It’s summer, and that means it’s Jeep weather. This season we’ve gone for the burger with the works: the Jeep Wrangler Special Ops edition. With its macho looks, you’d expect the driver’s bulging biceps and tattoos to be covered in sweat having just finished boot camp, or saving the world.
Or you might expect to find Miss Universe 2010 runner-up Jesinta Campbell behind the wheel (a Jeep ambassador, this was her drive car until she was upgraded to a Grand Cherokee). Either way, that explains the disappointed looks I’ve been getting.
The Jeep is back in black after the sell-out success of last year’s “Call of Duty” model in the US, a special edition named after a video game where players get to take part in Armageddon “because there’s a soldier in all of us”.
The Special Ops edition we’ve tested is basically the same, but with a different name. The Jeep Wrangler four-door starts at $40,345 drive-away for the 3.6-litre V6 petrol six-speed manual, or $42,405 drive-away with the new five-speed auto.
The Special Ops kit, which includes high-riding suspension, black wheels, a steel front bumper, a bulging bonnet and some other tough bits (metal frames around the tail-lights, in case you get shot at) and a winch to claw you out of any mess, adds another $8000 or so to the deal.
If you’re looking for technology, you’re looking in the wrong place. Jeep favours heavy-duty hardware over any techno gadgets, although it does get Bluetooth and voice controlled audio in case you’re on an important mission that just can’t wait.
The Wrangler has such rock-climbing ability it could conquer Uluru, if it were allowed. Downsides? She’s a thirsty bugger: 11.9L/100km says the fuel consumption rating label. In reality, and off the beaten track, this figure climbs closer to 15-16L/100km.
Not much has changed in 60 years. But if it looked like anything else it wouldn’t be a Jeep. As with all timeless designs, form follows function. It looks like this so it can clamber of obstacles with ease – and if something breaks or gets scratched, you can replace just that bit of bodywork.
Parts of the interior are a compromise – power window switches are mounted in the dashboard so they don’t get zapped in deep water crossings -- but the almost-vertical windscreen pillars give you more shade because the roof protrudes further than it does in passenger cars.
The four-door version’s two extra doors and slightly longer body mean there’s more room inside than before. Best of all: in the US there is a kit that transforms the four-door Wrangler into a two-door ute. Why this has not been introduced in Australia as a stand-alone model is a crime against humanity – and ute lovers. The UN ought to investigate.
The airbag count on the Jeep Wrangler was recently upgraded from two to four (two front, two side). Back seat passengers get no airbag protection because the side airbags deploy from the front seats rather than dropping down from the roof.
The new model was tested by independent authority ANCAP, which awarded an “acceptable” four-star rating out of five. Of more importance is the need to drive with diligence in the wet. Although stability control (which can prevent a skid in corners) is standard, the heavy duty 4WD tyres tend to not have as much grip as passenger-car tyres.
The Jeep Wrangler is never going to win any handling contests or performance-car shootouts. But then again, Ferraris are a bit rubbish on the Rubicon Trail. The Jeep Wrangler is designed for those who think fun is the ability to go anywhere – on sand or gravel – rather than taking in bends with any finesse.
Compared to a passenger car, Jeeps wriggle around a bit. It’s a matter of adjusting your driving style and learning to be a bit patient. You may be stuck in traffic with the rest of us, but at least you can find solace in the knowledge that if we do get invaded by aliens, there’s a fair chance you’ll be able to drive over the rubble.
Turns more heads than a Ferrari and costs a fraction of the price.
Jeep Wrangler Special Ops Edition
Price: from $50,500
Warranty: Three years/100,000km
Service interval: 12,000km
Safety rating: 4 stars
Engine: 3.6-litre V6, 209kW/347Nm
Transmission: Six-speed manual, five-speed auto
Thirst: 11.9L/100km, on test 16L/100km, 276g/km
Dimensions: 4751mm (L), 1877mm (W), 1840mm (H)
Spare: Full size (mounted on the tail-gate)
Toyota FJ Cruiser
Price: from $44,990
Engine: 4-litre, V6 petrol, 200kW/380Nm
Transmission: 5-speed automatic, FWD
Thirst: 11.4L/100km, CO2 267g/km
Land Rover Freelander TD4 SE
Price: from $55,310
Engine: 2.2-litre 4-cyl, 110kW/420Nm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic, FWD
Thirst: 7.0L/100km, CO2 185g/km