Suggesting that the most Jeep of Jeeps, the Wrangler, has morphed from a rugged yet raw off-roader to a sleek and sophisticated on-road cruiser might be taking things a bit too far off the beaten track.
But the JL version doing the rounds of Australian town and country has taken on an aura of quality, comfort and the latest automotive infotainment guaranteed to raise eyebrows among the campfire cohort of outback trekkers.
But that’s all. The Wrangler has not gone soft in a bid to match it with city-centric mid-size SUVs that would baulk at taking on the bush that is the natural home of the Jeep.
With a new Sport S replacing the previous Sport entry level, the new JL comes in three trim-levels – Sport S, Overland and Rubicon – with both two- and four-door configurations.
Sport S, with Select-Trac full-time 4×4 System is designed for serious off-roading. Sport S comes standard with the V6 Pentastar 3.6-litre petrol engine and ZF eight-speed automatic transmission.
Class leading 4×4 systems across the range, with Rock-Trac 4×4 System as standard on the Rubicon and Selec-Trac 4×4 System available on all other models.
Prices start at $48,950, plus on-road costs, for the Sport S two-door 3.6-litre petrol and soar to a mountainous $68,950 for the Rubicon four-door 2.7-litre turbo-diesel. The Overland two-door test vehicle comes in just short of 60 grand, without on-road costs.
With one or two design detours, the new JL sings straight from the Wrangler song sheet with only subtle changes to the tilted windscreen and radiator grille, vented bonnet and tapering C-pillar.
The classic box-like body has hardly been touched, while the modest modifications have reduced wind noise and improved fuel efficiency by more than 13 per cent. One concession to the latest technology advances include LED headlights and tail lamps.
Customers can take advantage of more than 130 MOPAR accessories from exterior styling to versatile storage, vehicle protection and driver convenience.
Like the Wrangler JK, up front it’s tall and flat, no curvaceous dashboard here.
Outsize window buttons, among others, are situated on the centre stack, which is the only way if you want to sample the great outdoors by taking off the doors and leaving them in the garage.
Heated leather seats with neat stitching are comfortable but legroom is compromised by the short wheelbase.
The fourth generation Uconnect system uses an 8.4-inch touch screen with pinch-and-zoom facility to service satellite navigation and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smart phone access.
The nine-speaker Alpine Premium audio system is impressive, most unexpected in what is ostensibly a raw off-roader.
ENGINES / TRANSMISSIONS
The Wrangler JL Overland has stuck with the 3.6-litre V6 petrol engine of its predecessor, mated with Jeep’s TorqueFlite eight-speed automatic transmission stumping up 209 kW of power at 6400 rpm and 347 Nm of torque at 4100 revs.
When things get tough the Selec-Trac 4×4 can be brought into action, taking the Trail Rated powertrain into what would be uncharted territory for the city-slicker SUV.
A single-star ANCAP safety rating is something to pull up some potential buyers, but is seemingly all-but ignored the by the Wrangler cognoscenti.
However, all is not lost. The entire JL range comes with more than 70 available active and passive safety features including auto emergency braking, adaptive cruise control with stop, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-path detection, rear view camera with dynamic grid lines, electronic stability control and electronic roll mitigation.
The Jeep Wrangler JL Overland retains the award-winning 3.6-litre Pentastar petrol V6 from its JK predecessor. Twitchy take-off means the need for the driver to keep pedal action firmly in focus.
As speed builds up, smooth gearshifts take over across the auto range and result in assured overtaking, plus stress-free filtering into faster-moving traffic.
On a steep, deep downside, steering is vague and even the most minor road blemishes have the Wrangler rider almost bucked out of the saddle. This is not helped by a cramped footwell and the absence of a means of bracing the body by a left-foot rest.
The short wheelbase (2459 mm) means lack of cabin length, hence skinny legroom and cargo carrying capacity – 197 litres with the rear seat backs to attention, expanded to 587 litres with the seats tumbled forward.
The maker claims fuel consumption has been improved by up to 13 per cent – at 9.6 litres per 100 kilometres.on the combined urban / highway cycle. The test vehicle recorded close to 15 litres per 100 kilometres in the city and 6.6 litres per 100 on the open road.
Walking tall on 18-inch alloy wheels make climbing into the vehicle a big step up, dismounting no easier.
The twin so-called Freedom front panels in the roof can be easily removed but taking off the rear hard top and folding the windscreen need another set of willing hands.
Trail rated off-road manners make the Wrangler ready for almost anything the Outback can muster. The steering is supple, the suspension tuned to take on the tortuous Rubicon boulders, rocky outcrops and deep-sided dips.
The Wrangler JL has no pretensions to being anywhere near perfect on the road. The Jeep looks beyond the bitumen for accolades and, with continuing cues to the Wrangler’s storied history, they are well earned. However, there is a (steep) price to pay for the iconic experience.
AT A GLANCE
Jeep Wrangler Sport S 2dr 3.6-litre petrol $48,950
Jeep Wrangler Sport S 4dr 3.6-litre petrol $53,450
Jeep Wrangler Overland 2dr 3.6-litre petrol $58,450
Jeep Wrangler Overland 4dr 3.6-litre petrol $62,950
Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 4dr 3.6-litre petrol $63,950
Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 4dr 2.7-litre turbo-diesel $68,950
Note: These prices do not include government or dealer delivery charges. Contact your local Jeep dealer for drive-away prices.
SPECIFICATIONS (Jeep Wrangler JL Overland 3.6-litre V6 petrol, TorqueFlite 8sp automatic, Selec-Trac 4×4 2dr SUV)
Capacity: 3.604 litres
Maximum Power: 209 kW @ 6400 rpm
Maximum Torque: 347 Nm @ 4100 rpm
Fuel Type: Petrol 91 RON
Combined Fuel Cycle (ADR 81/02): 9.6 L/100km
DRIVELINE: Eight-speed TorqueFlite automatic
DIMENSIONS, WEIGHT AND CAPACITIES:
Length: 4334 mm
Wheelbase: 2459 mm
Width: 1894 mm
Height: 1839 mm
Turning Circle: 10.5 metres
Kerb Mass: 1762 kg
Fuel Tank Capacity: 66 litres
Front: Ventilated disc
Five years / 100,000 kilometres