2013 JEEP WRANGLER REVIEW
Vehicle Style: Large 4WD wagon
Price: $47,000 (plus on-roads)
Fuel Economy claimed: 11.7 l/100km | tested: 14.2 l/100km
The Jeep Wrangler is like the shark.
Sharks have been swimming the world’s oceans since prehistory, largely ignoring evolution and resolutely sticking to a well-proven, razor-toothed formula.
And just like the shark, the Wrangler hasn’t strayed far from its progenitor.
While much of the rest of the AWD world has moved to lighter-weight monocoques, sophisticated independent suspensions and more aerodynamic lines, the Wrangler has stuck to a formula that has gone fundamentally unchanged since the original Jeep rolled onto the battlefields of World War 2.
So it’s hardly cutting-edge, but there’s a certain rugged charm to the Wrangler.
Even the new up-spec Wrangler Overland - the subject of this test - is, at its core, a basic and honest machine.
We tested the Overland’s mettle both on road and off. While there are certain aspects of its character that make it hard to live with, there’s stacks of appeal for the avid off-roader.
Quality: While durability is hard to dispute, it’s equally hard to love the Wrangler’s rock-solid and unyielding interior plastics.
But we heard no rattles from the Wrangler’s cabin fittings whatsoever, even when driving at speed on deeply corrugated dirt roads. What the Wrangler lacks in material finesse, it makes up for with sheer solidity.
Comfort: The driving position takes some getting used to. You sit quite upright and close to the steering wheel (which doesn’t adjust for reach by the way, only tilt), yet despite your proximity to the windscreen the view outside is like peering through a mail slot.
However, you get a good sense of where the corners of the car are, and that’s vital for an off-roader.
The large wing mirrors also improve outside visibility, although over-the-shoulder vision is compromised by the roll bar that cuts diagonally between the C and D pillar.
The back seat is short and getting in is made difficult by the small door apertures. Legroom is good, however the slabby seat cushions give little in the way of comfort or support.
Equipment: The Overland was introduced earlier this year to add some luxury to the range, bringing with it niceties like leather upholstery, sat-nav, climate control, 18-inch alloys, a reversing camera and body-coloured fenders and roof panels.
The rest of the spec sheet is familiar Wrangler stuff. Cruise control, trip computer, foglamps, heated wing-mirrors plus Bluetooth phone and audio integration.
Storage: With the rear seats in place, the Wrangler has 498 litres of luggage room. That’s a decent size, but not exceptional considering the Wrangler’s footprint and tall, boxy cabin.
Chalk that down to sizable wheel arch intrusion. Our tester also had its soft top mechanism stowed in the boot, which greatly reduced the practicality of the load area.
Fold the seats down though, and there’s around 1000 litres of space. Plenty for some long-distance touring through the great outdoors.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: The Overland’s 3.6 litre naturally-aspirated petrol V6 is relatively new for the JK Wrangler, having been added in March 2012.
It’s smooth and quiet, and, with 209kW and 347Nm, not wanting for either power or torque.
It could do with a more modern transmission though, as its 5-speed automatic is based on antiquated Mercedes-Benz hardware.
With a kerb weight just shy of 2.0 tonnes, the Wrangler Overland is predictably soft when accelerating. Combine that weight with the Wrangler’s blocky profile and you also get woeful fuel economy.
Jeep claims the Wrangler Overland automatic returns 11.7 l/100km on the combined cycle. The best we could get was 14.2 l/100km, but we did do quite a bit of off-roading in our tester, so take that figure with a grain of salt.
Refinement: It would be, um, unfair to expect the Wrangler to have any semblance of refinement, and beyond leather trim and a fairly smooth engine, it doesn’t.
The wind whistles around the near-vertical windscreen and there’s plenty of tyre and engine noise that makes its way into the cabin.
Astonishingly though, the interior is drum-tight, and, as mentioned, rattle free (considering the multitude of joins in the Wrangler’s three-piece removable roof that’s nothing short of amazing).
Suspension: With live axles front and rear, the Wrangler’s suspension layout is not just unsophisticated, it’s antiquated.
It certainly handles like a car from a bygone era; steering is vague (that comes with the territory of a solid front axle) and the front end shimmies over small bumps.
That said, the Wrangler is reasonably settled on the open road.
It’s not so good for city driving - a wide turning circle makes every shopping centre carpark a challenge.
Ride comfort isn’t great either. The Wrangler floats over some bumps, but feels unsettled over smaller, sharper imperfections.
Braking: Besides a pedal that feels a bit too far from the accelerator, there are no complaints about the Wrangler’s brakes. They pull up easily, although the grip from the tyres means it’s not difficult to get the ABS system kicking in.
Off road: For all its mediocrity on the road, the Wrangler is simply brilliant when on dirt, mud or gravel.
When the going gets slow, the Wrangler’s excellent wheel articulation (so THAT’S why Jeep kept the live axles) comes into play. It helps maintain contact with the ground at all four tyres, and that contributes massively to traction on challenging 4WD tracks
The transfer case is operated by an old-school selector lever next to the gear shifter, but truth be told there’s a certain appeal in engaging 4WD low through that clunky stick.
The Wrangler Overland lacks the tricky locking differentials and disconnecting swaybars of the hard-core Wrangler Rubicon, but we didn’t need them.
Considering we went off-roading in winter on shallow-treaded road tyres, that’s quite an achievement.
ANCAP rating: 4- Stars (Wrangler 2-door tested). ANCAP rated the Wrangler 27.51 points out of a possible 37.
Safety features: Dual front airbags and seat-mounted front side airbags are standard, but the Wrangler’s removable roof precludes the fitment of head-protecting curtain airbags.
ABS, EBD traction control and stability control are standard, although the latter two systems are disabled when 4WD low is engaged. The Wrangler also features hill descent control, which automatically regulates speed during steep descents.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/100,000km, whichever occurs first. Free roadside assistance is also offered for the first three years of ownership.
Service costs: Service intervals are 12,000km and costs can vary from dealer to dealer. Contact your local Jeep service centre for specific pricing.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
Toyota FJ Cruiser ($47,990) - Like the Wrangler Overland, Toyota’s FJ Cruiser has plenty of retro style and is available solely as a petrol V6 automatic.
The similarities end there though, for not only does the FJ Cruiser lack four proper doors (it gets small suicide doors for the rear passengers instead), but it has an independent front end and a great deal more on-road comfort than the Wrangler.
But like the Wrangler, it’s a very capable go-anywhere device. Thank its Prado-based underpinnings for that. (see FJ Cruiser reviews)
Land Rover Defender 110 Wagon ($47,500) - Another retro off-roader, and, like the Jeep, the Defender has few peers off-road.
It’s available only as a diesel manual, and its 2.2 litre turbodiesel four pushes out 90kW and 360Nm - more torque than the Wrangler, but substantially less power.
Spartan and not over-endowed with creature comforts, only serious off-roaders need apply. (see Defender reviews)
Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
We like how the Wrangler has stayed the same all these years. It’s familiar and dependable and its rugged simplicity is appealing.
Of course, it’s a bare-bones creature when it comes to mechanical sophistication, and it delivers an undiluted ‘built-for-adventure’ driving experience.
That’s great when you’re off-road and want to really get away from the crowd, but not so great when you’re on the blacktop.
If you’re planning on serious off-roading, you should certainly look at the Wrangler. But if you prefer a little more on-road comfort with off-road capability, the FJ Cruiser, Mitsubishi Challenger and even the Pajero might be more your cup-of-tea.