It’s questionable whether Land Rover should have killed off the Defender when it did. The reasons given were mainly to do with safety and having to retool to include more modern engineering, but Mercedes managed to breathe fresh life into its G-Class and then there’s this, the all-new Jeep Wrangler.
It’s an iconic model whose roots still emanate from the classic Willys Jeep, but the Wrangler has managed to live on and then live on again and again. The latest version was launched internationally in 2018 but Fiat Chrysler SA say it will be here in August.
We put it through its paces recently on an off-road track in the UK and a few things immediately stood out. First, Jeep have retained all the design aspects that are so important to the model. They haven’t messed things up as they did with the Cherokee, keeping the design evolutionary. They also haven’t gone too far in the direction of lifestyle, something that is most apparent in the interior.
The Wrangler’s cabin has been extensively upgraded with plusher materials but there’s a distinct toughness to it, like the surround to the infotainment screen, which is like those rubberised cases you get on a construction site laptop.
The buttons remain somewhat utilitarian, in contrast to the upmarket leather trim inserts. There’s still a traditional lever to switch into the various off-road modes, with Jeep avoiding buttons or a dial, but the main element that remains is the off-road character.
We drove the Sahara version, with its removable rear roof and panel above the driver and front passenger area. It’s the fun Jeep regenerated, conjuring up images of cruising across California beaches. The suspension is soft, showing its basic off-road character, and passengers will be glad of the numerous grab handles.
This is a lifestyle vehicle, not for the urban lifestyle though, but for those who get into the bush on the weekends, who enjoy messing around in off-road playgrounds and those with the opportunity to play in the dunes.
The model we tested featured a turbocharged four-cylinder generating 202kW and 400Nm. SA will only get 3.6 V6 versions of the Sahara and Rubicon at launch, although other models could follow and a diesel has recently been spotted testing in the US.
We tackled a mild off-road course with plenty of gravel stretches, a few cross axle tests and some steep inclines and declines. It was all rather easy for the Wrangler, which ploughed through it all as though it was a leisurely Sunday afternoon drive.
It was hardly the hardcore Rubicon trail, but it was clear that Jeep has not compromised any of the ability. There’s even a decal in the rear door pointing out your wheelbase and wading depth and proudly declaring that the vehicle is “Made in the USA”.
Until the new Defender comes along, the Wrangler has things very much to itself as far as utilitarian off-roaders are concerned, unless of course you include the lovable Suzuki Jimny. The Jimny hasn’t fared well in international crash tests though, scoring only one star, which is very disappointing.
The Wrangler also faces competition from more luxurious off-road capable vehicles like the Range Rover Evoque, but the Wrangler has evolved with the times without compromising on its heritage and its loyal fans will not be disappointed with what Jeep has managed to achieve with the latest generation.
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