‘Jeep brings new meaning to experiencing a blast on a volcano’, writes Richard Webb.
Normally when a car brand invites me to do a bit of off-roading they mean they’ve found a dusty track that would scarcely trouble a family crossover. But when I got a call from Jeep, I expected more. Jeep wanted to know if I’d be keen to go to Sicily to drive up Mount Etna in Sicily, off the Italian coast. “But wait a minute, isn’t that currently a live volcano,” I asked, incredulously. “We’ll be in Jeeps. It’ll be fine”, Jeeps’ PR countered breezily.
I was definitely up for some dewy-eyed nostalgia, especially as that old war-horse, the Wrangler is soon to be phased out. Mount Etna was smoldering as we flew over it, adding to a sense of adventure. Upon arrival in Sicily, I made a beeline for the Wrangler, purely out of deference and to give a snappy G.I. salute to this old soldier one last time.
Starting off with the car in two-wheel drive, I ease through suburbia towards the first obstacle course.
Almost immediately, I am confronted with a rocky river. The car scrabbles up the muddy bank with little drama, but the rock-strewn crest of the bank looked very daunting, so I eased the transfer box into four-wheel drive. My eyes widen at the sheer scale of natural obstacles I have to clear. I smashed through undergrowth seemingly made of impenetrable bamboo arched to create a natural tunnel, which was just about the only indication of where I was supposed to point the bouncing Wrangler.
Branches kept scratching the bonnet and roof, making a sound akin to scratching your nails down a chalkboard. But the Wrangler relentlessly made forward progress in everything from moss-covered rock to mud and gravel in wheel-top deep flowing water. What it lacked in refinement was made up in its ability to keep going, and going. In a terrain where Wranglers get a workout, it makes it even more impressive that the cheeky Jeep Renegades kept up behind me.
Mt Etna’s been pretty unpredictable recently and it’s just started to splutter up lava again. My Renegade made serene progress up challenging ancient tracks – pock-marked with millennia aged solidified magma - as I ascended to a summit crater.
We pass numerous fissures and vents on the flanks of the volcano, stopping at a restaurant for a quick Arancine -basically a risotto shaped into a deep-fried ball, filled with ragù followed by Sicilian Cannoli, the mouth-watering dessert - a crispy brown shell filled with fresh sweet sheep milk ricotta and chocolate chips, garnished with candied fruits.
As I eased back South West on the two and a half hour journey towards Donnafugata and the luxury five-star Donnafugata Golf Resort & Spa, I wearily contemplated if Jeep had a true ‘go anywhere, do anything’ persona. Jeep isn’t the world’s biggest maker of SUVs without good reason, and this whirlwind trip had me convinced that Jeep has a range of vehicles for all terrains – including active volcanoes.