Jeep's most agricultural model looks the same as ever. Has anything changed?
Jeep's design boffins confusingly tell you that the new Wrangler is exactly the same but totally different to the previous model. In translation, that means it looks much the same as the model they derived from the war-time Willys Jeep, and it shares the same rugged utilitarian principles. But under the skin they've worked hard to make it more user friendly and better on-road. They've even given top models two more doors and a removable roof, making it the only production four-door convertible currently on sale.
Are you saying it’s gone all girly on us?
No. The four-door Unlimited model looks like a mini-Hummer from some angles. And they still want it to be one of the most capable off-roaders in the world so they've worked hard at improving its talents in that department. They've added uprated transfer cases, new electric axle locks and an electronic disconnecting sway bar, as well as increasing the ground clearance and giving it larger wheels and tyres.
All very well on paper but does it work?
Our first drive of the new Wrangler started on the Rubicon Trail, an 18-mile stretch of unmaintained public highway through the back of beyond in the Californian High Sierra. Our only guidance was to put it in low range, four-wheel drive - like old 4x4s, it's still got a small lever next to the gear stick to do this - ram it in first and not to ride the clutch. You’d expect it to kangaroo and stall but instead it just ploughed relentlessly through, past or mostly over anything in its way. We had it climbing boulders the size of large farmyard animals without any complaints.
Sounds a bit hardcore. Will I have to grow a beard and wear a check shirt to own one?
You could but the Wrangler makes you look a hick on its own. You still get the upright windscreen, exposed hinges for the doors and bonnet, chunky bonnet latches, a spare wheel mounted on the tailgate, enormous black plastic wings and those squared off sides. There's even a three-piece removable hard roof that you can stow in the boot for open-top motoring.
That's all very 'yee ha' but I live in the Home Counties and most of my driving is on A-roads not dirt tracks…
In which case, you might find the new Wrangler a bit disappointing. It's a big improvement over the previous model. But that wouldn't be difficult. The ride is firm and the extra chassis stiffness, wider track and longer wheelbase mean it can cope with rough tarmac better than before, although you still wouldn't call the ride luxurious. The big let down is steering that feels numb and isn't reactive enough to driver inputs.
Anything else wrong with it?
They've given it a new 202bhp 3.8-litre petrol engine which is smooth, quiet and has plenty of low-down torque. But while 22mpg might be OK for the Yanks it won't cut the mustard here, particularly for urban motoring. There will be a 2.8-litre CRD diesel, but we'll have to wait until summer 2007 before it lands in the UK. There's one other glitch. While the dull throttle response is aimed at helping hard core off-roading, it makes on-road progress jerkier.
The latest Wrangler's a vast improvement over its rather rustic predecessor but on the road it's still a long way from offering the creature comforts of a modern SUV. However it's still crammed with character and for buyers who want a cheap go-anywhere motor that's competitively priced, it’ll make sense.