Romping in the snow
As winter worries fade, Chrysler proves its 4x4s speak to Canada’s needs
The American East Coast has been battered by heavy snowstorms this winter — and I find it funny to watch traffic in places such as Washington, D.C., come to a virtual stop when this happens.
Not so in Canada, of course, where snow is the norm and must have been at least one factor in Chrysler’s reasoning for putting on a Canadian-only 4x4 program at CFB Borden, near Barrie, Ont., before our snow began to disappear.
As we know, life does not stop because the roads are snow-covered. The expanse of Camp Borden proved perfect for this adventure and as luck would have it, it snowed all day long.
Chrysler brought a 2010 Jeep Wrangler, Compass, Patriot, Dodge Journey and Ram 1500 pickup. I was treated to a romp through snow-covered fields and a high-speed slalom course on a de-commissioned Borden airstrip with a lovely layer of ice un- der windswept snowdrifts.
The winter performance of at least one of these models ( the Wrangler) was really never in question, a fact that Jeep makes plain by adding a stamp on its body with the Trail Rated badge — a designation that certifies the vehicle has met set standards in Traction, Ground Clearance, Manoeuvrability, Water Fording and Articulation.
Trail Rated is found on most Jeep products, but not all. For instance, the Jeep Compass is not Trail Rated ( it’s been called the urban Jeep), but it instead features a less aggressive automatic allwheel-drive system that can still be locked into a 50/50 torque split on the fly. This is called Jeep Freedom-Drive I. It’s also the system that is available in the AWD version of the Dodge Journey.
This pair pushed through the f ield portion of the offroad course with surprising ease — that’s not to say you couldn’t get stuck, but in a pinch, they handled the loose, drifted snow well. They did get hung up here and there, but I just backed up a bit and then plowed forward again.
Neither the Journey nor the Compass are synonymous with off-roading, so crossing a field was a bonus. However, this all-wheel-drive system is more about rough-weather on-road performance. Freedom-Drive I normally drives the front wheels until traction sensors decide to push as much as 50 per cent of available torque to the rear wheels as needed. But the best part of this setup is the Electronic Stability Program ( ESP), which counters and corrects over-understeer situations by controlling the throttle and applying brakes on individual wheels as needed.
To test the ESP response, we barrelled around a pylonstrewn airstrip — weaving in and out, simulating crash avoidance and doing long sweeping turns, as you would on a snowy on-ramp. Throughout, the ESP kicked in whenever I pushed the vehicle too fast and pulled it back into line.
ESP can be turned off in each vehicle — because there are a few rare occasions where you don’t want the computer cutting the throttle, such as when punching through a snowdrift — but, otherwise, I’ve found that no matter how hard I’ve tried I can’t manually match the response of the computer when it comes to steering out of a skid. Trust me, I’m pretty good at this — mostly because I think it’s fun and practise it — but, invariably, on the second correction, I’ll oversteer and spin the vehicle out.
So, as I ran the course in each vehicle, it occurred to me that the ESP correcting the vehicle’s path is more than a safety feature — it’s an early warning device as well. If it comes on, its telling you that you’re driving too fast for the current conditions. This is true of all traction control systems: when they activate, they may save your bacon and, then, if you’re smart, you’ll back off the throttle and start steering far more gently.
The Jeep Patriot comes standard with the FreedomDrive 1, but it can be ordered with Freedom-Drive II, which adds a low range to the transfer case that is set at a torquey 19:1 crawl ratio. This system also adds Hill Descent Control and Brake Traction Control to the drive arsenal.
Ram pickups offer even more in the way of 4x4 capability with an On-Demand 4WD system that includes 2WD, 4WDLock, 4WDLow and 4WD Auto settings.
Canada is an important market for Chrysler and the automaker says it pays attention to our needs by making sure that every product sold here comes with a standard block heater. Chrysler also offers several Canadian-only models with special “North Edition” versions that bundle very cold climate options into packages that make sense to us, such as heated seats, remote starters, larger wheels and more aggressive tires, along with a leather-wrapped or heated steering wheel.