THE days of the crude, old-fashioned Jeep Wrangler are coming to a close. But is it useful on a regular road? Jeep has reinvented its rough off-road king as a true hybrid â€” capable of being as respectable on the road as it is brilliant off it. The new Wrangler JK has an improved engine line-up, including for the first time a diesel, a leap forward in refinement, and a four-door Unlimited model pitched at families.Â “We had a huge challenge on our hands,” says Jeep product vice-president Mike Donoughe.
“Our Wrangler customers told us not to change anything. But in the next breath they told us they wanted more. They wanted more space, more off-road ability and better road ride and handling for everyday use, and more comfort and convenience.”
The Wrangler is bigger than its TJ predecessor. The two-door is 133mm wider and 340mm longer than the old model, while the Unlimited adds another 528mm.
The 4.0-litre inline six has been replaced by a more efficient 3.8-litre V6 with 146kW and 315Nm. For the first time there is also a diesel option, a 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel with 130kW and 410Nm.
Off-road capability has been increased with disconnectable front sway bars, while a three-mode electronic stability control and electronic roll mitigation is now standard.
There are more open-roof options, including a three-piece Freedom modular hardtop in addition to the soft top.
Jeep is predicting the four-door will make up to 30 per cent of Wrangler sales, but that could prove very conservative.
The Wrangler will be priced from about $32,000, with Wrangler Unlimited to be priced from under $40,000.
It would have made more sense in the past to talk first about a Wrangler’s ability off the road, but the new Wrangler is such a revelation on the road that it’s the logical place to start.
That’s not to say the Wrangler is very nimble on the bitumen, but now it’s at least as comfortable and competent on the road as most other light truck-based four-wheel-drives.
We were able to take the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia, a great drive across the top of the Appalachian Mountains, in both the new Wrangler and the old TJ. We could not have been more stunned by the contrast.
Compared with the rowdy, thirsty and spartan old model, the new Wrangler has more grip, comfort, more features, and ride and handling that is acceptable on winding roads best suited to a Mustang or Corvette.
The electronic stability control makes up for shortcomings in that area, but it isn’t always intruding on the driving, another indicator that the roadholding isn’t bad. The old Wrangler, by comparison, is really just a pain until you leave the bitumen.
The seating position in the new Wrangler is still high and the seats themselves are made for quick access but not for comfort.
It has the traditional shallow dash, though there are more extras, such as a multi-function trip computer, power windows, and (slightly) softer plastics.
That’s not to say it’s above average compared with any other Jeep in terms of comfort, but the Wrangler no longer feels like a World War II veteran with an airconditioner.
If old-school Wrangler fans are afraid the more sensitive new-age Jeep has lost its off-road ability then we can allay their fears.
We took the Wrangler into some hostile terrain. We banged the new Wrangler through creeks, up steep hills and bashed it over rocks that clanged against the heavy-duty underframe. We drove the mid-level Sahara model and it handled the job easily, so we can be confident the top Rubicon model, with electric front and rear-axle locks and even lower gear ratios, could go farther into the mountains.
The stretched four-door Unlimited is virtually as capable off-road as the two-door and feels more stable on the tarmac. Both engines are better than the old straight six petrol; the turbo-diesel with its higher compression and more torque suited to extreme off-road work.
On the road, the new V6 is much quieter than the rowdy old engine. Luggage space is still minimal and some of the storage areas are almost useless but, on balance, the Wrangler is an improvement without a backward step.
Sure, those who believe that being uncomfortable and primitive was part of the Wrangler’s appeal might frown on the changes. But everyone else, including many who buy Wranglers for their off-road abilities will be rapt. [Cars Guide]