Jeep’s Wrangler Sahara might be worth the business expense
Nobody, least of all Iain Robertson, ever said that US-style motoring would be perfect but, when the drive is the all-American Jeep Wrangler, nothing comes close to replicating its Brooklyn Bridge build quality and prodigious off-road characteristics.
There is scarcely a motorcar brand more American apple pie than Jeep. It is almost sad that it has been lumbered with ownership by the greater Chrysler Corporation for the past few years, which itself is now owned by the former Fiat Group. The ‘Fiatisation’ of Jeep is having a negative impact on its other models, notably the excellent Renegade and the not-so-excellent Compass, the reactions to which have been mixed at best. Fortunately, Wrangler is Jeep’s ‘Teflon’ model, so deeply entrenched in US culture that tampering with it (apart from minutiae) would be a cardinal sin.
In some ways, it makes JLR’s (Jaguar-Land-Rover) temporary desertion of Defender territory worthy of courts martial. Despite a massive farewell flourish and the promise of a head-turning replacement, the ‘much-loved’ Defender remains in new model limbo, dinged royally by JLR’s financial woes that came to light earlier this year. However, Defender has never truly competed with the might of Wrangler, or any of the CJ lineage, for that matter.
Okay. I know that, xenophobia notwithstanding, we should be notionally and nationally Land Rover orientated. Yet, without Jeep, Land Rover would never have existed. The spiritual heartland of wide-open America is writ large in every visible screwhead and stupidly impractical design element of the latest Wrangler but this is the car that inscribed the off-road adventurers’ rule book. What’s not to love?
In 4.3m long Sahara diesel-auto trim it tips the scales at a chunky, cheeseburger-fries-and-double-Coke-eating 1,920kgs. Its boot floor, compromised by an in-built waterproof bass speaker, offers a feeble 203-litres of space (which can be extended by rolling forwards the rear bench to 598-litres). The load capacity is small, because of the body-on-chassis construction. Access to the non-splitting rear seats (just two) is just about ‘child-friendly’, through the passenger side portal, with the roof panels on. Even cabin access for the front pair of seats demands a degree in calisthenics. Lose concentration for a split-second and the Wrangler will have wandered wilfully into another road space. No. It is not perfect but I shall defy you to emerge from the Jeep driving experience without an ear-to-ear smile, chortling a knowing ‘Hell, yeah!’.
The new model features removable roof panels; three of them – a pair above the front seat occupants and a chunky hardtop above the rears. You will need tools (and a helpful friend) but the task is made easier by a dramatic reduction in the manufacturing weight penalty. The panels in the test Sahara variant are additionally sound-insulated, as part of the Launch Edition package (an extra £1,500 by the way). Once removed, they reveal the substantial, and part of the reason for tipping the scales awkwardly, roll cage, affixed to the crossbar of which is the rear pair of stereo speakers (the front pair being in the usual lower section of the doors). Apply some additional spanner work and the front screen can be tipped forwards onto the rubber bonnet stops that also contain the screen wash nozzles.
Pop the cliché over-centre bonnet catches, insert the ignition key in the appropriate mid-grille slot and then, having searched for and located the safety catch, you will find the power unit. Its mildly raucous 2.2-litre turbo-diesel engine develops a worthy 200bhp, allied to a rock-hauling 331lbs ft of torque (Wrangler can tow almost 1.5-tonnes), which is enough for it to surge from 0-60mph in a mildly alarming 8.6s, before topping out at an aerodynamically restricted 112mph. Emitting CO2 at a far from tax-friendly rate of 198g/km (not helped by its five years’ worth of £465 annual fees, due to its over-£40,000 price tag), at least its cleansed diesel-glugging consumption (aided by AdBlu) is a more modest 37.7mpg. All of this is achieved by driving through a thoroughly modern, eight-speed automatic gearbox that can be manually operated (useful when off-roading) by slotting the substantial selector (complete with red trigger) to the left of the usual PRNDL gate.
Coil-sprung and on high-pressure gas dampers all-round and with more combined off-road armoury than an ISIS-bound cruise missile (and as much propensity to use it), the latest Jeep Wrangler is also the most capable ever. If you were not aware, EVERY Jeep is required to pass the ‘Rubicon Test’, a self-inflicted destruction-fest that reveals much about the brand’s innate pride, and this model, even on road-biased tyres, passed with flying colours. Possessing an open front axle and a limited-slip rear (both made by US specialist, Dana), this Wrangler is really packing heat.
Pay attention and, apart from the lack of return bias to its steering, its on-road manners are charming, the car possessing a moderately comfortable ride quality and a loping, mile-eating gait (80mph indicated equates to just 2,000rpm). A moderately tight turning circle ensures that both in-town and off-road manoeuvring is a doddle, aided by the in-built reversing camera that also seems to be the best example of its type that I have ever used. The popular but undesirable characteristic of ‘head sway’ is present most of the time, only billiard table smooth surfaces not causing the sometimes-unsettled jostling of occupants.
The Wrangler’s cockpit is a hearty mismatch of semi-luxurious, double-stitched leatherette and naked fibreglass (those removable roof-panels), with colourful dashboard contents and the Jeep corporate touchscreen that controls just about everything. The stereo controls are located behind the cross-spokes of the tiller, while the content of the small graphics screen, located between speedo and rev-counter, can be altered using the pushbuttons on the visible side of the wheel.
When not clashing cranium with purposeful roll-cage, there is enough space for well-judged jaunts but, much beyond short hauls and show-off shopping trips, this car’s real purpose lies in promoting fun, wherever you can get it, a factor not helped by its (pre-dealer discount) list price of £44,865, bolstered by a £1,500 Launch Edition luxury pack and £775 for the Granite Crystal metallic paint finish premiums.
However, as a largely out-of-step example of ex-militaria, the Jeep either takes the biscuit, or fulfils your wildest and most explorative dreams. I make zero apology for stating that I love it to death…but, then, I am not the person whom can afford to acquire an example. Therefore, it’s time to don the chequered shirt and RayBans! As we enter an era of EV ‘purity’, the Jeep Wrangler might well be the Last Chance Saloon in antediluvian motoring terms but its total lovability, nay, desirability, cannot be overstated.