You said this was a new Jeep Wrangler, but it looks exactly the same.
Yes, we’re talking evolution rather than revolution for the new Wrangler. But you can’t blame Jeep for that. On the other side of the Atlantic, the Wrangler is a seriously beloved motoring icon, that Jeep daren’t change too much. So, like our own Land Rover Defender, radical moves are firmly off the menu. There are some notable changes though, there’s now a four-door version alongside the traditional two-door and also an uprated version of the 2.8-litre, common-rail turbo-diesel engine from the Cherokee - the first time that the Wrangler has had an oil-burner under the bonnet.
At least that’ll give it more appeal to European buyers, but what about the cabin?
Jeep has dragged the Wrangler into the 21st century with a few modern accoutrements that today’s car buyers expect. Central locking, electric windows (again for the first time on the Wrangler) and airbags are all now present as well as an optional sat nav system and the now standard removable plastic hard top with removable panels above the two front passengers. The four-door version adds a more family friendly element and there’s more practical stuff inside: stain and smell repellant fabric on the seats for the elderly and those who take their off-roading more serious than most.
Talking of off-roading, do all these changes mean the Wrangler has gone soft?
Don’t you believe it, for anyone who doesn’t like the contents of their bank account, there’s still a 3.8-litre V6 petrol version of the Wrangler (with 198bhp as opposed to the diesel’s 155bhp) capable of 24.5mpg if you’re lucky. Plus, if the fancy takes you, the front windscreen still folds flat onto the bonnet and you can remove the doors which, as Jeep is only too keen to point out, you can’t do in a Defender. For hard-core mud-pluggers, the approach, departure and breakover angles have all been improved and the flagship Rubicon gets locking differentials, Jeep’s Rock-Trac system (effectively an extra low, low range gearbox) and an electronic disconnecting sway bar for improved axle articulation on the front wheels. The only downside is that the Rubicon spec only comes with the petrol engine and not in four-door form. With proper tyres, there still wouldn’t be much between the Defender and Wrangler off-road.
Ok, what if I haven’t got a beard, is it useable everyday on the road?
Definitely, but your view on the Wrangler largely depends on whether you’ve driven one before. The new model is much more refined - but then, that’s not saying much - and Jeep claims that it’s the quietest Wrangler ever which it’s hard not to disagree with. Long motorway journeys are now bearable, the only downside is the wind noise at high speed due to the near-vertical windscreen. The handling has improved too, but it’s still no BMW X3. Inside, again, it’s not a radical change, but the driving position is thankfully improved and the controls are much better thanks to a cleaner dashboard layout. We don’t like the awkward location of the electric window switches in the centre of the dash, but with removable doors there was apparently little choice.
What’s the new diesel like?
Pretty good, even aside from its obvious benefits when off-roading. It’s not too loud and reasonably refined, though the main drawback has to be the six-speed manual gearbox. It’s notchyshifting between gears and all too easy to miss the middle plane of gears altogether choosing 2nd instead of 4th or 5th instead of 3rd. You’d probably get used to it, but there’s also an optional five-speed automatic (rather than the petrol’s four speed auto) which will set you back around an extra £1000.
Although the arrival of four door and diesel versions have undoubtedly widened the Wrangler’s appeal, it’s still a niche product. Jeep has only sold 3500 Wranglers in the UK since 1997, and it’s unlikely to break more than 1000 sales per year even with the new additions. The reality is that it remains a niche choice of wheels. With far more capability than most drivers need everyday, it’s an odd choice for daily transport but there’s nothing out there like it, not even Land Rover’s Defender. What other car can seriously cut the mustard off road and then remove its roof and doors, fold down the windscreen and then drive along London’s King’s Road turning as many heads as a Lamborghini? It’s not without faults, but it remains one of a kind and for that reason we love it. Without cars like the Wrangler, the world would be a very boring place indeed.