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Jeep vs Live Volcano

Jeep vs Live Volcano


It’s one thing driving a few Jeeps up a mountain. It’s completely another when it’s an active volcano…

Jeep is the definitive SUV brand. Its image is all bald eagles and star spangled biceps. It sells about three times as many cars as Land Rover and is growing much faster than the British favourite, so despite the unfortunate existence of Donald Trump the Americans must be doing something right.

Normally when a car brand invites journalists to do a bit of off-roading they mean they’ve found a dusty track that wouldn’t trouble a golf cart, let alone a lightweight faux-by-four or crossover. Jeep, on the other hand, has invited a small group to Sicily to, err, drive up Mount Etna. A live volcano.


Full range of Jeep 4x4 cars driving up a rocky volcano



It’s also a chance for some nostalgia, because the Wrangler is on the way out. Its coffin is leaning against the wall and the mourners are getting their suits dry-cleaned. The car that defined an entire genre of vehicles is to be replaced next year. Jeep says the new one will stay true to its roots, but emissions laws are raising their eyebrows.

To salute the iconic Jeep one last time I’m sitting in a Wrangler at a road junction in Mafia country; Sicily. Everything from Renegades to Grand Cherokees litter a field, waiting for action. There’s a jungle nearby and we’ve got to plough through it – roof or no roof (it’s sunny, so no roof). Setting off with the car in two-wheel drive we turn towards the start line and cross a shallow river, after a rather one-sided chat with an exceptionally mono-lingual Italian route marshal. On the other side, it’s time to knock the transfer ‘box into four-wheel drive.

The route is mega, smashing through an undergrowth of roughly-cut bamboo and hanging branches that keep whipping my head through the open roof. Someone has cleared a sort-of-path, but you wouldn’t want to bring anything precious down here.

From mud to rock, from rock to flowing water and from water to gravel and dirt, the Wrangler just feels so at home. Refinement doesn’t matter out here; only the ability to keep going. And Reliable Red here just keeps on truckin’.


Baby Jeep? What baby Jeep?

Even more impressively, the Renegades are keeping up. This is not a route you’d manage in any old car but the baby Jeep is hanging in there. It’s on dual-purpose tyres but that’s only fair. I make a note to try it out later.

Later arrives at the nearby coast, where a convenient stretch of sand dunes threatens to become a Jeep graveyard. We’re all getting stuck. The untouched sand is crisp and firm to stand on, but once it’s had a few wheels through it the ruts are almost a foot deep and the Renegade gets beached. Cue lots of Italian shouting and gesticulation. Ultimately everyone is wrenched free of their sandy problems and we’re off.


Convoy of Jeep cars driving around a volcano


Etna… and back

Time for the main event: Etna. It’s been a bit unpredictable lately, we’re told. There are 300 separate craters that are known to cough up lava now and again. In a Renegade Night Eagle, a new special edition model, we hop and skip up technical but well-trodden tracks in the foothills below the famously active volcano.

We pay a little visit to a ‘magma mine’, a hollowed-out part of the mountainside where young layers of rock are vividly, fascinatingly visible. From Aero-esque black pumice to a thick layer of gorgeous slow-cooled granite, the formation of our planet is happening right here.

The Renegade skims lightly over the loose surface of the mine and shows off impressive balance when things get a bit slidey. Kill the traction control and it’s quite the drift car…

Onwards towards the summit. In a loose convoy the Jeeps reach a café for an ‘ot cioccolata, or something like that. It’s a heck of a lot colder up here. And then it happens. A distant but distinct boom. Local guides start yammering and pointing, turning eyes to the mountain’s peak where smoke is billowing from a crater. Someone on a phone tells us it’s spewing lava out, but on the other side – for now.

Another boom. We’d probably better leg it, just in case. No one wants a new and far less interesting Pompei filled with fossilised journalists. Still, the Jeeps have been impressive. Only the deep sand slowed them down, and probably only because their drivers were idiots. Freedom lovers (‘Murica!) and adventure seekers, consider your boxes ticked.