A luxury-oriented Jeep Wrangler might seem like a contradiction in terms, but they’ve done one anyway: the new Overland model.
Base price: $64,990.
Powertrain and performance: 3.6-litre petrol V6, 209kW/347Nm, 5-speed automatic, part-time four-wheel drive with low-range, Combined economy 12.0 litres per 100km.
Vital statistics: 4751mm long, 1840mm high, kerb weight 2073kg, 18-inch alloy wheels with 255/70 tyres.
We like: It’s a classic, useful touch-screen media centre, retro design details.
We don’t like: Average on-road performance, wobbly chassis, hard-top hard to remove.
How it rates: 6/10
WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW? As much as Jeep continues to evolve, its Wrangler remains an icon. Which means it really doesn’t change much. It’s still a charmingly archaic machine, with the emphasis on tough styling and uncompromised off-road ability.
However, Wrangler is making some concession to comfort (perhaps even the burgeoning crossover genre) with a new Overland variant. It’s the same rugged Wrangler Unlimited (that’s the four-door model) underneath, but with luxury equipment that includes leather upholstery, heated front seats and the full Jeep media centre with 16.5cm touch screen, satellite navigation and a 40GB hard drive.
There’s a slight makeover on the outside as well for the sake of status: body-colour for both the wheel guards and hard-top identify this model as top of the range.
WHAT’S IT LIKE TO DRIVE? Like stepping back in time. This is no urban warrior: Wrangler is an old-school off-road machine (surely one of the best in the world) with a ladder-frame chassis and axles designed for maximum articulation.
Its compact size makes it relatively easy to handle in town and the Unlimited four-door’s longer wheelbase gives it a better ride than the two-door version, but it’s still a bit of a handful by modern SUV standards. The steering fidgets, the suspension wriggles sideways over undulations in the road and you can expect to be very busy indeed at 100km/h on the motorway. But then, you were expecting that.
Wrangler was dragged into the modern era with the addition of Chrysler’s Pentastar V6 engine and a five-speed automatic gearbox back in 2012. It’s still no ball of fire, but it’s about a thousand times more refined than the breathless old 4.0-litre engine and four-speed gearbox it used to have.
IS IT EASY TO LIVE WITH? That 2012 upgrade also brought a new interior, which is still finished in highly durable (that’s another word for hard) plastic but actually looks quite swish. It sports the new-generation steering wheel, curvaceous dashboard shapes and provides a modular space for the Overland’s large media centre to slot in.
All things considered, the Overland’s luxury equipment is not entirely out of place. But it certainly doesn’t make the Wrangler a luxury vehicle, either: you sit on rather than in the seats, it’s noisy at speed and it’s still full of deliberately retro design details, such as the flimsy (removable) doors, strap-on grab handles and side-hinged tailgate – which must be opened after the glass hatch above it and closed before, lest you do some damage to either.
So the Wrangler can be hard work, but then it is also a glorious machine in summertime: you can remove the hard-top and create a genuine four-door convertible. True, it’s a two-man job getting the lid on and off, but you can also run the Wrangler with a soft-top which is easier (if not exactly easy) to handle.
There are also smaller sections above the driver and front passenger on the hard-top that can removed separately.
There are many little touches which seem functional but are just as much a fashion statement: exposed hinges on the doors, a grab-handle on the dashboard with “Since 1941” embossed on it and the chunky ventilation outlets. Look more closely and you’ll see this model crosses over into cuteness in places: note the Jeep seven-slot grille graphic around the rearvision mirror on the windscreen, or the tiny silhouette of a Second World War Jeep on the alloy wheels.
SHOULD I BUY ONE? The Wrangler is what it is. The pseudo-luxury aspirations of the Overland model do seem somewhat at odds with the fundamental character of the car, which can run anywhere from hard-core off-road machine to summer funmobile. But probably not as far as executive express.
Still, Overland is but one of three model grades. The less expensive Sport and more off-road oriented Rubicon (with different axles and gearing) continue, both also with the option of a 2.8-litre turbo diesel engine. The Overland is petrol-only.
As always, Wrangler is full of shortcomings but you can’t help being full of enthusiasm about it.
EQUIPMENT CHECKLISTAir conditioning: Dual climateAudio: CD, iPod compatibleAutomatic lights/wipers: Yes/NoBlind spot warning: NoBluetooth: YesCruise control: YesDriver footrest: YesHead-up display: NoHeated/ventilated seats: Yes/NoKeyless entry/start: NoLane guidance: NoLeather upholstery: YesParking radar: CameraPower boot or tailgate: NoPower seat adjustment/memory: No/NoRear ventilation outlets: NoRemote audio controls: YesSatellite navigation: YesSelf-parking technology: NoSplit/folding rear seats: 60/40Steering reach adjustment: YesStop-start: NoTrip computer: Yes
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