JEEP WRANGLER REVIEW
Vehicle style: Two-door 4X4 compact SUV
Price: $34,000 (plus on-road costs)
Options fitted: Renegade pack - $2500, connectivity group (AAJ) - $490
For ‘go anywhere’ off-road credentials, the Jeep Wrangler is likely to be somewhere front-of-mind for most of us.
With its short wheelbase, short overhangs, large tyres and wide track - and partially developed at the Rubicon Trail in California - this is surely one of the more-qualified rock crawlers around.
Ok, so it’s good at clambering over boulders, but how will it fare when faced with bone-dry sand? To really test it out, we found the hungriest dust we could find and let it loose.
With the new Pentastar V6 under the bonnet, the MY12 Wrangler has more power and torque than before - something easily wasted in a flurry of wheelspin in the hands of the inexperienced.
So, what was the result? Does the short-wheel-base Wrangler deliver on its promise - and could you live with it day-to-day?
Quality: With the Wrangler, what you see is what you get. It’s whole persona is as a tough go anywhere ‘truck’, so don’t go looking too hard for creature-comforts or Lexus-style trim and fit.
Visual clues to its utilitarian past are the bonnet clips, canvas straps to stop the doors opening too far and interior plastics of the hose-out variety. Basic, it has to be said, but each successive Wrangler is getting easier on the eye, aesthetics-wise.
Comfort: The seats are reasonably wide and well padded, and the trim material is durable and not un-appealing. That said, with a suspension that’s set-up primarily for the dusty trail, there is too much bouncing and jiggling to describe the ride as “comfortable”.
But don’t be too deterred, it’s kind-of fun in its own idiosyncratic way. Top down, and heading to the beach, everyone will want to be travelling with you - guaranteed.
Equipment: The Wrangler is fairly basic, but you get air-con, leather-wrapped steering-wheel, electric windows and a six-speaker sound system. Removable doors are standard kit.
If, as per our test car, you option the Renegade Pack, you get a heap more: Infinity Audio including a subwoofer, six-disc CD/DVD/MP3 player, tinted glass, hard-top and side-steps. The Connectivity pack (also fitted) gives you Bluetooth with contact synching and voice commands.
Storage: For a compact ‘box’, storage space isn’t too bad. There’s 142 litres of available cargo space with the seats up, but fold them and it’s nearly 500 litres. Just don’t leave anything of value in the canvas back, it’ll be gone in a trice.
Thankfully, Jeep can also supply a hardtop which can be fitted in around half-an-hour; a few bolts here and there makes it a simple fit, and one that, for security reasons alone, would be best kept on full-time.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: Our journey to the off-road tracks brought to light some interesting characteristics of the Wrangler.
The new 3.6-litre V6 offers the Jeep better urge thanks to its 209kW output, though its peak torque of 347Nm is still quite high in the rev-range; at 4300rpm to be precise.
This makes taking off quickly a bit laborious, as it has to rev-out for real progress. Once on the roll, the five-speed auto does its job reasonably well, but an extra cog would be helpful for keeping the engine on the boil for longer.
Refinement: It’s about as refined as, well, a Jeep. Refinement isn’t the name of the game; the Wrangler is all about image, lifestyle and fun. At least the new V6 doesn’t sound too gravelly.
Suspension: Again, things below are pretty unsophisticated for tarmac driving. The front and rear setups both use five-link live axles with coil springs – they’re not really suited to the city, with a solid, almost unyielding firmness.
The Wrangler’s steering is also disappointing on the road, with almost no feel, and the weighting is the same in a carpark as it is at the national speed limit. You find yourself continually correcting your line, and guessing where the wheels are going.
Brakes: With quite a wooden pedal feel, the brakes do their job, but not without plenty of encouragement. For those who love figures, the Wrangler uses 332mm vented fronts and 316mm solid rear discs.
OFF THE ROAD
The Wrangler may not have many endearing qualities on road - besides image - but venture way off the beaten track and it begins to make a lot more sense.
This test was a sand test - arguably one of the hardest for any four-wheel-drive.
There were two options for our time in the Wrangler. First option, we could let the tyre pressures down. That would get it through just about everything, with bagged out hoops.
Our second option was to keep road pressures throughout the entire test, giving a true indication of just how far the Wrangler could go without any driver intervention. Needless to say, we went with option number two.
That its all-wheel-drive system is built for boulders is obvious by the fact that when 4-high is selected, stability control stays on. This way you can climb up slippery surfaces and use the electronic brain to brake individual wheels when slippage occurs.
Jeep however, has not forgotten to cater for sand-driving. Thus, when 4-low is selected, the ESC is disabled; because when running road pressures in hungry sand, momentum is critical.
And because sand driving always involves a degree of slippage, having the ESC chiming in can wipe off any speed you may have gathered, sinking the car in a split second.
It’s better to have the wheels continually churning away, keeping forward movement happening. Come to a standstill, and you’ll be on the shovel within minutes. The downside is if you want to switch the ESC on when in 4-low, you can’t.
On the tracks leading to the sand bowl, the Wrangler jostled the kids with its firm suspension tune, but rather than complaints, cheers erupted from the back seat. (Children… they get it.)
The articulation from below and the wheels’ vertical oscillation works well when clambering over bumps; the wheels are almost never off the deck, meaning no loss of drive when needed.
Something else becomes apparent when the going gets tough: the steering changes.
On road, the steering is lifeless and annoying. But off-road, the steering’s lightness allows you to wheel quickly left and right.
While the engine needs a kick in the guts to go anywhere quickly on the road, when used in low-range, the gearing is shortened, and the torque curve and five-speed transmission becomes quite useful.
The gearbox’s left-right shift pattern for manual mode is extremely intuitive and there’s a gear indicator on the dashboard.
Did we get bogged? The answer is an emphatic no. Sure, we tried, and there were times in the deeper softer sections when we thought it may happen, but the trick is to use the low-down torque, to avoid wild wheelspin, and to patiently worm through.
On some of the steeper uphill climbs it struggled a little and pulled us up once. The choice was whether to hit the crest at ludicrous speed (and ludicrous air), and risk breaking something, or find another path for it to drag its way up and over - we went for the latter.
There’s no doubt that running 12psi in the tyres would have overcome those last couple of feet, but we simply reversed down and tried a different section of the hill, which was conquered easily.
A key part of four-wheel-driving is to pick the right line. Heroics may look spectacular, but can be expensive; sometimes choosing a less difficult trail means you’ll get to your destination in one piece.
On the flats, no matter how thick the dust, the Jeep was unstoppable, meaning nearly any beach in Australia can be tackled on road pressures. There’s no doubt the Goodyear Wrangler tyres help here, too. Yes, the Wrangler is shod in Wranglers. Nice touch.
TMR OFF-ROAD VERDICT | OVERALL
This Jeep is built for off-road duties, no doubt about it. It doesn’t seem to matter which situation you throw it into – mud, snow, sand, rocks – it will tackle it head-on. Let the tyres down a little, and it’s even more impressive.
But you have to understand that it’s only comfortable when doing that. Leave it on the road and the Wrangler is outclassed by so many others. So, if you’re spending a lot of time on the blacktop, do your arms and back a favour and have a look elsewhere.
However, if you’re heading to the beach or the bush every other day, in this price range nothing can touch it.
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