Jeep Wran­gler Amer­ica’s De­fender does a se­quel

Good on and o road, the new Wran­gler com­bines clas­sic Jeep char­ac­ter and clev­erly de­ployed 21st cen­tury tech. By James Tay­lor

CAR (UK) - - News -

LIKE BLUE MOONS, Hal­ley’s Comet and Eng­land World Cup semi-fi­nal ap­pear­ances, a new Jeep Wran­gler doesn’t come along ev­ery day. This new JL-se­ries is the fourth Wran­gler since the name first ap­peared in the late ’80s, al­though the spirit goes back much fur­ther: the rough­est, tough­est, trad­dest Jeep can trace its roots back to the orig­i­nal CJ (Civil­ian Jeep) se­ries, it­self an evo­lu­tion of the orig­i­nal war-hero Willys.

Jeep hasn’t de­vi­ated from the Wran­gler’s ap­ple-pie recipe. It’s more ca­pa­ble than ever off-road, with loftier ground clear­ance, shorter over­hangs and lat­est-gen lock­ing diffs.

And it still looks like a Jeep at 1000 paces: same cutesy round head­lights (now adap­tive full-LED units), sev­en­bar grille cut-outs, sep­a­rate bumpers and an­gu­lar arches. The wind­screen still folds flat, the doors are still re­mov­able, and so is the roof, as ei­ther fold­ing fab­ric or a three-piece hard­top, and there’s a choice of short-wheel­base two-door or lengthy four-door.

What has changed is a de­sire to make the Wran­gler more re­fined than it’s ever pre­vi­ously been, with Jeep crank­ing up com­fort, noise sup­pres­sion, in­te­rior toy count and safety kit to broaden its ap­peal to ur­ban cus­tomers.

On tar­mac it’s now quiet at a cruise, adeptly muf­fling the wind noise and its 2.2-litre tur­bod­iesel (a 2.0 petrol will also be avail­able), even in the soft­top ver­sion. The in­te­rior is pos­i­tively lux­u­ri­ous com­pared to Wran­glers of old, es­pe­cially in road-ori­en­tated Sa­hara trim. Ma­te­ri­als are a nim­ble bal­ance of hard-wear­ing dura­bil­ity and soft-touch premium, and three dif­fer­ent sizes of smart­phone-flu­ent touch­screen can be specced above the new cen­tre con­sole, which is both thought­fully laid out and pop­u­lated with kitschy, chunky de­tails.

You can tell the de­sign­ers had a ball, in­side and out, not least with the 10 (or is it more?) ‘Easter eggs’ hid­den in the car to ref­er­ence the orig­i­nal Willys – a sil­hou­ette on the wind­screen sur­round here, a ghosted out­line of the orig­i­nal’s steer­ing wheel spokes there…

It’s all very civilised for a rockscram­bling moun­tain goat of a car, un­til you pick up speed and find your­self saw­ing at the out­sized steer­ing wheel sim­ply to keep the Wran­gler pro­ceed­ing in a straight line as the tyres’ gi­ant side­walls and tread­blocks

de­bate in which di­rec­tion they’d like to go. Reach your first cor­ner, ease the steer­ing wheel to­wards the apex and you’ll wob­ble your way around with­out much in the way of phys­i­cal feed­back to help, wear­ing an ex­pres­sion some­where between en­joy­ment and alarm. It’s fun, though, and you quickly get used to the han­dling foibles, which are more moder­ate on the Sa­hara ver­sion’s road-spec tyres than the Rubicon’s chunky boots.

The Rubicon is the fac­tory’s ul­ti­mate off-road Wran­gler it­er­a­tion, with a lower low-range ra­tio, heav­ier-duty axles and an elec­tronic dis­con­nect for the front anti-roll bar, so it can paw its way over prac­ti­cally any boul­der in its way.

Which isn’t to say the Rubicon is the only Wran­gler that has se­ri­ous off-road abil­ity. We drove the Sa­hara, reg­u­lar tyres and all, on a steep off-road course that would have been un­pass­able in a reg­u­lar road car: deep ruts, tree roots and gen­er­ously sized rocks with tyre­wor­ry­ingly pointy edges, all made slip­pery with rain. In low range it scam­pered over the lot with ease.

UK prices and ex­act specs are yet to be fi­nalised, but based on prices that have been an­nounced for other mar­kets we’d ex­pect the Wran­gler to start at around £42k for a two-door in base Sport trim, up from a start­ing price around £38k for the out­go­ing model. Don’t ex­pect a fully loaded Rubicon to be cheap.

How much you’ll like the Wran­gler depends how keen you are on its Spring­steen-sound­tracked, mod­ern­day-cowboy shtick. If you weren’t a fan of the old one, you’re un­likely to fall for the lat­est gen­er­a­tion, de­spite its ad­mirably im­proved re­fine­ment.

At the other end of the scale, Jeep has given die-hard fans no rea­son to turn away; a good move, given the ar­rival of the new Mer­cedes G-Class and – even­tu­ally – a new Land Rover De­fender. Ev­ery­thing that peo­ple liked about pre­vi­ous-gen­er­a­tion Wran­glers is still there, it’s chock-full of char­ac­ter and neatly in­cor­po­rated in­no­va­tions, and is just as ca­pa­ble off-road while mak­ing use­ful strides for­ward in econ­omy and safety.

In a world where al­most ev­ery new car is at­tempt­ing to im­i­tate an SUV, the Wran­gler re­mains an au­then­tic orig­i­nal 4x4, and an im­mensely like­able one.

Doors are quickly de­tach­able and there’s a choice of roof op­tions

Chunky cabin richin retro styling, but it’s all new andqui­etly techy

Trape­zoidal arches, seven-slot grille, round lights: yep, it’s a Jeep. But un­der the skin thereare huge ad­vances

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