On the first day of the new year, I visited the 2010 San Diego auto show with one goal in mind: to experience Camp Jeep. In this instance, Camp Jeep is not the annual three-day gathering of Jeep owners, but a ride-along event designed to entrance the masses and flaunt various Jeeps’ abilities at tackling a simulated off-road course. The auto show would not feature ground-breaking concept introductions or industry big-wig speakers, but it wouldn’t need them. Camp Jeep, in its first-ever visit to California, was surely the auto show’s biggest attraction.
The driving exhibit occupies 30,000 square feet and is comprised of five separate obstacles that demonstrate five key attributes and assets possessed by any good off-road vehicle: articulation, ground clearance, stability, suspension, and traction. To protect the good Jeep name, four Wranglers (the Unlimited models) and one Liberty were roaming the premises. A Grand Cherokee, in its final model year before changing platforms, was reportedly also pressed into service on other show dates. Piloting duties were performed by a crew of green sweater-clad drivers, some of whom were particularly dedicated to eliciting external responses from show goers while traversing the course.
Here is how the Camp Jeep course was partitioned:
Copious amounts of wheel travel are necessary for off-road enjoyment. Articulation is illustrated by driving over a set of kinked rails disguised as logs. If you’re lucky, you may see a completely suspended, freely spinning front wheel.
Trust me; you won’t hear any underbody scraping. The high-riding Jeeps are directed over a 12 x 15-foot obstacle patch with vertically planted logs of various heights. The logs measure 18 inches in diameter and simulate objects that could potentially cause undercarriage damage.
This portion of Camp Jeep looked the most unnerving to attendees, and was also the easiest to photograph. Testing a Jeep’s stability means driving onto a side slope “wedge” that is banked 45 degrees, although once you get on it, it doesn’t feel like 45 degrees. One of the more zealous Jeep pilots had quite the distinct grin on his face as he quickly and deftly gassed his Wrangler onto the ramp, drawing a slight outcry from his passengers.
The suspension test is the simplest section. Your Jeep will be driven over what is essentially a very rough road. Check out the jounce, rebound, and ride quality.
The highlight of the course and, certainly, the most visible feature. Ample traction is demonstrated via the ascent and descent of Jeep Mountain, a steeply graded, 20-foot-tall hill. Climbing Jeep Mountain means looking directly at the ceiling, and coming down means looking at the rapidly-approaching ground.
As evidenced by the turnout, Jeep’s “ultimate indoor off-road driving test” continues to be a huge hit, especially with families. Overhearing a conversation between a pair of off-roading veterans, they seemed to be impressed with the venue, especially the turnout and wait time. If you get a chance to attend Camp Jeep, I suggest you queue up immediately, because the masses won’t be far behind.
Original debut -- 2004 New York auto show
Total participants -- Over half a million individuals
Average wait time -- 10-15 minutes if you go early, the wait gets heinously longer as the day progresses
Average ride duration -- 5 minutes
Average ride speed -- Under 5 mph
The 2010 San Diego auto show was held from December 30 to January 3 at the San Diego Convention Center.