We know it overlands and adventures, but does it work as an urban warrior?
An all-new version of the Jeep Wrangler, the JL, was launched in 2018 – I attended the European launch of the car in Spielberg, Austria, where I drove Middle East spec versions (I was reporting for Motoring Middle East at the time) and you can see that video below. Unlike the Middle East, however, the UK gets a choice of the 2.0-litre petrol or the 2.2 diesel and the highly regarded V6 Pentastar engine is not offered.
So not having sampled the four-cylinder unit, and not having tried a Wrangler in the urban jungle that is Northwest London, I figured it would be an interesting exercise to do both. The question that really needed answering was that, whilst the Wrangler would be my current go-to off-road vehicle of choice (until I try the new Bronco perhaps?) for any adventure, anywhere in the world, could I contemplate owning one to drive mostly on solid tarmac around the North Circular?
The Wrangler isn’t a common site on UK roads. Usually the default choice for those needing true off-road ability here would be the Land Rover Defender. Which is a mistake because the Wrangler is just as competent if not moreso, easier to drive off-road, plus it’s far more comfortable and up-to-date in terms of creature comforts, and considerably, in fact let’s just say monumentally, more reliable!
The Wrangler is one of FCA’s (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles – now to be renamed STELLANTIS after its merger with the PSA group), biggest selling vehicles and a solid mainstay. In the GCC the Wrangler has been dominating for the last decade as a darling of dune-bashing weekenders, the Land Cruisers and Patrols having grown too plump and precious to be true desert beaters. Additionally you can customise and personalise the heck out of them, a lot of it through the dealer itself –via the ‘Moparized’ route. Most accessories are also available in Europe.
Globally 1 in 17 SUVs is actually a Jeep, and the target is to increase it to 1 in 12. They’re on their way, as the EMEA region (Europe, Middle East and Africa) saw a six-fold rise in sales of Jeeps between 2010-2018.
Five million Wranglers have been sold to date and it is, of course, an absolute icon, legend and war hero, more so than the Land Rover Series 1, which was essentially a copy of the 1941 Willy’s (the Wrangler’s ancestor).
Right now even through this digital divide I can feel the heat and anger of hundreds of thousands of outraged Land Rover fans aimed directly at me! Listen guys, I have a huge amount of respect and affection for the Land Rover Series and Defenders, but Willy’s is the progenitor and a better contemporary – with the proviso here that I haven’t actually tested the all-new 2020 Defender.
The easiest way to identify the latest Wrangler is from the front, the headlights encroach upon the traditional signature Jeep 7-slot grille (a styling cue taken from the CJ Jeep series) and a slight kink at the top is inspired by the TJ version of the 1990s. Nonetheless it’s an instantly recognisable and unmistakable look, and the boxy little protruding brake lights are delightful. It’s a little longer than the model it replaces (1.4 inch for the two-door and 2.4 inches for the four-door), but lighter by 91kg due to aluminium doors and bonnet. Though being a body-on-frame rough-roader, it’s never going to be a lightweight.
Spec starts with the Sport, but the Sahara is the one to have as it’s better equipped, or Rubicon if you do a lot of hard core off-roading as you can lock the front and rear diffs and disconnect the sway bar at the touch of a few buttons, and finally there’s the luxury Overland version. Prices start at £41,525 for the two-door Sport, and £46,315 from the two-door Sahara tested. Add another 1500 or so for a four-door. At the top end, prices rise to just over £50k for the Overland and Rubicon.
The 2.0 puts out 272bhp – only about 13bhp less than the V6 – and 295lb ft (400Nm) of torque which is actually 35lb ft MORE than the V6! It has a 0-62mph acceleration time of 7.3 seconds and a top speed of 110mph – for comparison the V6 has about the same top speed but 0-62 is 8.1 seconds. So on paper, this rather amazing 2.0-litre turbo is actually the better engine!
But before we get into the drive, let’s look at some aspects of practicality, and cast out any concerns about the Wrangler being a crude and basic vehicle. It has 18-inch alloy wheels, reversing camera, LED lights, keyless start, digital instrumentation and an 8.4 inch infotainment screen with DAB radio, Apple Carplay or Android Auto plus a 552-Watt 9-speaker Alpine sound system, Sat Nav, auto-dimming rear view mirrors, electric and heated side mirrors, cruise control and dual-zone climate control.
There’s a 203-litre boot – which isn’t great, but drop the rear seat back and you can increase that to nearly 600 litres. The rear seats aren’t the most easily accessible, nor very comfortable if you’re tall – although if you need the rear pews for more than occasional use, you really need to opt for the four-door ‘Unlimited’ version. Don’t forget that this is a Wrangler, which means you can remove the front two roof panels, or the entire roof, then take the doors off and even drop the windscreen down. You’ll be left with a bunch of bolts, but there are handy slots in the boot floor with marked-out slots to store them in.
Stick the 8-speed automatic into drive and this think not only accelerates well off the line for such a beasty, but positively appears to leap away, and that slightly floaty, perched on rolling stilts feel remains (though it tends to be worse and more prone to wandering on the Rubicon with its higher stance and off-road tyres), but you soon get used to it, and allow extra leeway for its er…‘handling idiosyncrasies’ shall we say.
This is not to be negative in any sense, but just to alert you that this is a unique vehicle with a focussed purpose: to be supreme off road, which needs softer, long-travel and less-than rigid suspension set-up.
That awareness simply translates to a unique driving style – much as you’d find driving a Caterham and Morgan a very different experience from your regular car. The comparison is apt, because like those cars, this feels like the real thing still, despite decades of evolution. It feels true to its off-roading heritage, not a pretender like most SUVs, and consequently, perhaps even bizarrely, there’s an appealing honesty about how the car drives. You even feel connected with it, bereft as it is of any filter of artificiality.
All of which confirms that this car is different, but fun and competent, and before long you’ll be chucking it around town as your passengers grasp the handholds tightly and guffaw, perhaps only slightly out of fear and astonishment. The two-door proves an ideal size for the urban environment, although the longer wheelbase would not feel much more cumbersome I’d wager. The huge rugged rubber wrapped around the wheels means that there’s no fear of kerbs or width restrictions, and it proves easy to thread through our narrow streets. The high seating position, gives you not only a handy vantage point, but sits you at eye-level with bus drivers and grants you a special kind of elite status in the hierarchy of the road world.
You need to think ahead a little when it comes to braking, but there are few other compromises to be made, particularly in terms of performance. Out in the desert, and for the sake of dune camp bragging rights, I’d still want the V6 for the Middle East, but for Europe, the 2.0 is frankly spot-on. If you need more towing muscle, get the diesel. Otherwise even for the sake of fuel economy, the petrol doesn’t loose out too much against the diesel – 32mpg versus 38mpg.
So does it work in London? And would I have one? Absolutely. Personally I’d probably go for the more accommodating four-door, but it’s a reassuring and indomitable companion, that lets its hair down, and offers fun in the sun during the rare few weeks of warm weather we get here, along with durable dependability in all-conditions and terrains during the occasionally harsh winters.
After all, if you’re going to get an SUV, then get an SUV. A full-on proper all-singing, all-dancing off-roader that’s, so far, without any real competition (although Ford doesn’t plan to sell the Bronco here at present anyway).