New Jeep Wrangler

toughs it out

Jeep Wrangler, front action 2
Jeep Wrangler, offroad 2
Jeep Wrangler, offroad 1
Jeep Wrangler, side action
Jeep Wrangler, rear action
Jeep Wrangler, front action
Jeep Wrangler 4door, off road
Jeep Wrangler 4door, front action
Jeep Wrangler, rear seats
Jeep Wrangler 4door, boot
Jeep Wrangler, front seats
Jeep Wrangler, dashboard
Jeep Wrangler, dash detail
Jeep Wrangler 4door, side action
Jeep Wrangler 4door, rear action
Jeep Wrangler, boot

THESE words are being written on a Virgin train snaking its pleasantly uncrowded way northward to let me drive the newest arrival in Jeep's line up.

Let's guess what the car will be like some hours before we even set eyes on it. And see how close an educated guess can be after time at the wheel of the real thing.

First of all - and surely crucial for any new Wrangler's continuing sales success - are looks that don't veer too far away from the solidly back-to-basics vibe that has always given Wranglers their forged from ingots of steel aura.

So, expect straight line styling and much evidence of available macho with protective roll over hoops, doors that detach (on purpose) and even a windscreen that folds forward for that General Patton meets his troops moment.

Inside, you expect Jeep has tussled with making honest simplicity sit comfortably with the sort of safety kit and general up-specced feel we insist on these days. We'll see tomorrow morning.

But for the real Wrangler fan the outside and inside appearance takes a firm second place to what lies beneath, where nothing short of terrain defying mechanicals will be deemed an abject failure.

This is a machine that simply must laugh off a boulder strewn trail path and hoot with derision when dipped into a fast flowing stream, both tasks almost too comically simple to warrant a moment's hesitation from this American icon.

Get those three elements right (but not necessarily in their order of presentation) and Jeep will have something that, if it doesn't inhabit a niche of one, has extraordinarily limited competition.

A Land Rover Defender would once have topped a list of likely competitors, but that ceased production many months ago and the new one hasn't broken cover, officially at least. When it does we'll know if fears that the new version will be too townie for its own good are justified.

Then there's Suzuki's new Jimny; released to worldwide acclaim a few months back but certainly in another price zone to anything with a new Wrangler badge. Half the price, or less, for the toddler from Japan, you'd guess.

And so the next morning arrives⦠and the new Wrangler is precisely as expected. Actually, not quite as expected. It's better than that, with a newfound polish that is going to extend its appeal to much more than the loyal (but small) core of owners who forgave the first three earlier versions their unfiltered basics approach in return for an unstoppable elan on the rough stiff.

That fundamental virtue remains in spades, with all the go-anywhere gubbins you expect in a ‘proper' off-roader, like low ratios in the gearbox and nicities like front and rear axle lockers and limited slip differential.

Any of the three versions of the Wrangler - Sahara, Overland and Rubicon - will tackle anything an owner is likely to throw at its chunky tyres, aware of the damage an unsighted boulder can do to their car.

But the Rubicon model takes things even further - literally - with anti-roll bars that can be put out of action at a button's press to let the wheels more faithfully follow every vertiginous dip and gully.

Prices start at £44,865 and peak at £48,365, so the Wrangler is no spur of the moment purchase.

You can have your Wrangler with either a 2.0 turbocharged petrol engine or a 2.2 litre turbo diesel, both of them coupled to an eight-speed automatic gearbox and driving all four wheels when either the car decides extra grip is called for, or the driver does.

Jeep thinks a lot of buyers will take the petrol route, perhaps spurred on by the current hate campaign aimed at diesel power. They might then mourn the passing of the big V6 engine from the last Wrangler, until they discover the new and smaller replacement has more power and less thirst (272hp/31.4mpg/198g/km).

It also pulls this big and heavy car up improbable slopes littered with boulders rendered so slippery by some (typical?) Lake District rain that it was difficult to keep your grip when alighting from the cabin of a car that has just managed the ascent in something approaching comfort.

The diesel (200hp/36.2mpg/206g/km) was better still, thanks to the inbuilt low speed docility that usually comes with this fuel. It would also used usefully less of it than the petrol model, if producing more noise as it goes about its business. Given their heads the petrol Wrangler will hit 110mph, the diesel 112mph.

Difficult to comment on the new Wrangler's on-road ability after a drive on public roads that never saw the speedo breech 30mph; up to there it had the feel of a well adjusted off-roader with gently vague steering and a distant pattering from the suspension.

The new cabin is a major advance, looking both smartly styled, modern and better built than we may be used to in a car originating in the States, where perceived quality often loses out to the price on the windshield sticker.

Today's required supply of touchscreens and safety features are present and correct in the newcomer, with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for those who like to hook up their phones on the move.

The shorter wheelbase two-door Wrangler has space for three in the back seat but a small boot; stretching to the longer four-door brings more passsenger room and a much bigger boot, for a £1,500 premium.

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