Can you beat a tank with a Jeep?
What would you class as a worthy rival for the Jeep Wrangler? Maybe a Land Rover Defender? Or a Toyota Land Cruiser? Well bugger any of those normal, boring comparisons – I took a Wrangler Rubicon to a tank test facility to face off against (you guessed it) a Soviet Gvozdika 2S1 self-propelled howitzer.
Oh, and to make the challenge that bit spicier, we threw Tiff Needell behind the ‘wheel’ of the tank. Because why the hell not?
One of the strangest start lines you'll ever see
This tank driving facility wasn’t going to be easy to navigate. The mud was two-feet deep, the inclines were steep and pools of murky water had gathered in the troughs and ruts left by the 50-tonne armoured vehicles.
Sitting at a startline in a 4x4 next to Tiff Needell in a tank is not something I ever thought I’d be close to doing, but it was time to get the Wrangler into the right driving mode to tackle this nasty conditions. Down next to the gearstick, you’ll find another lever that connects to the car’s transfer case.
Tiff entering his steed for the day
You have the options of low and high range as well as two- or four-wheel-drive. For this eternal nastiness of a bog, I shifted the lever into four-wheel-drive and low-range which locks the differentials to keep the Jeep moving through just about anything.
With a countdown shouted out over the 35-litre diesel engine of Tiff’s tank, we were off, spitting rooster tails of slop far behind our chosen vehicles. The tank’s tracks bit first, sending Tiff into an early lead while I got the Jeep going, doing everything I could to get the all-important initial momentum through the mud.
What’s weirdly coincidental is that we both had similar power outputs, despite the tank weighing around seventeen times more. The engine under the Jeep’s bonnet was a 2.0-litre petrol unit pushing out 272hp, and after negotiating the first corner and heading down what could be referred to as the ‘back straight’, all of those horses were helping me get right back onto Tiff’s tail.
Quite the view
What I needed to do was reach a peak of momentum and stay there for as long as possible, using the real nimbleness of the Wrangler to nip around the 2S1 at the perfect opportunity. And at the top bend, I launched my attack.
Not many people can say they’ve overtaken Tiff Needell around the outside, but I found some extra grip at the edge of the track and suddenly got alongside the Soviet beast. Before I knew it, I was fully sideways across the front of Tiff’s tank, spraying god knows what into his rather disgruntled face.
Now that my pace was up, the four-wheel-drive really came into its own, surging me through the dirt, all while the offroad page on the infotainment screen was showing me the amount of pitch and roll I was experiencing; a cool feature if you’re a bit of a nerd like me. I’ve never been more comfortable off-roading either, with the Jeep’s roomy full leather interior, touchscreen, heated seats and equally toasty steering wheel definitely trumping the freezing, wet, metallic cockpit of Tiff’s machine. The Jeep’s lofty driving position and big windows also meant I could see a hell of a lot more than Tiff.
Just in case you needed further proof how how bad the mud was
With Tiff doing everything he could to rumble over anything he came up against, the sheer speed of the Wrangler over the course was beginning to pay dividends with the finish line in sight.
The undulations weren’t bad enough to have to select the car’s electronic sway bar disconnect which allows for some more front suspension travel, but in something less slushy that would have come in really handy.
Suddenly, the mud became noticeably thicker with just metres to go to the finish line. With the four wheels doing everything they could to haul me forwards, the 2S1 was getting larger and larger in my mirror, with the motoring TV legend’s head bobbing up and down as he churned through the mud like it wasn’t there.
With the slightest of throttle adjustments, the Wrangler gripped something underneath the slop and I was pushed through the DriveTribe flags, a clear five metres ahead of the tank.
A disgruntled Mr Needell
I was genuinely impressed with how capable the Wrangler Rubicon was at finding its way through the desolate terrain, terrain that would happily suck your wellington boot into the brown abyss. It’d absolutely monster a rocky lane, and I can’t imagine any other off-roader feeling that nimble in such deep mud. And the best bit? We shook hands before the race that the winner would have his vehicle cleaned by the loser. Cheers Tiff.