Lately it's all Ford Bronco this, Ford Bronco that. If it's not the Raptor, it's the Everglades. What about the Jeep Wrangler? Is there any news there, you ask? Why yes, there is. And while it's perhaps not anything too major—no Rubicon 392—the new-for-2022 Wrangler High Tide does offer a taste of the aftermarket lifestyle (big tires, lift kit, custom top, trick windshield) straight from the dealer, warranty and all. The initial 500 models are called "Beach," and that tells you what you need to know about the High Tide's aspirations: You drive it to the beach. Maybe you drive it on the beach. Let's not overthink this.
The High Tide package is built on Jeep's Wrangler Unlimited Sport model with the 285-hp 3.6-liter V-6 and eight-speed automatic, meaning it doesn't get locking differentials, a disconnecting anti-roll bar, or any of the Wrangler's myriad other powertrains. High Tide does include the Xtreme Recon package, though, which brings 35-inch BFGoodrich All Terrain T/A KO2 tires on 17-inch beadlock-capable wheels, crammed under extended fenders with the help of a 1.5-inch suspension lift. The axles get 4.56:1 final-drive gearing, the rear end gains a limited-slip differential, and there are a few other Mopar accessories, including a redesigned hinge gate on the rear-mounted spare tire—basically an exoskeleton that supports the ginormous spare-tire assembly. That detail recalls a lament we once heard from a Stellantis engineer to the effect of, "You spend a million dollars to properly engineer a one-inch lift, and then people go out and install a six-inch lift that was developed in two weeks by some guys in a garage." Whatever the vices of the Xtreme Recon package—and we'll get to those—you at least know that it's safe and you won't shear a driveshaft because somebody forgot to consider the angle of a U-joint.
Beyond the lift, the High Tide gives you the option of swapping back and forth between the usual rigid overhead "Freedom panels" of its three-piece body-color hardtop or a Sunrider Flip-Top, a bolt-in fabric section that can be manually opened or closed by the front-seat occupants in a matter of seconds—a little like having a Miata top over the front buckets. Its other notable feature is a windshield reinforced with Corning Gorilla Glass, which addresses the Wrangler's propensity for collecting rock chips and cracks on its very upright, very flat windshield. Gorilla Glass is common in the electronics world, where it lends improved smash resistance to the likes of phone screens, but it's still relatively exotic in the automotive realm (the McLaren Senna's lower door windows, roof, and rear window were made of it). If you just want that windshield without all the High Tide trappings, it's a $495 option on select Wranglers and Gladiators and can be retrofitted on older models, all the way back to 2007 Wranglers. In the event a High Tide driver does manage to chip a windshield, the glass is covered by a two-year warranty. But it's rugged stuff—Corning built a pneumatic ice cannon just to see what kind of impacts it could take.
To prevent the High Tide from requiring outriggers, the lifted suspension is stiff—much stiffer, seemingly, than even a Rubicon model on 33-inch tires. With a track four inches wider than that of a standard Wrangler Sport and 2.5 inches broader than a Rubicon, the High Tide feels stable, if not particularly happy, in corners. Its 0.69 g of lateral grip is probably about as hard as you'd want to corner in this buggy. Likewise, its 7.7-second run to 60 mph feels plenty quick enough, especially given the lackluster stopping distance from 70 mph: 211 feet, the same distance we recorded from the almost-10,000-pound GMC Hummer EV. (Given that the Wrangler laid down faint gray skid marks along the length of its braking test, its ABS keeping things just on the threshold of lockup, it's clear that its lengthy stop is more the fault of the knobby tires than the brakes themselves.) We failed to record a 100-mph stop because Jeep quite sensibly prevents the High Tide from going that fast. Top speed is limited to 97 mph, at which it's easy to imagine what it's like to be an astronaut plunging through the atmosphere in a reentry capsule.
And that's with the Sunrider roof closed. With it open, even at a relatively benign 70 mph, the tires, engine, and especially the wind conspire to produce a 103-decibel interior sound level. How loud is that? Loud enough that we'll need to reference 1992's "Federal Agency Review of Selected Airport Noise Analysis Issues," which reported that an F-16 fighter jet flying over at 1000 feet at 403 mph spikes at 101 decibels. Serious hearing damage is possible over an eight-hour exposure to 100-decibel sound levels, so it's fortunate that closing the roof lowers the din to a tolerable 74 decibels at 70 mph.
As you may have surmised, going fast isn't really the High Tide's forte. But rolling around town with the top back on a sunny day? Now you're talking. Ditto any kind of off-road endeavor that prizes a big footprint and plenty of ground clearance—the Xtreme Recon package is optimized for mud, deep water, and sand. If the tide is less than 33.6 inches up your doors, this Wrangler can ford it. It also has a monster 12.9 inches of ground clearance, which actually undersells how tall it is—maybe loosen up those hip flexors before swinging a leg up into the cabin.
Opting for High Tide Quick Order Package 25D adds $11,895 to the price of a Wrangler Unlimited Sport, plus another $4000 for the compulsory eight-speed automatic and 3.6-liter eTorque V-6 the High Tide requires. Which sounds like a lot of money, and it is. But anyone who's gone down the aftermarket path knows that you can easily spend a similar sum to arrive at the same monster-Jeep result, but without the factory development and support. Through that lens, the High Tide's $51,535 effective base price looks like a pretty good deal. But it's still not the least expensive path to a Wrangler with the Xtreme Recon package and 35-inch tires—that would be the Willys trim, which comes in at $45,695 to start. And, as anyone in Normandy would tell you, a Willys works just fine on the beach.