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Rough Rider

Traversing the bumpy terrain and cobblestone streets of Mexico’s Nayarit coast in the new Jeep Wrangler Unlimited

Author Jordan Heller Illustration Brett Affrunti


Starting price: $26,195

Starting price: $26,195

If navigating Mexico’s Nayarit coast is like driving into the past, there isn’t a better vehicle to do it in. While other U.S. automakers have glommed on to the trend of retro remakes, the Wrangler never had to, as its rugged exterior has barely changed in 73 years. The blocky body and seven-slot grill have been iconic since World War II.

First stop is the seaside village of Bucerías. The town’s cobblestone streets and open-air crafts and food market make you feel as if you’re stepping into a Luis Buñuel film circa 1950. But don’t worry about reattaching the roof—this isn’t Los Olvidados, and besides, you can stow all your valuables in the lockable center console.

The next town north, Sayulita, is very West Coast. Think skate rats, surfers and hippies. So when you’re cruising the main drag, you better have your music right. Desmond Dekker can be a great equalizer, and the reggae rocks steady out of the Alpine Premium Sound System, which includes weather-resistant speakers.

Rainy season or not, the counterculture of Sayulita can make for some foggy streets at night. The high-efficiency round fog lamps (halogen bulbs that provide a low, broad swath of light) on the front bumper will help guide you through the haze. Use them to find Burrito Revolution off the Plaza. The smoked marlin taco is amazing.

First things first: Before bombing north with the sea on the driver’s side, unfold the soft-top roof and roll down the windows. You’re in a Jeep, for Pete’s sake, so put on a pair of aviators and act like it. If you want to go full General MacArthur, you can actually still fold down the windshield and remove the doors.

The way to the St. Regis Punta Mita’s Carolina—one of only five AAA 5-Diamond restaurants in Mexico—is over decent roads, by Nayarit standards. For a vehicle built for the rough, this Jeep is surprisingly zippy on straightaways. Hat-tip to the extra caballos under the hood: 285 of ’em in an improved 3.6-liter, 6-cylinder engine.

The culture of Sayulita may be progressive, but the roads, not so much. Of course the 4×4 can handle the dirt with ease, but who knows what your underbody will strike when crossing a washed-out street in two feet of water? Don’t sweat: Your fuel tank and transfer case are protected with 2.5 mm steel skid plates.

If you think Sayulita’s old cobblestone streets are rough, try tackling them at a 20-degree incline. But it’s worth it for the stellar view of the sea from the top of the eastside hills. And besides, this Jeep has “Hill Start Assist,” which keeps the brakes applied for a second after you’ve removed your foot so you can accelerate without rollback.

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