THE latest Jeep Wrangler is an undisputed off-road champion, and - its makers say - is also the most capable Wrangler ever on road. But is it?
Let's get the main thing out of the way first. The fourth generation of the most capable off-road vehicle ever perfectly embodies the ‘Go Anywhere, Do Anything' claim of the Jeep brand.
Its off-road prowess is down to its advanced and easy-to-use Command-Tract four-wheel drive systems, Tru-Lock electric front- and rear-axle lockers, 32-inch mud-terrain BF Goodrich tyres, top class approach, departure and breakover angles, dedicated skid plates and rock rails for extreme off-roading and electronic front sway-bar disconnect.
While all that jargon is manna from heaven to true off-road junkies, for the more grounded of us, it means it makes the Wrangler as agile as a mountain goat which can will deal with ruts, deep mud and some seriously steep mud and gravel tracks - in both directions due to its very effective hill descent control. It is crazily good and immense fun off the beaten track.
The Wrangler is based on a body-on frame construction. To improve both off-road ability and on-road driving, it uses a high-performance rigid-axle chassis with a five-link suspension system. This, say Jeep, has been tuned to optimise on-road handling and ride comfort without sacrificing off-road capability.
It comes in three different trim levels, Sport, Sahara and Rubicon, all available in two- or four-door versions, and in two lengths - a two-door, short-wheelbase modeland a four-door, long-wheelbase. Both have plenty of room up front.
In the rear, there's enough leg room for children and all but the tallest adults, but plenty of headroom. Obviously the long-wheelbase version offers more.
The two-door Sahara is the cheapest but comes with plenty of kit as standard, including ambient interior lighting, cruise control, very useful front and rear parking sensors, and a rear parking camera. There's also an Alpine audio system with eight speakers, and steering-wheel mounted controls.
The cabin, though functional, is also a much more pleasant place to be than previously with comfortable, highly adjustable front seats, an easy-to-use 8.4-inch infotainment touchscreen with sat nav and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, a seven-inch digital driver information panel, plus niceties such as dual-zone climate control, electrically folding door mirrors, and an auto-dimming rear view mirror.
There's soft-touch plastic around the centre console and on the door handles, leather steering wheel, and even a leather-wrapped dashboard panel. Functional features, including climate and volume control knobs, media charging and connectivity ports are all sculpted for quick recognition and are easily within reach of the front-seat occupants.
Also standard are full LED headlamps, blind spot monitoring and Rear Cross Path detection electronic stability control with Electronic Roll Mitigation and four airbags.
Jeep claim the Wrangler is the only authentic full open-air 4x4 SUV available on the market - though with the very capable Range Rover Evoque Convertible, Land Rover might beg to differ - but the two-door Wrangler comes with a canvas top which can be folded back or removed entirely, an electrically-retractable canvas top, or a removable, three-panel hard top.
The Jeep comes with a 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine and 2.2-litre MultiJet II turbo diesel - both mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. The turbo petrol engine delivers 365bhp at 5,250rpm, and a very useful 400Nm of torque at 3,000rpm.
Featuring fuel-saving Stop-Start technology it officially returns 31.4mpg, but over 550 miles, I managed 25.5mpg, which to be honest, isn't far off the mark.
So, the big question. Can the Wrangler's on-road performance, match its off-road prowess? The answer is a simple no.
The powerplant has plenty of punch, getting the Wrangler up to motorway speeds without too much trouble. With its shape, and chunky tyres, there's plenty of road and wind noise to deal with. It's no Range Rover.
The eight-speed automatic works well but it can't hide the Wrangler's on-road peccadilloes. Its ladder chassis design, big, heavy axles and off-road tyres make it a little trembly on the tarmac.
While grip and traction are generally good, on newly-wet roads, even those with not particularly fierce bends, the all-season tyres at times let go bringing traction control into play. The Wrangler is not a vehicle you want to drive quickly, unless in a straight line. Even the most simple corners or changes of direction need to be handled with care.
And, while the eight-speed automatic generally worked well, the torque you want when accelerating away from a corner often appears a little late.