The Wrangler’s interior ambience remains relatively functional, simple and plain. While some of the fixings and mouldings aren’t quite what you’d expect on a £40k family car, they’re nothing you couldn’t overlook if you were so minded. The Wrangler comes with a modern touchscreen infotainment system, electric windows all round, cruise control and climate control and is awash with USB ports and premium-branded speakers. So, in many respects, it’s appointed and equipped like any big luxury car.
Our first European drive of the JL Wrangler came courtesy of a Rubicon-spec frontiersman special that showed off some notable, if understandable, dynamic compromises to on-road ride composure, grip and handling. The less rugged Sahara and Overland grades of Wrangler, however, have different axles, suspension struts and axle drive ratios, as well as different wheel and tyre specifications.
And while the Overland certainly felt every inch of its now-quite considerable width on narrow Cumbrian B-roads, it rode comfortably enough and handled competently.
A steering wheel of an unusually large diameter by modern SUV class standards, combined with fairly indirect steering gearing, makes the Wrangler seem a touch slow-witted and unwilling to change direction at first. You do get used to the gentle responses, but keeping it within the bounds of a typical country lane and off the cat's eyes continues to require plenty of concentration even once you have.
But overall, only a few predictable quirks and shortcomings make the Wrangler any more demanding or less comfortable to drive on the road than a more typical SUV of its size. The ride, although reasonably quiet and smooth, certainly suffers from a slight shortage of sophistication and can get a bit excitable over tougher surfaces. And at low speeds, the steering is heavy and not quite as positive when returning to centre as the modern SUV norm, so you sometimes find yourself having to manhandle the car out of corners after having hauled it into them.
Interior isolation and mechanical refinement aren’t typical of most modern SUVs, either, partly due to the proximity of a fairly closely slung, longways-mounted four-cylinder engine to the driver’s seat and partly due to the general lack of attentive sealing around the cockpit. There are manual soft-top, powered soft-top and targa-style removable hard-top versions of the Wrangler, and all of those roofs can be removed entirely so that, with the windscreen folded out, a safari-style, totally open driving experience can be ‘enjoyed’, and the downside is that none quite keep the wind out like a totally fixed roof might.
The Wrangler’s diesel-automatic powertrain makes a reasonably solid, strong and smooth impression, though, having more than enough torque to make it easy to mistake the car for something a few hundred kilograms lighter, as well as good responsiveness and drivability. The eight-speed ‘box tends to shift up slightly too keenly during give-and-take cruising, and a Wrangler would never have something as pretentious as a ‘sport’ driving mode that might otherwise prevent it from doing so. Using manual mode solves the problem nicely, however, keeping the engine spinning right where it works best.