Because this Jeep Wrangler is never going to win a prize for highway performance, or refinement or smoothness. A pretty face? No. Sophisticated? Not on your life. But rugged charm and capability? It’s loaded with it.
Vehicle style: Five-door heavy-duty SUV wagon
Price: $44,000 (plus on-road costs)
Engine/trans: 2.8 litre turbo-diesel | 5spd automatic
Fuel consumption listed: 8.8 l/100km | Tested: 10.2 l/100km
We saddled up the rarest of the Wrangler breed here, the 2.8 litre diesel automatic in base-model Sport guise. Even with a recent price rise, the Wrangler is still one of the least expensive heavy-duty 4WDs out there.
The diesel is thin on the ground in Jeep Australia showrooms: there’s currently a wait on delivery. But we think this model - at $44,000 neat (plus) is the pick of the range.
As we’ve mentioned in other encounters with this capable, demanding, and truck-like car - this is for the buyer who has some real adventure in mind.
Here is our report.
- Leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio and cruise controls
- Power windows and heated exterior mirrors
- Manual air-conditioning
- Cruise control
- Six-speaker audio; CD/DVD/MP3 radio with audio jack
- Uconnect telephony with Bluetooth connectivity and hands-free calling
- Fold and tumble second-row bench with two head-restraints
- Halogen headlights, fog lamps
Quality: Some will find things a bit too utilitarian in here, but its ‘horses for courses’ - the Wrangler Unlimited is made for the off-road adventure, and it’s not trying to be a limousine.
It feels as solid as a brick in a sock, and free of rattles and squeaks whatever the road below.
The dash is upright and ‘square-on’, instruments and dials are easily read and the plastics and surfaces all have a ‘robust, built-to-last’ feel about them, as do the rotary controls.
The leather-trimmed multi-function steering wheel has a chunky sporty feel, is reach and rake-adjustable and nicely weighted.
Comfort: The seats, trimmed with a firm tight-weave fabric, are surprisingly good. Their shaping, especially if you happen to have a slightly creaky back, is just right for long distance travel and also for holding the bum in place off-road.
It takes a bit of fiddling to get the adjustment right, but, once set, we found them comfortable with good support (in the right places) and good underthigh padding.
There is no ‘dead-pedal’ for resting the left foot, which is an omission, especially as the transmission tunnel is a little oddly shaped down there (thanks to the left-hand-drive origins) and pedals are skewed a little to the right.
Equipment: While the expected basics are there - hands-free Bluetooth, cruise control, six-speaker audio and the like - the Wrangler Sport’s standard feature list (see above) is not overflowing.
A surprise omission from the standard list is a rear-view camera, as is warning sensors.
This is an oversight in a boxy high-riding car like the Wrangler - four doors suggest family buyers and a family driveway, and the Wrangler is not especially easy to see out of when reversing.
If you can’t negotiate getting a camera thrown in by your dealer, bite the bullet and tick the option box.
The controls on the multi-function steering wheel operate from the front and back of the wheel - cruise control and telephony on the front face, and audio volume and mode controls at the rear (at the fingertips) which I find intuitive and easily used.
Storage and tow rating: The glovebox is a good size, there are ‘bottle-nets’ (or maybe they’re map-pockets) in each of the doors and under the armrest is a large bin, easily big enough for an SLR camera.
The boot is big and square but compromised by a protruding cavity for the sub-woofer.
Towing capacity (braked) is 2.0 tonne, and 750kg unbraked; ample for families and grey nomads.
ON THE ROAD
- 2.8 litre CRD DOHC 16V 4-cylinder turbo diesel
- 5-speed Automatic Transmission
- [email protected],600rpm, [email protected],600-2,600rpm
- Command-Trac, manual, part-time, shift-on-the-fly transfer case
- Heavy-duty suspension: front and rear feature 5-link solid axles with coil springs, heavy-duty monotube gas-charged shock absorbers
- Four-wheel disc anti-lock brake system (ABS)
- Dana 30 heavy-duty solid front axle, and Dana 44 heavy-duty solid rear axle
- Turning circle: 10.4m
Driveability: Could you live with this car as a day-to-day driver? That’s the question you need to ask when considering a truck-ish four-wheel-drive wagon like the Wrangler.
Because it is a bit of a dinosaur on the road.
Despite a 2.8 litre intercooled diesel with a healthy 147kW of power and 460Nm of torque to call on, it lumbers a little away from standstill. You have to give the heavy accelerator a decent shove to get it to pick up its heels.
Once moving it’s fine - there is enough underfoot for overtaking, again necessitating a hefty prod, and also when accelerating out of a corner.
Though peak torque is available from as low as 1600rpm, you’ll find the sideways +/- manual shift plane useful for keeping things on the boil.
Left to its own devices, it will otherwise downshift pretty slowly. The ratios in the five-speed auto are tall and widely spaced for the open road, not tight city streets. The result is that it can feel a little sluggish around town until you adapt to it.
Keep it in the meat of the torque band though, and those 470Nm really aren’t troubled by the Wrangler’s 2.0 tonne (1987kg) bulk. And, despite the bulk, it is surprisingly manoeuvrable. Its turning circle is better - at 10.4 metres - than many heavy-duty four-wheel-drives.
