Jeep Wrangler review

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If you thought Jeep's Wrangler was strictly for Californian rock hoppers and D-list boy band members, think again. This updated 'JL'-series fourth generation model offers new media technology and goes just as far off road. Jonathan Crouch reports

Ten Second Review

The Jeep Wrangler is one of the most iconic serious SUVs on the planet and has never been a car to shy away from even the toughest off-road conditions. The current model is this fourth generation 'JL'-series version, which has been lightly updated with a subtly smarter look and new cabin infotainment screen tech. It's still very much a Wrangler though.

Background

A bit of history first. Shortly after the surface of the earth cooled, vertebrates appeared, developed into dinosaurs and then died for reasons still not fully understood. Shortly thereafter, the Willys Jeep was built and spawned countless generations of Wrangler models, first driven by cigar-chomping beefcakes in aviator sunglasses who hadn't realised World War II had ended. Unfortunately, the brand image suffered a terrible knock in the mid Eighties when boy band Bros chose the Wrangler as their vehicle of choice.

Bear with me, we're nearly there. Realising that the Wrangler just didn't cut it in an increasingly sophisticated world, Jeep subjected it to major surgery, creating the 'TJ' series model in 1997. This sold until the launch of the 'JK' series design in 2006, which was replaced by the current 'JL'-series fourth generation model in 2018. With the 'JL', the challenge for Jeep was to modernise the vehicle without alienating the hardcore fans of the marque. The first step was to make sure it rode a whole lot better than its predecessor (which wasn't too difficult). Since then, the brand has concentrated on gradually enhancing powertrain refinement and efficiency. Having done so, the company has more recently tweaked the exterior looks and updated the cabin, creating the version of the MK4 model we're going to look at here, revised for the 2024 model year.

Driving Experience

Just about the only way we can describe the ride of pre-2007-era Wrangler models to the uninitiated is to imagine being stricken with a rather severe case of haemorrhoids and then being superglued to a spacehopper. Perhaps that's a tad harsh but after the novelty of an old Wrangler's bouncy ride had worn off, you were left with a vehicle that could crawl through deep mud but which wasn't much good at anything else. With the current 'JK' series car, things certainly improved - if not dramatically then, at least, unequivocally. This design is much quieter than its predecessors too, thanks to beefed up insulation from engine and road noise.

There's only one engine on offer in our market, a 2.0-litre I-4 turbo petrol unit with 272hp and 400Nm of torque, mated to 8-speed auto transmission. There's still no sign here of the PHEV version you can get in other markets, the Wrangler 4xe, which mates the 2.0-litre petrol engine to a motor generator unit and a 400V 17kWh battery pack which when charged, can offer up to 30 miles of electrified driving.

As you'd expect, this Jeep is still brilliant off road, with its super aggressive approach and departure angles. These days, the Wrangler offers two active, on-demand full time 4WD systems - known as 'Command-Trac' and 'Rock-Trac'. The base 'Command-Trac' set-up has Dana solid front and rear axles and a two-speed transfer case. Plus there's Selec-Speed control, an off-road cruise control that allows the driver to maintain a steady speed during rock crawling and other types of low speed manoeuvring. A selectable tyre fill alert can be set through the central touchscreen, ideal for off-road adventurers who deflate the tyre pressures to get grip on off road courses when traversing mud and rocks.

The Wrangler Rubicon gets even better kitted out for the rough stuff, with a 'Rock-Trac' set-up that gives you a Dana 44 full-float solid rear axle, Tru-Lock electric front and rear-axle lockers, a Trac-Lok limited-slip differential and an electronic front sway-bar disconnect system. Plus an 'Off-Road+' ('OR+') mode that provides unique powertrain and chassis tuning. Specifically tailored for high range 'sand' performance and low range 'rock' activity, OR+ adjusts the ABS, ESC, accelerator pedal, traction control and transmission calibrations. 'Sand mode' is enabled when 'OR+' is activated while in 4H gear and 'Rock mode' is enabled when 'OR+' is activated while in 4Low.

What about Wrangler tarmac capability? Well on road manners feel safe and predictable, if a little slow-witted, but there are decent levels of grip and, on broken or rutted surfaces, the handling is no longer stymied by a bouncy ride.

