weather warn­ing in­clud­ing flood alerts formy driv­ing area.

I laughed at my­self. Idiot! This is how so many peo­ple wind up be­ing res­cued on the evening news, if they are lucky, driv­ing when they should be parked, bet­ting that their four-wheel-drive ve­hi­cles are might­ier than the Almighty, ven­tur­ing into wa­ter of un­cer­tain depth and flow force be­cause, af­ter all, “I’m driv­ing a Jeep.”

I was driv­ing a Jeep— the 2015 Jeep Cherokee Trail­hawk 4x4. The Trail­hawk is what I call “Jeep Heavy,” equipped with a bona fide off-road-drive sys­tem, es­pe­cially de­signed to rum­ble in the rough. In fair weather and on paved roads, I felt in­vin­ci­ble in the Trail­hawk. Off-road, that is, in lim­ited off-road runs, and in foul weather, I felt dar­ing— that is, stupid.

I thank Fiat Chrysler Au­to­mo­biles, maker of all things Jeep, for an­tic­i­pat­ing my self-de­struc­tive hubris. The Ucon­nect screen’s flood warn­ings were clear, in para­phrased sum­mary: Youmight want to re­con­sider driv­ing in this di­rec­tion. Flood­wa­ters can be deep . . . and swift. You have one heck of a ca­pa­ble sportu­til­ity ve­hi­cle, but you se­ri­ously might want to re­con­sider what you are about to do.

I re­con­sid­ered and found a park­ing spot on a North­ern Vir­ginia hill I es­ti­mated to be safely above flood level. I parked and waited for the storm to pass.

I prob­a­bly could have con­tin­ued for­ward in the midst of the storm with­out in­ci­dent. I was in a Jeep Trail­hawk 4x4, af­ter all, one of the heav­i­est of the “Jeep Heavy” class. But pride is a funny thing. It would’ve been a more ex­cit­ing automotive re­view to be able to write that I mas­tered na­ture’s fury with tough driv­ing in a tough Jeep Trail­hawk. But I feared that God might re­ward my ego with a post­mortem head­line in The Washington Post: “Colum­nist War­ren Brown swept away in flash flood; author­i­ties look­ing for body in a Jeep.”

Em­bar­rass­ing! And I don’t like be­ing em­bar­rassed, es­pe­cially not inmy ab­sence when I’mnot around to of­fer a de­fense, or, at least, an ex­pla­na­tion how­ever im­plau­si­ble.

Be­sides, the Ucon­nect emer­gency in­for­ma­tion sys­tem gave me fair warn­ing. I re­mem­bered that joke about a man atop his roof, hope­lessly trapped by rapidly ris­ing flood wa­ters. “Oh, God,” he pleaded, “please save me!” To which God re­sponded: “I told you to leave ear­lier. Why didn’t you lis­ten?”

To which the trapped sup­pli­cant replied: “I didn’t think you were se­ri­ous.”

To which God replied: “Well, do you think I’m se­ri­ous, now?”

Nope, there would be enough soggy, safer roads, muddy and paved, to ex­am­ine the Trail­hawk’s prow­ess af­ter the storm. It is a re­mark­able com­pact SUV, es­pe­cially equipped with Fiat Chrysler’s op­tional 3.2-liter V-6 ga­so­line en­gine (271 horse­power, 239 pound-feet of torque).

That en­gine, linked to a nine-speed— that’s right, nine-speed— au­to­matic trans­mis­sion, is one of the best avail­able in the com­pact-SUV class. It pulls with sur­pris­ing ease and grace and rea­son­able fuel ef­fi­ciency, 19 miles per gallon in the city and 26 on the high­way.

But if you are look­ing at the Trail­hawk, make sure you are look­ing at that 3.2-liter V-6. The Jeep Cherokee comes stan­dard with a 2.4-liter in-line four-cylin­der ga­so­line en­gine (184 horse­power, 171 pound-feet of torque). It is more fuel-ef­fi­cient than the V-6 (de­liv­er­ing 21 miles per gallon in the city and 28 on the high­way). But that four­cylin­der en­gine is a dis­con­cert­ing wimp in the Trail­hawk. Get the V-6.

I en­joyed my time in this one in weather fair and foul. It was a good drive com­pan­ion on wet and muddy roads. It moved with con­fi­dence on high-speed highways. It is a gen­uine Jeep.

JEEP

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