Few cars define a brand better than the Jeep Wrangler. The Porsche 911, an iconic sports car, is surely one, and the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, a car steeped in luxury, is another. But there are also not many cars that have remained so close to the original recipe - conceptually at least - like the Wrangler that still holds shades of the original Willys Overland that spawned the Jeep brand on the battlefields of World War II.
All-new for 2019, the Wrangler has been hauled into the 21st century with the sixth-generation model that is due to land in Australia early next year.
It's a car Jeep claims is better than before in every environment - whether it's around town, out on the open highway or traversing the roughest terrain - with improved on-road dynamics, greater off-road capabilites, modern safety systems, up-to-the-minute connectivity and conveniences and more efficient powertrains.
In an effort to showcase its new-found all-round strengths, we sampled the most off-road focused version - the Wrangler Rubicon - in California recently, driving it on the roads around Lake Tahoe and heading deep into the wilderness on the trail that bears the same name and plays a significant role in Jeep's development program, the rough-and-rugged 20km-long Rubicon Trail.
While the Wrangler is a genuine four-wheel drive - and one of the most popular for hard-core enthusiasts in the US - it has played more of an urban role in Australia as a fashion statement for beachside hipsters and wannabe adventurers.
Which is understandable, as the Wrangler has a beefed-up, retro-tinged style all of its own.
Like before, it will be available in both short-wheelbase two-door and long-wheelbase four-door body styles, with a dual-cab ute - set to be called Scrambler - due to be revealed at the Los Angeles motor show later this year and expected to arrive in Australian showrooms within 12 months.
Jeep Australia has yet to confirm exact details - including the model line-up, prices and features - ahead of its official launch around February 2019.
But it is expected to follow a similar path to the current model, with an entry-level Sport, luxury-grade Overland (which is badged Sahara in the US, but can't be used in Australia as Toyota owns the trademark) and the off-road focused Rubicon, and potentially a mid-grade Limited in the four-door.
Prices are likely to increase marginally over today, with a starting point just above $40,000 for an entry-level two-door and stretching over $50k for a fully-loaded four-door.
All of the variants ride on a completely new ladder-frame chassis that is longer and stronger than before, providing additional interior space, allowing for a raked-back windscreen to improve aerodynamics as well as better on-road dynamics and off-road ability.
Underneath, there is heavy-duty front and rear axles, revised suspension and the option of a six-speed manual or eight-speed automatic transmission.
Jeep Australia has confirmed an improved version of the 3.6-litre petrol V6 will feature across the range, and a diesel engine will also be available but has yet to confirm whether it will be a 2.2-litre unit or more advanced 2.0-litre turbo motor.
In any case, there are three transfer case set-ups for different models; a road-biased Selec-Trac unit allows for permanent all-wheel drive for the first time, and a Command-Trac 4x4 is a conventional two-speed unit while the Rubicon features a unique Rock-Trac 4x4 system with lowered crawl ratios, Dana 44 front and rear axles and locking differentials.
The latter is also fitted with larger 33-inch tyres in the US (although they will measure 32-inches in Australia) and an electronic front sway bar that can be disconnected to increase its wheel articulation.
Speaking of which, Jeep claims the new Wrangler has better off-road clearances than before with an approach angle of 44 degrees, a breakover angle of 27.8 degrees, departure angle of 37 degrees, 276mm of ground clearance and up to 762mm of water fording.
Besides its actual off-road gear, the Wrangler Rubicon's cabin comes equipped with a range-topping 8.4-inch colour touchscreen in the centre of the dash with sat nav, digital radio, Bluetooth, smartphone mirroring for Apple and Android devices and a host of four-wheel drive gauges and performance parameters.
There's also a bunch of 'easter eggs' hidden within the design of the car that will appeal to Jeep enthusiasts, such as the Willy's Jeep silhouette in the lower corner of the windscreen, the retro-styled gear shifter and LED tail lights that are inspired by Jerry cans.
Beyond that, there is a plethora of a official accessories on offer to personalise the appearance, improve its four-wheel drive credentials and convenient storage options.
It also has a host of modern safety systems including automated emergency braking on top-range versions, plus blindspot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alerts, a reverse camera and four airbags.
Uniquely, the windscreen can still be unbolted from the header rail and lowered on to the bonnet to maximise the open-air feel when crawling through the bush.
On that topic, Jeep offers more roof options than before with the all-new Wrangler, including a soft top on the two-door with window panels at the back that are easier to remove and re-attach, a hard top on the four-door with removable roof panels and a new power roof on the four-door with a retracting, full-length fabric section.