Refinement: "Refinement" perhaps isn’t a concept you need to spend too much time agonising over with the diesel Wrangler.
It makes a fair old rattle when cold, and is no magic-carpet ride on the highway.
Down below is a full ladder-frame steel chassis, and everything sits on top of that. That chassis gives it enormous strength for off-road work, but comes with a lot of compromises for the highway.
That said, don’t write it off till you try it; it’s actually fun on the road and lopes along with a bit of tyre and engine noise - but not too much to spoil the fun. And, surprisingly, wind noise is pretty low.
Suspension: Solid axles and coil springs front and rear: that’s a tried and proven formula for the off-road warrior.
And while the monocoque is king in lighter duty 4WDs and SUVs, the full chassis still rules at the heavy-lifting end of things.
The solid axles provide amazing articulation when stepping over boulders or negotiating deep ruts - helped enormously by the 257mm of ground clearance.
On-road, it is, as mentioned, more rugged warrior than limousine. While the gas shock-absorbers are tuned to soften as speed rises, it can still be pretty jiggly on rippled or broken tarmac.
Interestingly, the Wrangler banishes corrugations on gravel, but doesn’t do as well with some of the goat tracks we call secondary highways.
Braking: Braking performance is safe and heavily assisted by the ABS and skid control technology.
That said, the big heavy Jeep is no sports car, and, in an emergency stop there is 2.0 tonne to keep in mind as well as dual-purpose Goodyear Wrangler tyres down below.
That means you need to widen that freeway gap at highway speeds, especially in the wet. You’ll be in the back-seat of a BMW otherwise.
(A modern high-powered road car has amazing braking performance; a heavy-duty half-truck like the Wrangler can’t hope to match those stopping distances.)
OFF THE ROAD
When testing off-road in Victoria, we usually head to a few favoured tracks up behind the Thompson Dam. The off-road trails there are long, and enormously steep.
At this time of year though, a lot of the tracks are closed and others running rivers of mud. And it’s not great spending a freezing night there. (Been there, done that...)
We went and had a look, noted the sodden tracks and thunderclouds heading our way, and decided that discretion was the better part of valour. We headed instead to a bikers’ quagmire for our snaps.
But the Wrangler has proven its unstoppability to us many times: over rocks, through gullies, into ravines and across rivers.
The auto, in particular, seems to best harness the torque of the diesel, and it can be crept into and out of some amazing places.
Add to that its off-road hardware and amazing wheel articulation, and you’ll find yourself looking down into things that will occasionally have your heart in your throat.
Muscle it into low range (the transfer-case shift is ridiculously heavy) and you'll have no trouble creeping through with a slippery glue-pot, and there’s ample protection down below (3.0mm stamped steel off-road skid plates) should you run right out of ground clearance.
The Wrangler has few peers when it comes to grafting out a really challenging trail.
ANCAP rating: Not tested.
Safety features: Dual airbags, electronic stability control, ABS brakes, height adjustable pre-tensioning front seatbelts, and high-tensile steel roll bars are standard. Side airbags for front passengers are available as an option.
There’s also electronic stability control (ESC)with Brake Assist, traction control, electronic roll mitigation, diff-lock and hill descent control.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: 3 years/100,000km
Service costs: Consult your dealer for service costs and schedules
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
Land Rover Defender 110 ($47,500) - Even more utilitarian than the Wrangler, the Defender has been around since the Flintstones. Its ability off-road is legend; that’s why so many still ply the steppes of Africa and other frontiers.
But time is wearying the Defender, and the Wrangler is quite a bit cheaper and a little easier to live with. (see Land Rover reviews)
Mitsubishi Challenger LS 2.5DT ($44,990) - Matches the Jeep for price, and more car-like, but similarly untroubled by a steep fire-trail, rocky water crossing or slippery track.
The diesel is strong, if a little hoary and unrefined, but the Challenger has proven robust and capable off-road. Interior comfort is pretty good and its on-road behaviour is better than the Wrangler. (see Challenger reviews)
Isuzu MU-X 3.0 diesel LS-M ($47,800) - The Isuzu is looking a little like the quiet achiever at the moment. It’s very good off-road, has a torture-tested commercial diesel under the bonnet and an equally unburstable drivetrain.
It will do everything the Prado will do (for instance), and go most places you’d take the Wrangler. It’s also jiggly on some roads but misses on the Jeep’s charm. (see MU-X reviews)
Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Yes, our feelings for the tough-as-boots Wrangler haven’t changed.
We like the Wrangler; we like the painted panels rimming the doors, we like its rock-solid feel at the wheel and the old-fashioned flat screen sitting just ahead of the finger-tips.
It’s got some irritations, but spend a week with it - go for a long drive, take it way off road - and you’ll forgive its shortcomings.
It’s no revolutionary but neither is it a dressed-up poser. It will go up and down almost anything and, at $44,000 neat for the diesel auto (without ticking any options boxes), it soundly beats most of its logical competitors on price.
The petrol versions with the V6 Pentastar will go everywhere the diesel will go, but at a fuel penalty. In our view, the diesel is the pick. It’s a bit hoary, but so is the car - and that’s exactly why we like it.