Jeep's latest Wrangler driven
As one of the most iconic vehicles ever made, the Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles (FCA)-owned Jeep launched its equally popular new-generation Wrangler back in 2018. The AutoAdvisor team recently had an opportunity to drive the newcomer, in a short wheelbase, Sahara guise.
Known internally as the JL, the latest Wrangler, although seemingly similar to the outgoing JK, benefits from a more upright version of the trademark seven-slot grille, new front bumper with chrome fog light surrounds, redesigned headlights with front fender-mounted daytime running LEDs, new door handles, new fender vents and X-motif LED taillights. Despite these changes, you would have to be a real Jeep aficionado to tell the difference between the new and old Wranglers, at a glance, at least. It's unmistakably a Wrangler, which cuts a formidable silhouette that is likely to please both current and prospective owners.
It is inside where the updates are most noticeable. The familiar upright layout remains; however, the facia has been redesigned and incorporates a variety of retro-inspired design elements. The 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system is an enormous improvement over the previous system and features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. The general; fit and finish is improved too, despite the prevalence of plastics, these appeal hardy as does the rest of the interior, which is waterproof, allowing for easy cleaning.
There is enough space in the short wheelbase model for four occupants to sit in relative comfort. It is the minuscule boot in the short wheelbase model leads us to conclude the Unlimited model, with its four-door layout and capacious boot makes practical sense versus our test unit.
One of the big selling points of the Wrangler is its ability to shed body panels, with a removable roof and doors that pop off easily, using a few clips. Heading off-road with the panels removed and the roll cage-style structure visible creates a visual drama that other off-road machinery would find difficult to match.
One engine to rule them all
At this stage, only the 209 kW and 347 Nm 3.6-litre Pentastar V6 engine paired with an 8-speed automatic gearbox will be made available locally, with FCA not confirming the 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol or 3.0-litre diesel recently introduced to other markets. The engine certainly provides enough grunt and an instantaneous throttle response coupled with a great soundtrack; however, it is simply too heavy on fuel. Despite our best efforts, 12.9L/100km was our best consumption effort, far more than the 9.6 L/100km claim.
The thirsty engine aside, at moderate speeds the Wrangler is a massive improvement in terms of refinement versus its processor, offering enhanced stability and surefootedness. When approaching the national limit, the Wrangler's short wheels base and high centre of gravity mean that it never really feels stable.
In terms of off-road ability, there isn't another off-roader on sale locally that one could take from a showroom floor and outperform the Wrangler. While the Sahara model does without the trick Tru-Lok front and rear differentials and the front sway decoupling seen in the Rubicon model, it still benefits from the Command-Trac four-wheel drive system and a 3.21 axle ratio. The Wrangler makes even the most difficult of off-road obstacles appear approachable, displaying a level of capability, on road-biased tyres, that is simply mind-boggling.
A question of safety
Safety in modern vehicles is incredibly important, so we have to address the EuroNCAP-shaped elephant in the room. In 2018 the new Wrangler achieved a one-star rating in the EuroNCAP new car assessment programme. The results included a score of 50% for adult occupants, 69% for child occupants, 49% for pedestrian safety, and just 32% for its safety assistance systems.
The latest Wrangler is a rather massive improvement versus the model that it replaces. It provides an incredible amount of off-road ability and is better to drive on the road. The problem comes with the newly inflated price with our entry-level press car retailing for R868 607 while the lack of safety makes this a difficult product to recommend when there are so many off-road-ready vehicles for sale within this price range.