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Rugged Jeep gets even tougher

 

People who see its newly-launched Compass as sure proof that Jeep has turned soft swill have to eat their words now that the latest Wrangler’s here.

For far from selling out, if anything this new take on the Jeep icon has got harder.

Sure, there’s now a five-door with real luggage room and access – if not easy access – to the rear seats. And yes, it doesn’t struggle to cope with on-road speeds. There’s even an optional hardtop for the wusses of the Wrangler brigade – or, more likely, their long-suffering spouses.

But otherwise it’s as rough and tough as it ever was, if not more so.

The first Jeep was arguably the toughest of the lot, of course. That vehicle was designed for the US military back in the 1930s, its design brief for a vehicle that ran smoothly from 5-80km/h, with a two-speed transfer case and four-wheel drive; a fold-down roof and screen; three bucket seats; and blackout and driving lights.

From wish-list to first unit took just 49 days. The production vehicles’ life expectancy was 90 days.

The CJ generation followed in 1945, the YJ in 1983, and the TJ was introduced to NZ in 1996.
It was rough, tough and revelled in off-road going, but it wasn’t really at home on tarmac.

Despite a big engine for its size, it worked hard at open road speeds thanks to gearing designed for slower off-road going. A recent tweak solved that problem, but the Wrangler still limited itself by coming with only three doors.

Kids could get in the back – hell, it was hard to stop them – but there wasn’t much space there, especially if you wanted to carry luggage too.

Hence the four-door, while a diesel engine addresses thirst issues and ESP with ERM (electronic roll management) takes care of some of the handling glitches expected when a hard-core
SUV tackles tarmac.

But there’s still that seven-slot grille, boxy styling and aggressive fenders; still a fold-down windscreen and a go-anywhere attitude even from the four-door, which is 520mm longer thanks to a 520mm increase in wheelbase.

You can carry up to 2320 litres of cargo with the rear seats folded, and tow 2300kg. You can do it with the fabric roof up or down (we didn’t get a chance to try its ease of use) or opt for the hardtop, which also lets you open the front-row roof or lift it entirely.

We sampled the 3.8-litre V6 petrol with its 146kW at 5000rpm and 315Nm at 4000 – a unit new to the Wrangler, and replacing the old 4.0-litrestraight six.

It’s undoubtedly quieter and smoother, and well-matched to a five-speed auto. I didn’t sample the Mercedes-built six-speeder, but it did a decent-enough job in the outgoing Wrangler, so no worries.
Jeep says the Wrangler V6 can achieve fuel economy of 11.6 litres/100km in auto form – I got closer to 16, admittedly mainly off-road or with my foot hard on the throttle.

There’s also a 2.8-litre common-rail diesel with 130kW at 3800rpm and 400Nm of torque from 2000 to 2600rpm in auto form (and a claimed 9.9-litre/100km thirst), or 410Nm at the same revs in manual.
A variable geometry turbo should broaden the power band, but off-roaders will be more interested in the diesel’s strong torque at low revs and an absence of sparkplugs to get wet.

It’s a shame there wasn’t one at the media launch.

What we did try was the hard-man’s Wrangler, the Rubicon. Fitted with Rock-Trac as well as the Command-Trac 4WD system, it’s got a super-low 4.01:1 ratio for serious rock-crawling in extreme off-road situations.

It also has what Jeep calls Tru-Lok – which effectively lets you lock either axle, and end up with torque travelling to any single wheel that has traction.

There’s a next generation Dana 44 heavy-duty diff, steel rock rails to protect the sills – and the ability to electronically disconnect the front sway bar to improve contact with the ground at under 16km/h.

Combine all that with better ground clearance and breakover angles, and skid plates standard for front and rear diffs and the fuel tank, and you’ve got something that really did seem
to go anywhere.

Few slopes proved too steep, few gullies too gnarly to put the Rubicon off its tucker.
Not only did it crawl implacably over anything, it offered an astonishing level of feel that almost let you sense the ground through your buttocks, before instructing the Rubicon accordingly.

Jeep NZ says it’s getting 50 Rubicons – all with petrol engines.

Why no diesel for the dirtiest Jeep? Let’s hope someone sees the light.

Price? The three-door base 3.8 V6 manual-transmission Wrangler – which is capable of going where few NZ drivers will ever go – starts at $39,990, with the five-door beginning at $44,990.

But people who want to go hard when the standard Wrangler goes home will need the
Rubicon, which retails from $47,990 in three-door manual format, or from $52,990 for the five-door.



Auto Trader New Zealand