IAIN ROBERTSON 

While he would prefer to heap praise on a Land Rover, Iain Robertson is only too aware that Jeep has an indefatigable reputation for true off-road competence and its latest Wrangler model is in a near-unique and incontestable position.

Land Rover ought to be kicking itself. Seemingly hell-bent on serving the needs of soft-roaders and the Chelsea Tractor set, a replacement for the much-loved (albeit exceptionally unreliable) Defender is still little more than lightly mentioned. On the other hand, an undisputed off-road champion, the new generation of Wrangler promises enhanced levels of comfort and re-jigged driving dynamics, to whisk it bang up-to-date and ready to fill a market void. It is not bad for a brand that was kickstarted in 1941 and a model that has altered since then but not massively…it is only the fourth generation of the Wrangler. Towards the end of the 1990s, I was fortunate enough to tackle the most severe-rated off-road trek in the world, at the controls of a Wrangler; the Rubicon Trail, in the High Sierras above Lake Tahoe, Arizona.

With top down, screen folded flat and doors removed, my co-driver (Bill Thomas, an Australian journalist) and me winched our car across rock-fields, negotiated deep, water-filled gorges, stormed one-in-one inclines and balanced precariously on narrow ledges, while avoiding the attentions of black bears, black ants and rattlesnakes. As we discovered, no other vehicle in the world would have been more appropriate. However, the Wrangler of that era was rough and ready, lacked sophistication and was significantly more ‘at home’ in the boondocks than on public roads.

As a result, for 2018, Jeep has produced the most capable Wrangler ever, which, dependent on trim level, can include two advanced four-wheel drive, active, on-demand, full-time systems (Command-Trac and Rock Trac), plus Tru-Lock electric front- and rear-axle lockers, Trac-Lok limited slip differential and electronic front anti-rollbar disconnect, to improve traction and axle articulation in extreme conditions. After all, Jeep has a huge reputation to live up to and, if it cannot set the standards, it is doubtful if any other manufacturer will do so. Land Rover is not.

Its design that stays true to the original, combines open-air freedom and advanced technology features in terms of both safety and connectivity. The fourth generation Jeep Wrangler is offered in three different trim levels: Sport, Sahara and Rubicon. All are available in two-, or four-door configuration, and in an all-new Overland pack, exclusively on the Sahara model, for a more up-scale appearance.

The all-new Wrangler goes on-sale in September, featuring ‘shift on the fly’ technology, which enables shifting between 2WD and 4WD High ranges, at speeds up to 72kph. Every Wrangler receives a ‘Trail Rated’ badge that highlights its legendary 4×4 capabilities, which is the result of a series of heavy tests performed in traction, fording, manoeuvrability, axle articulation and ground clearance. Every new Jeep must pass the ultimate test of completing the car-wrecking Rubicon Trail.

Despite being brand new, the Wrangler builds on recognisable cues, from round headlights to the seven-slot grille, its trapezoidal wheel arches to the visible hinges, the folding windshield to the sport bar and from the removable doors to the open-air configurations, with either hard or soft tops. It is bold and rugged, with a wide stance and lowered beltline with larger windows for better outward visibility. Lightweight, high-strength aluminium doors can be removed easily.

Among an array of accessories and personalisation features, a wide variety of alloy wheel designs is available for the Wrangler. The Sport rides on standard 17.0-inch, polished and painted aluminium wheels, while the Sahara employs standard 18.0-inch alloys. The car will be available in a choice of ten different exterior colours: Black, Firecracker Red, Billet Silver Metallic, Bright White, Granite Crystal Metallic, Hellayella, Ocean Blue, Punk’n Metallic, Mojito and Sting Gray.

The interior of the new Jeep Wrangler has also been changed radically. Its centre stack features a clean, sculpted form, employing soft-touch surfaces that compliments the horizontal dashboard design and sports a finish dictated by model. Vastly improved switchgear, set out with greater logic, is noticeable. A push-button starter, featuring a weather-proof surround, and a choice of either fabric or leather upholstery, complete with adjustable bolster and lumbar support, can be augmented with heaters for both front seats and steering wheel rim. Just because you surge off-road does not mean that you should ignore creature comforts.

The central console can feature either a 7.0-inch or an 8.4-inch touchscreen (both with Android-auto Car Play connectivity). Durable mesh pockets extend the entire length of the doors and there are cup holders, storage slots and places where possessions can be stored securely. Everything onboard the iconic Jeep has been engineered for easy, practical operation and its levels of connectivity are pitched at a new peak.

All-new suspension for the Wrangler has been tuned to optimise on-road handling and ride comfort, without sacrificing off-road competence. There are no gas-guzzling V6, or V8 engines available, although the largely familiar 2.2-litre MultiJet II turbo-diesel (200bhp) and the 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder (272bhp) petrol engines are more than punchy enough. They are mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission, which makes crossing any terrain more delightful.

Driver and passenger safety were key elements in the development of the new model, including Blind-Spot Monitoring and Rear Cross Path detection, front and rear Park assist, rear backup camera with dynamic grid lines, electronic stability control (ESC) with ERM (Electronic Roll Mitigation) and four standard airbags.

Sadly, for its main rival from Land Rover, there are still no signs of a new Defender and, despite the British company building a number of high-priced ‘evocation’ models, there has been little built on the wave of nostalgia that was created more than three years ago, at the previous model’s demise. To many servicemen, the Defender is and was a mobility lifeline and, even though the Ministry of Defence supply contract ended a number of years ago, the Land Rover remains a stalwart of the British Armed Forces.

Of course, in leisure terms, the tough (but far-from-bulletproof) Defender is a default option for trialling, trail-driving, green-laning (where possible, these days) and unquestionable ownership kudos. Yet, Jeep, its only true rival, can now boast seriously enhanced levels of both on-road and off-road prowess. As I can recall, from almost two decades ago, the Wrangler of that era was already the king of all terrains. It owns a spot in the specialised new car sector that is unlikely to be relinquished at any time in the near future. If you desire a tough, resilient and capable off-roader, a Jeep Wrangler is what you should be driving.

Conclusion:   Masculine, rough and ready transport is epitomised by the Jeep Wrangler and, even though the firm has a gentle Italian accent these days, its latest model demonstrates that it has lost none of its machismo!