Priced from £35,000 (est) Release date September 2018
Although a certain 4x4 specialist with a name that rhymes with 'hand over' might be making a big noise about turning 70 years old in 2018, it isn't the oldest manufacturer of go-anywhere vehicles out there.
You see, the new Jeep Wrangler can trace its heritage all the way back to the 1941 Willys MB Jeep that played a key role in World War II. As the conflict ended, the dinky 4x4 was civilianised and then refined over the next seven decades, becoming ever larger and more powerful while losing some of its rougher edges. But with the last major update more than 10 years ago, it was time for another one.
The result is this latest Wrangler, which mirrors its predecessors in having a ladder frame chassis with the body bolted on top, as well as simple 'live' axles front and rear. However, despite this, everything is either new or heavily reworked.
Under the bonnet, for example, is a choice of two new engines: a 197bhp 2.2-litre diesel or a 268bhp 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol, both of which come with a standard eight-speed automatic gearbox. So, does the Wrangler have what it takes to beat the current crop of SUVs?
2018 Jeep Wrangler on the road
Unlike the majority of SUVs that you see on the road today, the Wrangler has been designed to take on the very worst that Mother Nature can throw at it. Every model get switchable four-wheel drive with a low-range gearbox for dealing with extreme ascents and descents, and the heavy-duty suspension means all four wheels stay on the ground even over mountainous bumps.
But while all of that is brilliant in the rough stuff, it’s a bit of a burden on the road. Not only is all the robust engineering rather weighty (the four-door Wrangler weighs more than 2100kg), but it also means the car handles very differently to what most people have come to expect.
What exactly happens when you come to a corner? Well, the answer is not much, at least for the first half-second or so. Turn the steering wheel and there's a noticeable pause before the car actually starts to change direction, and then you have to make several futher inputs to actually get it around the bend due to the lack of feedback. The Wrangler is not a car you’ll want to drive quickly – trust us, we tried and won’t be doing it again.
In addition, those big, heavy axles that link the right and left wheels struggle to deal with undulations and imperfect surfaces, causing the Wrangler to shimmy about. It’s never downright uncomfortable, but it feels uncontrolled. The fact that you need to continue to make steering inputs just to keep the car going in a straight line doesn't help. It really does feel like you’re in a 1950s movie, always moving the wheel from left to right.
More positively, the 2.2-litre diesel engine has a reasonable amount of punch, getting the Wrangler up to motorway speeds without too much fuss. And it's a lot quieter than the old 2.8-litre diesel, even though it still has a gravelly edge that’s present even at a cruise.
2018 Jeep Wrangler interior
If you’re a fan of a commanding driving position, you’ll love the Wrangler's. You step up into a comfortable seat with a great view down the long bonnet and onto the road ahead. Despite it being a big beast, manoeuvring the Wrangler into tight spaces is easier than you might expect, thanks to prominent wheelarches that mark out the sides of the car, big windows and the availability of parking sensors and a rear-view camera.
Elsewhere, it’s a mixture of old and new-school. High-spec Sahara variants, like our test car, get Jeep’s biggest 8.4in touchscreen infotainment system and a configurable 7.0in digital display between the instrument dials. Both have pin-sharp graphics, while the touchscreen is responsive and features menus that are easy to fathom. Our only complaint is that there are no physical shortcut buttons and some icons are a little small.
Quality has certainly taken a big step forward. There’s soft-touch plastic in the areas you regularly come into contact with, a supple leather steering wheel, solid-feeling switches and even a leather-wrapped dashboard panel on Sahara models. Sure, it’s no Audi Q5, but then that can’t claim to have an interior you can hose out like the Wrangler Rubicon’s.
As for comfort, some people might feel like they're sitting a bit close to the door, but this does mean there's no danger of banging elbows with your passenger. Meanwhile, the rear of the two-door Wrangler is roomy enough for kids and shorter adults, and the longer four-door model will be fine for almost everyone.
Boot space also varies between the two-door and four-door models. Opt for the former and you’ll have to make do with city car-like cargo-carrying capacity, whereas the latter provides more than twice as much space. Oddment storage isn’t bad up front, with a big central cubby and trays on the dash, but the mesh door pockets are pretty pathetic.
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