You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. But you can put a new engine in the Jeep Wrangler.
I'll confess I'm those who don't 'get' the Jeep Wrangler, which is my way of saying I don't think the model's 60-year-plus history and undeniable ability off-road excuse its cheesy styling and appalling on-road dynamics.
But the addition of Chrysler's excellent new Pentastar 3.6-litre V6 engine (shared with the Grand Cherokee) and a five-speed automatic transmission has indeed catapulted the Wrangler from bad joke to retro-curiosity. Which is a considerable promotion, trust me.
The old model's 3.8-litre V6 and four-speed automatic combination was breathless and pathetic and there's no denying it. The new powertrain, brought into the range last year, has at least made the Wrangler a tolerable on-road companion. If you're moving from one to the other you really won't know yourself: outputs are up from 146kW/315Nm to 209kW/347Nm and refinement has improved off the scale. A five-speed automatic is hardly high-tech these days, but compared to the old model the new one is incredibly smooth and refined.
We tested the Wrangler in Unlimited (that's four-door) Renegade specification. This $57,990 model is not quite the full off-road deal: that honour belongs to the $62,990 Rubicon version, which boasts an uprated four-wheel drive system, disconnecting sway bars and ultra-low crawl gear. But the Renegade will still go far enough off-road to scare the living daylights out of most of us. Those who aren't afraid will know much more about the Wrangler than I ever will and have probably clicked away in frustration by now anyway.
Actually, a week in the Wrangler sans-roof was a lot of fun. This is the world's only four-door convertible and the sensation of travelling four-up with no roof is pretty special. Certainly special enough to forgive the horrendous ride and highly approximate handling of this ancient Jeep.
I also happen to think the Wrangler Unlimited looks better with a the soft-top I place than the hard-top which seems de rigueur among the vehicle's owners. Sure, the solid lid provides more security and extra refinement (such as it is in Wrangler-world), but the-soft top can at least come along with you (the hard-top is one-piece and must stay at home and allows you to enjoy the open-air when the sun is shining.
Besides, the hard-top requires skill, time and tools to remove. I'll confess it was beyond me, although I have a go for about 20 minutes. I resorted to staff at the Jeep distributor and disappearing for half an hour for coffee.
Like I said, I'm not really a Jeep person. But I did have fun in the Wrangler Unlimited and that's no mean feat.