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Jeep Wrangler Car Review

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WRANGLER RAISES ITS GAME

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If you thought Jeep's Wrangler was strictly for Californian rock hoppers and D-list boy band members, think again. The latest model builds on previous improvements and has smarter looks. 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. Now, it's been upgraded, both inside and out, building on changes that in recent years have brought us a more sophisticated 3.6-litre Pentastar V6 petrol engine along with a slicker five-speed auto transmission, to sell alongside the 2.8-litre CRD diesel engine that most British buyers choose.

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, which sold until the launch of the current 'JK' series design in 2006. With the 'JK', 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, he company has tweaked the exterior looks, creating the revised model we're going to look at here.

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' eries 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. The most recent change beneath the bonnet was the installation of a 3.6-litre V6 Pentastar petrol unit that proved to be a much sweeter thing than the old and rather crude 3.8-litre lump it replaced. All-aluminium and some 40 kilos lighter than the iron-blocked V6, this engine delivers respectable power and torque from its quite compact dimensions - some 285bhp and 260 lb ft, which in two-door form, with Jeep's latest five-speed auto gearbox fitted, means a 0-60mph time of just 8.1s. Most British buyers though, choose the 2.8-litre CRD turbodiesel engine that this 'JK' series model has had since its launch in 2007. It's a unit which delivers 200bhp, though torque output depends on the transmission it's teamed with: 302 lb ft for the six-speed manual and 339 lb ft for the five-speed auto. Whichever engine and transmission combination you go for, the Wrangler is still brilliant off road, with its super aggressive approach and departure angles. Opt for the entry-level Sport or Shara trims and the car comes with clever brake lock differentials. In the two-door short wheelbase line-up, the range-topping Rubicon model gets even more specialist front and rear locking differentials. 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

Changes this this Wrangler's looks include small styling changes to the instantly recognizable keystone-shaped grille, iconic round headlamps and square tail lamps. Plus there are improved aerodynamics and Jeep promises a convenient fold-down windscreen for off-road purists, even more open-air freedom and dozens of different door, top and windscreen combinations. 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. The cabin is pretty spacious in all dimensions and a fold and tumble feature for the rear seat virtually doubles the available cargo capacity, while the curved glass windscreen reduces drag and helps refinement. On the inside, the cabin is actually a lot more car-like that you expect it might be, with decently smart surfaces, a neat instrument panel, plenty of storage areas and an intuitive switchgear layout. Heated, power mirrors are optional and rearward visibility is aided by large rear windows.

Market and Model

Pricing starts at around £35,000 for the three-door models, but most buyers here choose a five-door variant. Engine-wise, the selection is between a 3.6-litre petrol V6 or a 2.8-litre CRD diesel. Either way, you have to have auto transmission. All models get 'Command-Trac shift-on-the-fly' four-wheel drive and ESP stability control with an off-road mode. As for kit, well even on basic variants, expect to find 16-inch steel wheels, a DVD-compatible stereo with six speakers 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. Only buy this car if you're very serious about off-roading. Otherwise you'll merely be wasting your money.

Cost of Ownership

Official fuel consumption and CO2 figures for the 2.8-litre CRD 5-door model that mosty buyers here choose see a combined fuel figure of 31.0mpg and a CO2 return of 235g/km. For the 3.6 V6, these readings fall sharply to 24.1mpg and 273g/km. Depreciation is a tougher one to finger but the fact that Wranglers tend to have very long lifespans between major revisions helps prop up residual values significantly.

Summary

Jeep has had to walk a very precarious tightrope in its gradual improvements to this 'JK' series 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 revised model, we think many brand loyalits 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.

Technical Data

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Jeep Wrangler
Combined mpg 34 - 34.9
CO2 (g/km) 213
Extra urban mpg 38.7 - 39.8
Insurance group 24 - 25
Urban mpg 28.2 - 29.1
Weight (kg) 2003 - 2253

Review Scores at a glance

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Vehicle Class - 4x4 - Compact
Performance 80%
Handling 70%
Comfort 60%
Space 70%
Styling 70%
Build 70%
Value 80%
Equipment 70%
Economy 70%
Depreciation 80%
Insurance 80%
Overall Review Score 73%

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