It’s 1977 & I am on a family holiday in France. Unfortunately, we have caught the ferry & have driven slowly from Calais to the South of France in a Hillman Avenger, camping on the way. Vinyl seats, no air-con & a dad who won’t turn the radio on have made the journey pretty grim. We are in St Paul de Vence because my parents French friend who we have met up with, has told us how beautiful it is there. More importantly, she has also promised my mum, that Yves Montand will be playing boule in the town, which as a 12 year old, means absolutely nothing to me. Amazingly, Monsieur Montand is playing boule, whilst chain smoking what are probably Gauloises or Gitanes. I am bored, but notice another boule player who is much younger than Yves, finish his game & leave the square. As my eyes follow him, he climbs into a car that I have never seen before, a car that looks like a US Army Jeep which I’ve seen in many war films. It has no roof, just what looks like a roll cage. He & the Jeep, look impossibly cool. This is a car that I had not seen in suburban Surrey before & 42 years later, one I have not forgotten. This was a Jeep Wrangler.
February 2019 Lake Windermere, Cumbria. Jeep are launching their latest Wrangler to a group of assembled motoring writers. Although I have driven a Wrangler a couple of times, I have never been off-road in one. That is all about to change.
With public demand for SUV’s at an all time high, Jeep have steadily been increasing UK sales year on year since 2017 with the aim of selling 8,000 Jeeps in the UK in 2019. The majority of these will not be Wranglers, but on road friendly Renegade, Compass & Cherokee models. But, the latest Wrangler is expected to contribute, with 272 of them sold between October 2018 & January 2019.
The new Wrangler is now offered with two engines. Gone are the gas guzzling units of old, replaced with two newer more fuel friendly units. A 2.0 litre 272bhp petrol engine with 400Nm’s & a 2.2 litre diesel unit with 200bhp & 450Nm’s. Three spec’s are on the table as well, the more street friendly Sahara & Overland & the serious off-road-capable Rubicon.
All engines & spec’s are available in a 2-door or 4-door version. Prices start at £44,865 for the 2-door Sahara petrol & diesel & go all the way up to the range topping 4-door Rubicon petrol & diesel, retailing at £48,365. All Wrangler engine options are linked to an eight-speed automatic transmission, which is new for this model.
The 2.0-litre turbocharged inline four-cylinder petrol engine delivers 272 horsepower at 5250 rpm and 400 Nm of torque at 3000 rpm and features ESS. Both engines make the vehicle compliant to the current Euro 6/D standards.
The new 2.2-litre MultiJet II turbo diesel engine features second-generation MultiJet technology, four valves per cylinder, a belt-driven Double Over Head Camshafts (DOHC), 2,000-bar. Common Rail injection system, solenoid injectors & a variable geometry turbocharger (VGT). It delivers 200 horsepower at 3500 rpm and 450 Nm of torque at 2000 rpm.It also features fuel-saving Engine Stop Start (ESS) technology.
The Wrangler still offers customers a removable windscreen & hard top, including Sky One-Touch power top, a new zipperless premium Sunrider soft top & Freedom Top. The doors come off too. Wrangler’s new exterior design comes with larger windows for better outward visibility, with Jeep’s iconic logo now located on the side, rather at the front. There are ten exterior colours offered including Firecracker Red, Mojito & Punk’n Metallic.
The first thing you notice when you climb inside this new version, is that the overall quality has improved. We drove the Overland 4-Dr 2.2 Multijet-II (200) in Granite Crystal & this comes well kitted out, on the outside with 18” polished alloys with grey centres, Command-Trac® II full-time 4WD system with Hill Descent Control, a hard, body-coloured spare wheel cover, silver door mirrors, b ody-coloured 7-slot grille with silver Inserts & headlamp throats.
Safety is also improved over the last version, with ParkSense® front & rear park assist with ‘Stop’, ParkView reversing camera with dynamic grid, LED headlamps with LED daytime running lights) & LED tail lamps. Blind Spot Monitoring & Rear Cross Path Detection & keyless enter-N-Go are fitted on the Overland.
Inside, the Overland comes with a hard top headlining, 7″ TFT instrument cluster, Uconnect LiveTM 8.4” radio nav with DAB, voice command & smart touch nav system, Apple CarPlay & Android Auto, a 552-Watt 9-speaker + subwoofer Alpine Audio System.
Getting comfortable is easy with a 6-way adjustable driver’s seat with 2-way lumbar support & 4-way adjustable passenger seat, with the heated front seats finished in McKinley leather. The steering wheel functions include cruise control & speed limiter as well as the buttons for the handsfree phone & infotainmen
Even the 4-door version is quick, with a 0-62mph time of 9.6 seconds & a top speed of 112mph. The Wranglers not light though, coming in at 2044kg, so unsurprisingly fuel economy suffers with a combined figure of 36.7 mpg & CO2 emissions of 202g/kg.
A few miles of winding B roads began our drive & the Wrangler’s a comfortable place to be. There’s a lot of switches & buttons in front of the driver, but all fall easily to hand & are also clear to understand. The auto-box is smooth & helps power the Wrangler along at a comfortable pace. Handling & ride on road isn’t fantastic, compared to say a Cherokee, but that’s not the point. All Wrangler models are built to go off-road & that’s where the new Wrangler excels.
Even on road tyres fitted to our Overland, the Wrangler 4-door takes it all in it’s stride. You can leave it in 4WD auto where it’ll switch between 4WD & 2WD as needed. There’s also a part-time 4WD high range setting & a 4WD low-range box for serious off-roading. Ardent Off Road organised the event & took us on some very challenging routes made worse by the continuous rain that welcomed us to the Lakes.
The longer 4-door coped extremely well with what was thrown at us & then after a coffee stop, we switched to the more off-road worthy 2-door range-topping Rubicon. You can electronically disconnect the sway bar for maximum suspension travel on this model which we did. The short wheel base & the knobbly BF Goodrich 32” tyres just make the Rubicon even more fun when tackling those hard to reach places.
Back on road, these tyres though, are noticeably noisy & the beefed up suspension means that you do lose some on road comfort compared to the smoother road-riding Overland or Sahara. The interior in the 2-door feels more claustrophobic than in the 4-door & accessing the rear seats isn’t actually that easy. The 2.0 litre petrol version we drove was a little quieter than the 2.2 diesel, but otherwise there’s not a lot between them, including economy & emissions, with the petrol offering a combined fuel economy of 37.7mpg & emissions of 197g/km.
Back in 1977, I had no idea that I would grow up to write about cars & vans, but after a day out with Jeep off-roading in the Wrangler, I’m very glad that I do. The Wrangler is an immense off-road proposition & even though it’s not a cheap car to buy, it’s iconic looks & incredible flexibility, make it a must for those customers who really want to experience the USA & the great outdoors.