Why would I buy it?
- Off-road prowess
- Unmatched road presence
- Strong petrol engine
Why would I avoid it?
- On-road dynamics
- No diesel engine option
- Poor fuel economy
For the first time, the Jeep Wrangler is being assembled outside its home country. This results in a considerable price drop of the iconic 4x4 for the Indian buyers who are looking for an unadulterated off-roader with go-anywhere capabilities, or in other words – a lifestyle vehicle to flaunt their style. This, the fourth-gen Wrangler JL, in the Rubicon guise is modern inside and out while also managing to grab eyeballs everywhere it treads on with its pure American muscle-esque charm. It can tread where the roads cease to exist, and that’s the entire personality of the Rubicon.
Engine and Performance
Being a CKD, Jeep is offering the Wrangler with a single powertrain choice. There’s no familiar Pentastar diesel available yet, but we get a very recently-developed Hurricane 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine from FCA’s Global Medium Engine (GME) family. It puts out 268bhp of power and 400Nm of max torque and is paired to the ZF-sourced eight-speed automatic gearbox as standard. Now this being a Jeep, and a Rubicon edition at it there’s a whole lot of off-road hardware fitted here as standard.
On the move, the two-tonne Wrangler doesn’t feel like any average-Joe SUV on the road. Everything about the Wrangler is big. It’s not surprising how tall you sit in the Wrangler and the towering visibility it offers. Although the front windscreen is rather narrow it offers a good view and the mirrors do a good job owing to their half-concave design. Rear visibility, though, might be cumbersome because of the small rear window and tailgate-mounted spare wheel. But there’s a rearview camera provided to help in parking. But on the move, getting a view of smaller cars tailgating you could be tricky.
We liked the refinement levels of the motor which remains vibe free and sound something like a slightly angry supercharger under full-bore acceleration. It also feels quite docile and usable under 2000rpm where the motor likes to restrict its gearshifts normally. But with the pedal to the floor, the rev-happy motor will shift close to 5,500rpm. It won’t punch you down in the seat with its acceleration, but it has the capability to dart forward with surprising athleticism – especially for a four-door off-roader of its size.
For urban cruising, there’s a good amount of grunt available to the right foot without being utilitarian or slow. Meanwhile, highway speeds are easily done with strong mid-range offering decent cross-country capability. Another likeable thing about the Wrangler is the ZF gearbox which is smooth and seamless in its action. It won’t win prizes for being super quick when you are pushing hard, but it also won’t give a reason to complain in everyday driving. It’s not a frugal motor though as it returned 6.51kmpl in the city as tested and around 8kmpl approximately.
Now let’s take a look at the off-road prowess of the Wrangler Rubicon – it’s got a TrailRated badge on the side. And in Jeep speak it means that 4x4s with this badge are built to take on five terrain challenges i.e. traction, water fording, manoeuvrability, articulation, and ground clearance. To help it overcome these challenges it comes fitted with heavy-duty Dana 44 solid axles with a sophisticated transfer case and locking front and rear differential, heavy-duty shocks, full-time transfer case with low-range gear and full-fat 255/75 R17 knobby tyres. The front sway bar can be electronically disconnected by a switch on the dash allowing 30 per cent more suspension travel.
What’s more, the ‘offroad+’ button on the centre console is an intelligent system that can make adjustments to the throttle, traction control and transmission shift mode so that you can crawl over rocks and pace through the sand without any hassle. We didn’t get a chance to go out for a proper off-road course. But we do look forward to taking the Wrangler Rubicon out for our CarWale Off-Road Day to truly test its mettle.
Ride and handling
Now the Rubicon rides on knobby tyres which means even on butter smooth roads, there will be jittery movements felt at any speeds. Look over that and the JL Wrangler has a well-balanced ride quality trouncing any and everything that comes in its path. And it’s when the going gets tough where the Wrangler’s supple ride quality really shines. On the road, there are vertical and side-to-side movements that you’d expect from a ladder-on-frame SUV, but it’s well under control and at no point does it get close to being uncomfortable. On the flipside, it’s noisy on the inside be it cruising at city speeds or blasting at triple-digit speeds due to the lack of insulation and those fat tyres.
The steering wheel is upright and takes getting used to. Moreover, the steering is dead off the centre. But more than anything it’s the slight inconvenience that at any speeds, the steering wheel needs to be held and corrected constantly. And for turn-in, it immediately gets heavier and there’s a noticeable delay as well. So for some spirited driving, the steering could play the spoilt sport. Also, the brakes need more initial feel and bite, especially for an SUV that weighs more than two tonnes.
