There’s something special about driving a Jeep Wrangler. The car that helped win a war has a rugged feel you don’t get in many so-called 4WDs any more.
Jeep’s suspension is on the harsh side, the steering is kind of vague and the amount of noise that gets into the cabin is significantly greater than normal.
All of which may sound like a criticism – but in fact we just love the way the American icon sounds and feels. Instead of being isolated from the action you’re sitting amongst everything that’s happening.
ENGINE AND MECHANICAL
Our test drive marks introduction of a new V6 petrol engine to the Jeep Wrangler range. A thoroughly modern design displacing 3.6 litres, this twin-cam unit develops up to 209 kW of power, with 347 Nm to torque. Most to the latter is available at only 1800 revs – giving it diesel-like grunt that’s perfect for off-road driving.
Jeep’s test figures say the new petrol powerplant accelerates from rest to 100 km/h in almost 30 per cent less time than the old 3.8 petrol unit it replaces, yet uses significantly less fuel while providing the overtaking safety the acceleration provides.
The turbo-diesel 2.8-litre four-cylinder engine is still available and Jeep says it’s still likely to make up the bulk of sales of Jeep Wranglers – however, we feel the extra smoothness and responsiveness, not to mention the lack of that diesel fuel smell, will point more people in the direction of petrol than the sales guys anticipate.
A five-speed automatic transmission is likely to be the biggest seller and though it seems to be cheating in some ways to drive a tough 4WD with a self-shifter there’s no doubt it will be simpler to drive in the tough on-road conditions that are likely to be the fate of the typical Wrangler.
Visually the 2012 Jeep Wrangler and Wrangler Unlimited, the latter being the long-wheelbase four-door model, are as before. The seven-slot grille has become an iconic part of the Jeep – though it must be pointed out that the earliest models actually had nine slots – as has the flat bonnet with rounded side and the squared-off mudguards.
Jeep designers have tried playing games with the shape in the past, but the purists have jumped on them from a great height and the chances of them being silly again seem rather slim.
We took a brace of Jeeps over terrain that would have stopped many vehicles masquerading as 4WDs but which are aimed at creating the aforementioned isolation, not at enjoying the rugged Australian outback, beaches and forests.
We took our Jeeps along narrow ridges with steep drop-offs that could have killed us had we got it wrong then along beaches with howling winds that created dangerous waves, as well as softening up the sand. (The winds later blew down a high-tech tent apparently erected in a semi-sheltered area for us to lunch.) As well as through paddocks with kangaroo and wallaby bouncing in front of us, apparently with a death wish.
One thing we would like changed is the simple strap holding the doors open. We nearly had our knees smashed when the wind sweeping of the Southern Ocean tried to slam the doors shut. A more modern strut system to hold the door open would have prevented this – all complaints and explanations from Jeep lovers will be considered, but don’t be too harsh with your threats; particularly those who suggest we should be knee-capped…
The favourable increase in the value of the Australian dollar against the US greenback has resulted in Jeep being able to begin the price list at a very reasonable $32,000 (excluding government and dealer delivery charges). This and the sheer pleasure in owning a Jeep Wrangler seem certain to see its sales climb significantly during 2012.
JEEP WRANGLER 2012
Price: from $32,000
Warranty: 3 years, 100,000km with Jeep roadside assistance
Service interval: 12,000km or 6-months
Thirst: 11.2 L/100km (manual) 11.3L/100km (auto), CO2 259g/km (manual) 263g/km (auto)
Safety equipment: Airbags, ABS, ESC, HSA, ERM
Crash rating: N/A
Engine: Pentastar 3.6-litre V6, 209kW/347Nm
Transmission: 6-speed manual standard, 5-speed auto optional, 4WD
Body: Four-door, 5 seats
Dimensions: 4751mm (L); 1877mm (W); 1840mm (H); 2947mm (WB)
Tyres: 245/75R17, 17-inch aluminium painted satin carbon wheels.