Jeep’s rough and tough looks are a big selling point.
Jeep’s rough and tough looks are a big selling point.

Jeep Wrangler gains on-road manners in latest release

THE wild child of the off-road SUV club has learned some manners.

Jeep's Wrangler has long been the benchmark for extreme four-wheel drives but until now that ability has come at the price of civility around town.

The very traits that made it so good in the bush - long suspension travel, solid axles and ladder-frame chassis - also compromised its on-road behaviour.

Wranglers of the past drove like a truck on the tarmac with a pogo-stick ride and constant steering wheel inputs required to stop the 4WD wandering in its lane.

Buyers didn't care: Jeep's research highlights style as a key driver for 24 per cent of Wrangler customers.

Simply put, the single largest group of Jeep Australia buyers want to identify with its tough looks and tougher reputation, even if they have no intention of venturing beyond a beach access road. That's why you're more likely to see a Jeep in Bondi than Birdsville (although genuine 4WD enthusiasts are the second biggest buyer group for the American brand).

The JL Wrangler that went on sale earlier this month will more than satisfy both groups, though you pay almost $10,000 above its predecessor for the privilege.

Beyond the extra interior bling, Jeep has invested in mechanical smarts and software to temper the Wrangler's on-road manners and make it a much more tractable beast.

That has had no effect on its ability to go pretty much anywhere, even on the chunky off-road tyres laced to the most expensive - and off-road capable - Rubicon grade.

On-road comfort is likely to be even better on the all-purpose tyres fitted to the base Sport S and Overland.

The Jeep Wrangler is one of the most capable off-road vehicles on the market.
The Jeep Wrangler is one of the most capable off-road vehicles on the market.

How much more we can't tell: the Wrangler media launch drive took place in the mountain-goat domain of the Rubicon, fitted out with 3.6-litre petrol (209kW/307Nm) and 2.2-litre turbo diesel (147kW/450Nm) engines.

The Rubicon gets a more robust, lower ratio transfer case relative to the lesser siblings. It has heavy-duty rigid axles with front and rear diff locks, front sway-bar disconnect, metal front bumper and alloy skid plates over the mechanical bits likely to clash with Mother Nature.

Standard kit on the Sport S includes 17-inch alloys, auto headlamps, rear camera with guidelines, seven-inch infotainment screen with smartphone connectivity and soft-top roof.

Premium paint adds $745 and hardtop is $2250 and $2750 for the two and four-door respectively. There's 1497kg braked towing capacity.

A removable roof is one of the Wrangler’s key features.
A removable roof is one of the Wrangler’s key features.

The Overland steps up with autonomous emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, front and rear parking sensors and the same towing capacity.

Its infotainment screen grows to 8.4 inches, complemented by satnav and Alpine audio. A removable hardtop is standard.

Go for the Rubicon and - beyond the hard-core mechanical kit mentioned above - it drops back to 17-inch alloys with 32-inch diameter rubber and an off-road setting on the info screen to show pitch and roll angle, driveline engagement and fluid temperatures. Diesel Rubicons can tow up to 2495kg.

Service intervals are 12 months/12,000km for petrol versions and 12 months/20,000km for the Rubicon diesel - prices are capped for five years at $299/$499 a visit respectively.

Jeep says this represents a saving of $680 to $850 over the predecessor.

The Wrangler’s interior gets a lot of extra kit compared to the previous version.
The Wrangler’s interior gets a lot of extra kit compared to the previous version.

On the road/track

Standard four-wheel drive pick-ups wouldn't have made it through Climies Track on Tasmania's prehistorically picturesque southwest coast.

The 20km track is tough enough in the best of weather but recent - and ongoing - rain slicked the rock, deepened the dip-holes and juiced up the mud. Just what Jeep had prayed for.

The Wranglers, having shown their improved tarmac tolerance on the run out of Strahan, then went where very few vehicles could.

The Jeep Wrangler tackled the tough Climies Track in Tasmania with aplomb.
The Jeep Wrangler tackled the tough Climies Track in Tasmania with aplomb.

For the record, one of the convoy slipped into a rut and had to be snatched out and another was suspended on a rock. Again, for the record, after that car was retrieved and a smidgen shaved off the rise between the wheels, everyone hit harder and relied on the bashplates to do their job. They did.

Depending on your level of bravado, the "4WD part-time" setting on the transfer case lever to the left of the regular transmission should be all you need. The part-time bit is a misnomer - the adjacent "4WD auto" is on-demand. Stone me.

Disconnecting the front sway-bar is also smart when it starts to get gnarly.

If you are kicking down into 4WD low then you're starting to enter uncharted territory. At this point, the diff lockers (rear or front/rear) can haul the Wrangler out of holes and up hills.

Jeep has raised the price of the new Wrangler by $10,000.
Jeep has raised the price of the new Wrangler by $10,000.

Verdict 3.5/5

The Wrangler is the definitive mechanical draught horse but in JL guise it's been mated with a dressage mare - with no detriment to either's attributes.

What's new

Price: Up by almost $10K, with the entry level two-door petrol priced at $48,950 plus-on-roads, rising to $63,950 for the four-door Rubicon. The 2.2-litre turbo diesel, exclusive to the Rubicon, adds $5000.

Tech: AEB is standard only on the Overland
and Rubicon until model year 2020 cars arrive later this year. The more expensive duo also have a larger infotainment screen, satnav, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert.

Performance: Fuel consumption is claimed to be as much as 13 per cent lower,
largely thanks to the eight-speeder. The diesel does marginally better than the petrol counterpart off-road.

Driving: The JL will be a revelation on-road if you've driven the outgoing JK. It's no soft-roader SUV but now earns consideration alongside the 4WD utes in terms of on-road docility.

Design: It's a Wrangler, so you can still take a hose to the footwells and clear out he crap. The hardtop on the Rubicon generates some wind noise at freeway speeds despite the newly added lightweight insulation.

Jeep Wrangler vitals

Price:$48,950-$68,950 plus on-roads

Warranty: 5 years/100,000km

Safety: 1 star (EuroNCAP), 4 airbags, base car misses AEB and ACC

Engine: 3.6-litre 6-cyl, 209kW/307Nm; 2.2-litre 4-cyl turbo diesel, 147kW/450Nm

Thirst: 7.5L-10.3L/100km

Spare: Full-size

Active safety query

The Wrangler's anticipated one-star ANCAP safety rating is the elephant in the garage. ANCAP has yet to officially list the JL Wrangler on its website but Jeep Australia boss Steve Zanlunghi accepts they will adopt the rating applied by EuroNCAP.

That assessment criticised the absence of active safety equipment on all versions, particularly autonomous emergency braking, as well as structural defects in the footwell and windscreen pillar after the physical crash tests.

Zanlunghi says all model year 2020 examples, due in Australia late this year, will have AEB as standard gear, though he won't commit to re-testing the local version with ANCAP, given that is unlikely to lift the Wrangler beyond three stars.

"The vehicles are ADR-compliant right now and it is unquestionably a safe vehicle. The previous (JK) Wrangler earned a four-star rating and this one is better in all areas. It meets or beats statutory regulations around the world and we know the Wrangler is a safe car.

"Many Wrangler buyers will consider the car's capability as the key criteria and the JL is more capable on and off the road than ever before."



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