The extension to the Wrangler's wheelbase has increased interior room on both the two-door and four-door models, but the latter gains more in the back making it a genuine family SUV alternative while the former remains best suited to style-conscious buyers looking for a tough convertible that can go anywhere, even if they never leave the beachside enclaves.
In either version, those in the front are treated to a commanding view across the bonnet and into the distance down the road, with decent adjustment to the driving position, logical controls, clear instruments and plenty of headroom above them.
In the two-door, the back seats are a bit squeezy for everyday use, but friends and kids will certainly put up with the compromises when the roof is off and the feeling of open-air freedom is blowing in their face.
The four-door is a different proposition altogether, with generous rear-seat space and significantly more cargo room in the back, making it a genuinely family-friendly machine.
Not even Alladin's Magic Carpet could make traversing the roughest sections of the Rubicon a plush experience. It's that tough.
But the Wrangler manages to tread further than few other four-wheel drives could venture.
And, in that regard, it is extremely capable, and passengers are treated to grab handles throughout the cabin to keep themselves securely in place.
The seats, however, could do with more bolstering, yet it is an easy cabin to be bounced around within for eight hours behind the wheel.
The two-door's boot space is only large enough for a couple of small bags, but the four-door's 890L volume makes it capacious and suitable for a full family getaway.
The double-opening operation is compromised somewhat by the spare tyre mounted on the back, as the side-opening tailgate has to be opened first before lifting up the glass hatch. Anyway, it opens up to a generous space that can be configured with a myriad of official accessories to suit different applications, and, like the rest of the cabin, can be easily housed out after a bush-bashing expedition.
ON THE ROAD
We only sampled the Rubicon with the all-alloy 3.6-litre Penstastar V6, which generates 209kW and 353Nm.
Despite its maximum pulling power being recorded at 4800rpm, it has been tuned to produce plenty of low-rev responsiveness which is critical when crawling at slow speeds over rocks, through rivers and in-and-out of ruts.
In that sense, it is an amazingly elastic engine that feels understressed and supremely robust, particularly while pottering along under heavy loads at average speeds of less than 2km/h with the ambient temperature hovering around 30 degrees celcius.
On the road, it has plenty of get-up-and-go too with a nice and linear power delivery, and a sweet soundtrack in the middle rev range under acceleration.
It works well with the smooth-shifting eight-speed automatic, which is intuitive in selecting the right gear at the right time when left to its own devices, whether it is cruising at highway speeds, charging around the suburbs or scrambling through the scrub.
In the right context, such as the extreme terrain that makes up the Rubicon, the Wrangler is a barrel of fun.
Making full use of its ultra-low gearing, four-wheel drive traction and Kevlar-reinforced rubber, it can - quite literally - climb mountains, cross flowing rivers and crawl over gnarly boulder-strewn tracks. It feels as though it could dig its way out of anything.
With huge levels of wheel articulation, heavy-duty underbody protection and generous ground clearance (just look at the photos of its front and rear wheels sitting at completely different angles, tucked high into the wheel well on one side and hanging in the air on the other), it's hard to fathom any other showroom-spec machine being able to do what the Wrangler can on the Rubicon. You only have to look at the hugely modified machines in the carpark at the trail head and the camp ground at the other end to see what extreme measures other owners go through to ensure they make it in, and out again, of the Rubicon.
While it is still built to tackle such terrain, it is considerably better to drive around town than its predecessor. Okay, it's hardly a sports car by any stretch of the imagination, as it will lean through the bends and the live-axle set-up at both ends is hardly the last word in sophistication and refinement, but the soft suspension settings ensure it is reasonably comfortable and compliant over bumps and the new-for-this model electric power steering has a more consistent weight across the ratio and better on-centre feel that prevents it from wandering aimlessly across camber changes in the road - especially at highway speeds.
There, it is quieter than before too, with acceptable road noise considering its tyres and just a hint of turbulence from its Dumbo-ear wing mirrors, and the improved aerodynamics don't stop it from accelerating when overtaking like the last one, which felt like you were driving a block of flats into a head wind at anything over 100km/h.
Just like the Porsche 911 and Mercedes-Benz S-Class, a fully fresh Jeep Wrangler doesn't come along all that often, this being just the sixth all-new model since 1947.
As it is with those benchmark icons for performance and luxury, each generation takes a significant step beyond the perfection of its predecessors, which is exactly what Jeep has done with the all-new Wrangler.
Similarly, it performs at its best only within a narrow bandwidth, and it's a shame that probably just a handful of owners will ever utilise its full potential. But, just knowing what it can do will be appealing enough for many more while appreciating its much improved on-road manners around the suburbs.
The Wrangler is still the Jeep of Jeeps.