Interior Space and Quality
To get in the Wrangler you have to yank yourself in, there’s no graceful way of doing it since there’s no footboard here. Even stepping out is more of hopping-out instead. Once inside, the matte-red insert running across the upright dash adds some funk to the otherwise functional cabin. For a large footprint, the cabin space isn’t surprisingly big. It’s not a tight cabin, mind you, but we expected slightly more space all around. Take the driver’s footwell for example. There’s no dead pedal and there’s barely any space to rest your left foot there.
Otherwise, the ergonomics on the inside is good. And the quality of the materials used is a mixed bag really. There’s soft-touch material everywhere and all the buttons, gears, knobs, and switches look like they are built to last. But there are visible screws at places and the quality of plastic in some places (lower dash and glove box for example) are unsatisfactory, to say the least.
The cascading centre console feels cluttered with many switches and buttons. But it is surely more modern than the outgoing model. Look at the well-engineered gearlever for example. Behind the steering is a dual-circular-dial instrument cluster with a colour screen in the centre throwing out comprehensive details for the driver. Also the UConnect touchscreen is new and easy to use on the move while throwing out all the information you’ll ever need, and some. We loved the large and supportive seats but even in its lowest height, you sit quite tall. It will take some time to find the right driving position too with a pull-strap for recline adjust instead of a lever.
Storage-wise there are two large cup holders and a massive storage compartment under the armrest but the removable doors have just a thin net that cannot be used for storing anything useful. Also, there’s no other space on the centre console to stowing your knick-knacks and the glovebox is just the size of your fist.
Yank yourself in the second row and you’d notice just how narrow the door is. Secondly, for a price you pay, the second row of the Wrangler has no indulgence. The seats are upright with no adjustment and the seat base length is extremely short meaning you get no thigh support at all. Overall, rear seat is surprisingly low on comfort. But you do get a foldable armrest with cupholders, two USB and a 12Volt output and air-vents here.
Even though the rollbars take up space, the boot is large and cavernous. Lastly, it needs to be mentioned that the roof and doors of the Wrangler are easily removable. Just a few latches and the front-row roof would come-off on the go. At the back, you might need some skills with a screwdriver. This also means that there’s no real noise and heat insulation for the occupants on the inside when the roof is still on. And this can get uncomfortable with the air-con switched off and the driving/off-roading in the intense summer heat.
Features and Safety
For a hardcore 4x4 with removable doors and roof, the Wrangler Rubicon isn’t barebone and utilitarian on the inside. Its list of features includes LED projector headlamps, push-button start, dual-zone climate control, leather upholstery, all four power windows, an eight-speaker sound system and an 8.4-inch touchscreen system with voice command, navigation, along with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. This UConnect screen is the similar to the one seen on pre-facelift Compass and has good fluidity in usage and crisp display. It also displays various off-roading details like tyre angle, vehicle’s pitch and roll angles, and various temperature and pressure gauges.
One thing the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon isn’t short on is the number of badges seen on the inside and out. One such badge on the tailgate reads ‘Designed in the USA, Manufactured in India’. Four decades since its introduction, the Wrangler was always produced at FCA’s Toledo facility. Now, this pure hunk of American muscle is made right here in India at FCA’s Ranjangao plant. Hence the prices now start at Rs 53.90 lakh (ex-showroom), which is close to Rs 10 lakh lower than the previous CBU version. With the new pricing, the Wrangler JL comes as an enticing buy for someone looking for a luxury SUV to play with. One could get the Wrangler now for a price of the Land Rover Discovery Sport, Mercedes-Benz GLC, BMW X3, Jaguar F-Pace, and Volvo XC60. But the question is, should you?
For starters, none of these luxury SUVs can go where the Wrangler treads. And it grabs attention with its imposing street presence too, that none of them can. It might not be great in terms of road dynamics (but that’s just this Rubicon trim, you can always go for the Unlimited trim which is slightly more road-biased). But the Wrangler is not made for pavement dwelling. It’s built to gobble… no… decimate the trail without a flinch. It’s an icon with a cult following the world over. And unlike few icons of late, the Wrangler Rubicon isn’t the one made for all-show-and-no-go.
Pictures by Kapil Angane and Kaustubh Gandhi