Let’s get two things straight. The car you see in this review is not a modified Mahindra Thar. Unlike most high riders this mammoth is true to its SUV designation and is unashamedly rugged in the world of comfortable soft-roaders. Meet the Jeep Wrangler, an SUV which is an icon and despite its boxy lines will turn heads as much as a Lamborghini does. The Wrangler linage harks back to the Willy’s Jeep from World War II. Obviously the Wrangler in this Unlimited edition is much more modern while retaining the iconic shape and being good at one thing it was built for – going further where most other SUVs can only dream of going.
Unlike modern SUVs, the Jeep Wrangler is a no-nonsense looking thing with its boxy shape, sturdy silhouette and wide panel gaps adding to its character. The front is dominated by the signature seven-slat grille and the round headlamps. The wide stance and that large bumper just makes the Wrangler look purposeful and ready to gulp anything in its path. On the side, the rugged look continues and the flat doors with exposed hinges and the massive wheel arches (or they are more like mudguards) makes it look really attractive. As the Unlimited is a four-door version, the wheelbase is extended by more than 500mm over the two door. As a result the Wrangler at 4583mm length is not something you call compact. From the rear the Wrangler with the black plastic roof and the boot mounted large wheel looks macho and the slim bumper complete the look.
How is it on the inside?
Step inside the Jeep Wrangler, and 'utilitarian' is a polite term to describe the interiors of an SUV that will cost more than Rs 40 lakh. Though it is much more luxurious than we thought it would be. The slim dashboard is covered in hard yet durable plastics and the high mounted touchscreen lends it some sophistication. This is a high vehicle and getting in and out is not the easiest of tasks. You do get a side-step to climb in but still the small door opening makes it cumbersome. Once in though, the driver seat is quite comfortable with decent bolstering and underthigh support. Thanks to the high seating, slim pillars and large glasshouse visibility is fantastic and despite the door mounted spare wheel rear view is decent too. The ergonomics are best described as ordinary though. The offset driving position, cramped foot-well and oddly placed switches takes time getting used to. Thanks to the lengthened wheelbase, space at the rear is really good and the wide cabin and flat seat makes it perfect for three. The bench itself is quite comfy with a good backrest angle. The boot is well shaped but the side opening door means you have to leave enough space at the back to operate it safely.
There are loads of small details that make the cabin feel special. All the speakers are mounted either on the roof or on top of the dash so that they won’t drown when you decide to drive the Wrangler through deep water crossings. Even the woofer which is mounted low in the boot is waterproof! The Wrangler also gets a strong roll cage, which is well designed and doesn’t eat up too much of space too.
The Wrangler Unlimited comes pretty well loaded too. It gets navigation, heated front seats, all-four power windows, ESP, ABS and two airbags as standard. But what would have made life easy are the parking sensors considering its girth.
How does it drive?
The Wrangler Unlimited’s running gear is an amalgamation of various bits. The 2.8 litre motor is sourced from VM Motari (owned by Fiat Chrysler) which features Common rail direct injection and electric Piezo injectors. The automatic transmission on the other hand is an old 5-speed Mercedes sourced torque converter unit, previously known as the 5G-tronic. The 2776cc engine produces a healthy 197bhp and 500Nm of torque at 2000rpm.
As soon as you get going you realise that there is some turbo lag but the motor soon gets in its stride past 2000rpm. The short first three ratios though help overcome this and the Wrangler accelerates in a linear manner. Thanks to this, the Wrangler feels comfortable when driven at low speeds and the punchy motor helps it shoot into gaps without any hesitation. In terms of flat-out performance, the Wrangler takes an impressive 10.11 seconds to reach the 100kph mark and thanks to the torquey nature of the engine, in-gear times are impressive too. The five-speed automatic gearbox though feels old and is quite slow to react. This makes overtaking quick moving traffic a tricky affair. Another weird bit of the Wrangler is the throttle travel which is unusually long and tiresome to use.
In a straight-line the Wrangler displays good stability and it feels quite secure. As expected, ride from the stiff suspension is quite bouncy and undulating roads have to be tackled with some caution. The ride gets quite choppy especially for the rear passengers and it is not the most comfortable SUV to be in. In terms of handling despite its massive height and the old school ladder frame chassis, body control is impressive and it feels predictable. But the limitations of the Wrangler's dynamic envelope soon become apparent as you encounter mid corner bumps, where the non-independent suspension struggles as this heavy SUV skips and slides unnervingly. Thankfully it does come with ESP which really helps in these situations.
Wrangler’s usability takes a further hit when you drive it on congested city roads. The massive wheel arches makes it difficult to judge where its extremities lie. Also the wide turning circle and lack of parking sensors makes it quite a handful.
Enough of the boring stuff. Lets talk about what this car was made for in the first place - off-roading. For what it lacks in refinement and on-road enjoyment, there's absolutely nothing that can touch the Jeep Wrangler off-road. The incredibly tough ladder frame chassis, 238mm of ground clearance, amazing axle articulation and four-wheel drive with low range gearing means, it can cope with almost anything you can throw at it. We first played it cautious (as we didn’t have any back-up in case we got stuck) and took the Wrangler on some easy 4WD trails. But on realising we weren’t even close to maybe 10 per cent of the Wrangler’s potential we bulldozed our way onto a wet river bed which was deeply rutted, had deep slush and some uneven landscape. The Wrangler, in low range simply crawled up and down every obstacle we threw at it and its astonishing off-road capabilities alone will justify its high asking price.
Should I buy one?
If you want to get noticed wherever you go then absolutely yes. The Wrangler’s towering looks and immense road presence alone will get you load of admirers. It also has a torquey diesel motor, good amount of interior space and is surprisingly well specced. Of course, it has its shortcomings. The gearbox is slow, ergonomics aren’t the best, interiors feel utilitarian, the ride is bouncy and it will be pricey too. But remember the Wrangler will be a niche product and is designed for one purpose only – to decimate anything and everything that stands in its way. This SUV has a rich heritage and is an icon. Unlike most iconic cars which are more about show, the Wrangler is definitely not one of them.
Where does it fit in?
Pictures by: Kapil Angane