The iconic Jeep Wrangler is as hardy as ever but now more refined and practical, discovers Team Y.
To the people of the GCC, the term ‘Jeep’ is closely associated with the American brand serving customers with crossovers and off-road-ready SUVS.
Yet, there’s a group of people out there – though, in small numbers – that know what a real Jeep is. And they’ll gladly flick their long, thick moustaches aside to tell you that it’s a small, sturdy vehicle with four-wheel drive used by the military.
While our test drive car for this week – the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited – is in no way a military truck, it is, by a mile, the closest we’ll ever get to driving one; and as some say, the last of the “real jeeps”.
Seven long slits on the grille, circular headlamps, a plastic bumper that can withstand heavy modification, metal hooks on either side, angular fenders to accommodate the off-road tyres, and latches on the bonnet – the new Wrangler definitely has all the features of the original Willys Jeep.
While the recipe remains untouched, the ingredients have all changed. So, instead of halogen bulbs, you now get LED headlamps, sensors around the car, a blind-spot monitoring system for when you’re switching lanes, and a more tapered front end that marginally increases the aerodynamic efficiency of the SUV.
Albeit, since the target audience in the Sultanate are predominantly the youth, Jeep keeps its rudimentary formulae intact in several other elements. For example, you’ll still be able to take the roof off in sections, remove all doors and set the windshield aside, to mimic your typical larrikin off-road aficionado.
While all of that may seem like a tad too much for us, we still appreciate Jeep offering drivers the option to work on their cars. And, we won’t lie: we did enjoy the occasional drive with the roof down – even if it meant sacrificing ourselves by looking daft with our balding heads.
Pulling down the top is an incredibly easy affair: there are four latches per section of the roof and the two pieces will fit into the 897-litre boot. The third section, however, is larger and will require you to work with tools.
All the effort will be worth it, though, as the result is a lightweight and reinforced (thanks to the hefty and exposed anti-roll bars) off-road SUV with immense potential.
But, bear in mind that you’re not driving around in a plebian truck anymore. While the centre console and dashboard are dust and water resistant, the interiors still maintain a sense of quality.
Soft touch materials make up most of the door panels (as opposed to hard, cheap plastics from yesteryear) and there are rubber inserts around the 8.4-inch touchscreen running on a UConnect operating system.
The infotainment screen is easy to use and quick to respond, with response time between pages standing at 0.5 seconds. We particularly loved the ease of navigation through all the menu pages, too. It’s easily the best system we’ve tried out in a Wrangler.
And the surprises don’t stop there, either: there’s a banging nine-speaker Alpine audio system that trumps everything else in this segment. It replicates highs and lows with efficacy, and keeps the base thumping without trembling the plastic panels around it too much.
Another aspect in which Jeep seems to have spent more time in is passenger comfort. Our Sahara variant came with soft leatherette-wrapped seats that offer excellent lumbar support and side bolstering. The rear seats, as expected can be 60-40 split-folded.
Powering all of this is a 3.6-litre ‘Pentastar’ V6 producing 285hp and 352Nms of torque. The powertrain is completed by an eight-speed automatic transmission. While the numbers aren’t a great development from its predecessor, the torque delivery has been altered to provide an early kick-in to haul yourself out of tricky situations.
Power build-up in linear but much of the torque is spent by the time the engine hits the peak revs at 6,000rpm. While this translates well while off the tarmac, it can mean having to shift gears (kick down) more often to reach the desired speeds. Still, the Wrangler is quick on its feet – hitting 100kph from a standstill in 8.1 seconds. That’s impressive from an SUV that – with all body panels on – weighs in at1.9 tonnes.
On the road, the Wrangler Unlimited behaves well, taking corners without any drama – even at speeds that would generally upset tall vehicles. The Jeep constantly outperformed all its off-road rivals from Asia and Europe throughout the test.
Still, a hint of understeer is dialled into the mix as a precautionary measure while driving quick to prevent
the vehicle from being unsettled by the steering input.
That said, this 2019 Model Year is, by far, the most refined Wrangler that’s ever been put on sale. It’s vastly improved when compared with the one it replaces, and even if it does wander around from side to side while driving past speeds of 120kph, it’s not a handful on the road. Mind you: but, because the SUV still comes with solid axles, you’ll need to drive this for a few days to completely get to grips with the handling.
Off-road is where the Wrangler really belongs. You’ll begin to appreciate the 9.7-inches (24.6cm) of ground clearance from the get-go. Also, the lockable front and rear axles with a Trac-Lok rear limited-slip differential makes for a formidable explorer.
We threw everything we possibly could at the Jeep – starting from the dunes of Baushar to the wadi in Arbaeen – but it came back unscathed and unruffled. The only occasional stutter we faced came when powering through loose wadi rocks soaked under water. Even then, we simply threw the shifter into ‘4L’ and nipped right back to land.
Axle articulation is phenomenal; though, there’s not much use you can make of it in Oman. But, we believe it can forge over rocks, if need be. There’s solid underbody protection for when the going gets tough.
The brakes are strong and offer excellent stopping power – but we’ve driven plenty enough to know that the feel can vary depending on the type of tyres you opt for. Our ‘Sahara’ pack came with 255/70 GoodYear rubber, but we suspect the ‘Rubicon’ with its larger tyres may take a bit longer to come to a complete hault.
There’s no denying that the boffins at Jeep know what they’re doing with their trucks – and the new Wrangler is a testament to that. Is it the best all-terrain vehicle out there? Probably not – but anything superior to the Wrangler would set you back several tens of thousands of shillings more.
So, it’s safe to say that the real winner here is the Jeep. Not only is it a better off-road SUV than ever before, it’s a fantastic road cruiser, too. This then, is a real Jeep – it’s settled.
• Engine: 3.6-litre ‘Pentastar’ V6
• Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
• Power: 285hp
• Torque: 352Nms
• 8.4-inch infotainment screen
• Water resistant dashboard
• Low-range gearbox
• LED headlamps
• Leatherette upholstery
• Traction and stability controls
• Nine-speaker Alpine audio system
• Solid front and rear axles
• Push-button start
• Active noise cancellation
• Removable roof and doors
• Trac-Lok rear limited-slip differential