Design and Build

There have been some minor visual changes to this fourth generation design, but you'd have to be a die-hard fan to notice them. There are now black textured slots in the iconic seven-slot front grille and redesigned alloy wheels (sizes range between 17 and 20-inches). Plus a new 'stealth' antenna has been built into the front windscreen (the old conventional one tended to snag on stuff when going through the bush). Quite a lot though, hasn't changed at all. The trapezoidal wheel arches, the external door hinges and the rubber bonnet catches are all present and correct, so the Wrangler still looks properly butch. As before, there are various 'open air freedom' roof options, which include hard tops (black or body-coloured), a manual 'Sunrider' flip-top, a one-touch powered top and half doors. There's even a fold-down windscreen for off-road purists.

The cabin has been updated with a much larger 12.3-inch central Uconnect touchscreen (up from 8.4-inches before) and gains advanced features like an Alexa virtual assistant, wireless 'Apple CarPlay' and 'Android Auto' and over-the-air updates. The instrument gauges remain defiantly analogue. As before, this interior is actually a lot more car-like than you expect it might be, with decently smart surfaces, a neat instrument panel, plenty of storage areas and an intuitive switchgear layout. There are heated, power mirrors and rearward visibility is aided by large rear windows.

Move to the back and there's a fold and tumble feature for the rear seat which virtually doubles the available cargo capacity, while the curved glass windscreen reduces drag and helps refinement.

Market and Model

This enhanced fourth generation Jeep Wrangler now only comes here in the four-door configuration most customers this side of the pond want. Pricing starts at just under £61,000 for the base 'Sahara' version - or just under £63,000 for the more capable 'Rubicon' model. Engine-wise, the choice is restricted to a 2.0-litre I-4 petrol unit with 272hp mated to 8-speed auto transmission. As for kit, well even on 'Sahara' variants, expect to find 18-inch steel wheels, a 12.3-inch touchscreen, leather upholstery, 12-way power-adjustable front seats, a reversing camera and remote keyless entry offered as standard. Range topping 'Rubicon' variants will have a '4:1 Rock Trac' part-time four-wheel drive system, electronic front detachable anti roll bars, Tru-Loc front and rear axles and performance suspension.

Standard features fitted to this updated model include accident emergency braking, adaptive cruise control and auto high beam. An array of safety and security systems also feature, including Blind-spot Monitoring with Rear Cross Path detection, a ParkView rear backup camera with dynamic grid lines, electronic stability control (ESC) with electronic roll mitigation and four standard air bags.

It makes it sound as if the Wrangler has become gentrified. Don't be fooled. Bottom line? Only buy this car if you're very serious about off-roading. Otherwise you'll merely be wasting your money.

Cost of Ownership

What's the 'greenest' car you can buy? A Toyota Prius? A Nissan LEAF? Or perhaps a Jeep Wrangler? On what's called a 'dust-to-dust' calculation of a car's environmental impact, from its creation to its ultimate destruction, you'd probably be shocked to learn that it's the Jeep, according to figures released by CNW Research in America. Think about it and it makes sense. The proportion of energy and CO2 used to make a car is much higher than the amount it consumes in its life. And Wranglers, after all, are designed simply, don't cost much to make, are easy to scrap and go on for ever. Small cars, EVs and hybrids are just the opposite.

You'll need to remember all that because the fuel economy figures aren't exactly stellar, even if you compare them to larger but similarly priced SUV rivals. The conventional un-electrified 2.0-litre petrol unit in use here combines a Twin Scroll turbocharger, a C-EGR system, central direct injection and the independent liquid cooling intake of air, throttle body and turbo, all in a bid to reduce consumption. Plus of course there's an engine stop/start system. The combined cycle fuel figure for a 4-door Sahara version is 22mpg and up to 242g/km of CO2. As for servicing, your Wrangler will need a garage visit every year or every 9,000 miles - whichever occurs soonest.

Summary

Jeep has had to walk a very precarious tightrope in its improvements to the Wrangler. On the one hand, they needed to make it smarter and more relevant to the majority of SUV buyers, while at the same time not alienating those customers who loved the model's rough, tough go-anywhere ability. After looking at this improved version of the MK4 'JL'-series model, we think many brand loyalists will feel that the company has succeeded in achieving this.

Although still not a good choice if your SUV will have a heavy diet of on-road work, this Jeep is now a more capable all-rounder, more comfortable and with a much improved interior. But it's still very much a Wrangler. And that's all that really matters.

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