The Jeep story began 79 years ago. At around the time Enzo Ferrari and Alfa Romeo conclusively parted ways, the United States Department of War sought to commission the design of a rugged reconnaissance vehicle for duties in febrile Europe.
Out of more than 130, just two companies, Willys-Overland and Bantam, stepped up, and it was the latter’s BRC 40 that formed the basis of not only a bona fide military icon but also, with the advent of the CJ-1 just four years later, an enduring post-war civilian sales success.
The JL is the fourth generation of this remarkable machine since the ‘Wrangler’ name was first applied to the recipe in 1986, and it is the subject of this week’s road test. In the time it has taken the model to make it across the Atlantic and into British dealerships, more than 240,000 have already been sold in North America, making it the most popular Wrangler to date and something of a global commercial powerhouse for its Fiat Chrysler Automobiles parent company.
Early indications are that Jeep’s improvements to the cabin ambience and more frugal engine line-up are largely to thank for this, though there is one other factor that can’t be overlooked: brand.
To succeed, any new Wrangler needs to radiate its Rubicon Trail-conquering capabilities at a standstill, which is why Jeep has altered the model’s aesthetic only tentatively. And yet with the JL more than any previous generation, the real challenge has been not only to maintain and enhance this aura but also make the car a far more amenable daily companion.