WITH the demise of the Land Rover Defender, true hard core off-roaders that are bursting at the seams with character are few and far between.
So, enter the latest generation Jeep Wrangler with all themight and muscle to plug that gap.
With prices starting from £44,865 and rising to £48,365, there are three trim levels to choose from along with two all-new powertrains - one petrol and one diesel. There's also a choice of either two or four-door body styles.
Boasting a bold rugged design, the fourth generation Wrangler certainly lives up to its ‘Go Anywhere, Do Anything' image with the instantly recognisable seven-slot grille, round headlights, trapezoidal wheel arches, new LED headlamps and rear lights, square door mirrors, folding windscreen, removable doors and roof, plus chunky wheels.
It is the only full open-air 4x4 SUV on the market today.
Creature comforts include the likes of heated seats, a heated steering wheel, a new 8.4-inch touchscreen with pinch and zoom functions along with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, 3D navigation, a seven-inch TFT information display that is configurable in more than 100 ways, along with integrated buttons on the steering wheel for the audio, voice and speed functions.
The interior has taken a step upmarket with all the mod cons we demand in cars these days.
In fact, Jeep bosses explained that the latest model meets the needs of the lifestyle market without any compromise on 4x4 ability.
With that in mind, there are high quality materials throughout the quirky, yet functional cabin with soft-touch surfaces, leather upholstery, contrast coloured inserts and sturdy switchgear.
The trim line-up starts with the Sahara, then steps up to Overland which adds extra luxury or Rubicon for all the off-road expertise and more endurance styling traits. This model is ready to be personalised by owners who may want to add all manner of extra kit and lighting to their vehicle.
Out go the old 3.6 V6 petrol and 2.8-litre diesel engines and in their place are a new 2.0-litre turbo petrol unit developing 272hp and a new 2.2-litre diesel engine with 200hp.
With a ‘proper' off-road course on the agenda featuring plenty of rock climbs, slippery ascents, gravel tracks and boggy water obstacles, we opted for the perfect model for the job - the Wrangler Rubicon four-door powered by the 2.2 Multijet-II diesel engine mated to an eight-speed automatic gearbox.
The new Wrangler is on sale in 10 body colours with lots of bright shades joining the more traditional grey, silver and black. We chose the Firecracker Red car and what a firecracker of a car it was.
Priced at £48,365 (£49,640 with options), it could accelerate from 0-62mph in 10.3 seconds, maxing out at 99mph. Fuel economy is rated at a combined 36.2mpg with carbon emissions of 206g/km.
Our four-hour driving route through the wet and windy Lake District included some on-road driving where the Wrangler proved impressively composed and well balanced.
The acceleration through the gearbox was smooth and there was ample power on tap at all times. But with a car that looks like it should be dropped into any extreme terrain zone with a mission of getting out safely, it was the off-road sections of the route that really tested the car to its full potential.
It's worth adding that our vehicles were identical to showroom models, so didn't have any clever trickery added to make the tasks easier.
Without any hesitation, the Wrangler climbed over tree roots, leaned at crazy angles, balanced on three wheels and marched across ragged boulders.
There are various driving modes to the 4x4 system - 2H, 4H Auto, 4H Part-time, 4L and Neutral along with front and rear differential locks and an electronic sway-bar disconnect system to helpachieve even greater angles of lean.
And I have to say the once-shiny red Wrangler looked even more awesome and imposing when it was splattered from top to toe with mud, grime and boggy water.
All that was missing was the Rocky ‘step-climb' sound theme blaring through the nine-speaker plus subwoofer sound system.
The driver visibility has been improved with larger windows and I particularly liked that, as well as the user-friendly touchscreen that can be used to heat the seats etc, there are manual buttons which are far easier to operate on the move so cause less driver distraction.
There is also a rather clever Off-Road Pages app allowing you to view all manner of information about pitch and roll whilst off-roading.
Back seat passengers have plenty of legroom and storage options have been increased on the latest model with a boot capacity ranging from 548 to 1,059 litres.
There is a split rear door and other handy storage options scattered throughout the Wrangler include a small glovebox, deep central console, cup holders, door bins, plus additional space beneath the boot floor.
Jeep has upped the safety content on the latest Wrangler too with the likes of blind spot monitoring, rear cross path detection, a reversing camera, electronic stability control with electronic roll mitigation and four standard airbags.
All in all, the new Jeep Wrangler is fabulous fun and up for the challenge when faced with any off-road assault course so will prove itself to be a very able workhorse.
It also ticks all the right boxes when it comes to appealing design and style, on-road handling, on-board infotainment and all-round appeal.