Going topless in the 2018 Jeep Wrangler

It’s difficult to imagine anything better to do in a Jeep Wrangler than off-roading in the mud and the muck and the sun. Then we removed the four doors and hardtop of the fourth-generation 2018 Jeep Wrangler Sahara. The transformation from off-road juggernaut to topless sun-soaker is a blast.

The decision was inspired by youth — my 10-year-old daughter, whose mother has told tales of cross-country treks in her Wrangler TJ in those youthful summer years before motherhood, begged to open up the Jeep.

Wranglers new and old inspire such flights of fancy and allow for certain indulgences. I wasn’t going to pick her up ready to go, no doors, no roof, no responsibilities. She had to know that stripping a Jeep to its bare essence took work. How much work I had no idea because I’d never done it before.

She helped take off one of 20 bolts, helped take off one of two “freedom panels,” but she could not help with the hardtop. It’s a two-person job. Of all the versatility of the first new Jeep in a decade, you’d think they’d make handles in the underside of the roof to hoist it on your back and portage it like a canoe. But that’s what the soft top is for.

Everything is easier about the new Jeep. The Freedom Top panels ($2,095 extra) pop off in seconds, thanks to four easy latches instead of the dials in the JK. Unclip the electrical, slide off the tether, unscrew the bolt in the arm to keep the door from swinging, then take off the bolts in the hinge. The 47-pound front doors are 14 pounds lighter, and the 34-pound rear doors (7 pounds lighter) could be toted by a 10-year-old, thanks to the use of lightweight aluminum.

We didn’t drop the windshield, though the JL has only 4 bolts compared with the 24 bolts in the JK, which could take over an hour. That section of the easily digestible manual — about the size of an MLB pocket schedule — had an image of North America with a slash through it. The law on windshields varies by state, but in most cases it seems windshields are required on public highways, with exceptions, and in cases of those exceptions, the driver must be wearing protective eyewear. Not sure you’d want the windshield down on the highway unless you want a smashed bug buffet.

Taking off the roof and doors makes you appreciate the ingenuity of humanity. It’s the practical art of transformation, going from an everyday vehicle to the nearest thing you can get to a motorcycle on four wheels.

Reinvention of the highest vehicular order inspires greatness. As I unscrewed the bolts, I imagined a torque wrench, a harness in the garage to help take off the roof, an ice cold beer. I didn’t have those things because everything you need — the wrench set and instructions — fits in the palm of your hand.

The fun factor of the Jeep contradicts its intelligence. It makes you carefree even as you make it less safe. So go the contradictions of youth and self-awareness.

About 45 minutes later, we were ready to ride. Not bad for a first timer, though I’m confident it can be done in less than 30 minutes with a little practice. Safety is a concern in a vehicle with such large wheels (18-inch wheels are $895 extra) and high ride height. Turning at 15 mph makes the tires — and 10-year-old girls — squeal. She will not have a Wrangler as a first car, despite her great expectations of a new Wrangler waiting in a not-so-far-off driveway on her 16th birthday.

The sun was out, we turned the radio up and hit the highway with no place to go. She stuck her arm out to do the wave, then stuck her foot out and got the glare of reproach. Her shorts and shirt inflated, her hands banging the cage in time, her smile as infectious as the sun. It was only the sun, after a couple of hours, that caused the mildest complaint. “Stupid sun,” she said.

We went to a lake, we stopped for Slurpees and a slice, I refused her demands to drive. We found Easter eggs all over the interior, from an original Willys silhoutted on the bottom of the windshield, to icons that flashed on startup then disappeared, such as the “since 1941” note where the gear indicator would appear, and the same Willys trucking left to right out of view on the bottom of the instrument cluster.

It was all such simple fun I didn’t mind putting it all back together that evening before the rain came. Like youth and all things fun, it was gone too quick.

2018 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara at a glance

Vehicle type: Jeep is a Jeep

Base price: $37,345

As tested: $51,040

Mpg: 18 city, 23 highway

Engine: 285-horsepower 3.6-liter V-6

Transmission: Eight-speed automatic

Parting shot: It’s like two vehicles in one.

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Twitter @DufferRobert

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