We learned how this distinctly un-British off-roader fits into everyday UK life
Matt Prior
4 December 2020

Why we ran it: To see if the all-American icon translates over here, especially as a new all-British icon arrives…

Month 3Month 2Month 1 - Prices and specs

Life with a Jeep Wrangler: Month 3

We’ve been finding out if Jeep’s most hardcore 4x4 can cut it against techheavy new rivals. What’s the verdict? - 11 November 2020

They wave to each other, you know. Jeep Wrangler owners, that is. I didn’t know at first, but after a few months of remembering to wave back, I’ve got into it. US Wrangler fans refer to themselves as Jeepers. Like a Caterham or a motorcycle, the Wrangler is a recreational or hobby, not utility, vehicle. An off-road sports car, if you like.

And it’s an enjoyable one. This Wrangler arrived in July in full hobbyist Rubicon specification, which means uprated axles, better off-roading angles and beefier tyres than lesser models in the Wrangler line-up. Those and a £50,000 price tag. It’s the purist’s choice, perhaps, although in the Wrangler’s home market, the US, loads of Jeeps are modified within a few weeks of being delivered, with lift kits and even more hardcore axles and bigger tyres, so a base starting point there would matter less.

As standard off-roaders go, though, a Wrangler Rubicon is as tough as they come. Which was the point of us running one: to see if the original 4x4 is still the best car off road, and whether that compromises its on-road performance. Answers are: it’s there or thereabouts in the rough and bearable on road, at least for me. It arrived with 18,000 miles on and leaves with more than 25,000, so I’ve had plenty of opportunities to find out. In effect it came and went as a used car, but was serviced before its arrival so needed no attention and no oil – and not even AdBlue – while it was with us. So, sadly, I can’t tell you too much about the ownership experience.

Our big off-road test took place in August, alongside a new Land Rover Defender and a Mercedes-Benz G-Class. Neither was on tyres as knobbly as the Wrangler’s BF Goodrich Mud-Terrain KM2s (32in outside diameter), so we did our best to factor rubber out of the equation. That it was a dry, dusty day helped in that respect. But while the air suspension of the Land Rover Defender raised its ride height to boost its clearances, and the Mercedes had three locking diffs, the Jeep – you’ll not be that surprised to note – more than held its own.

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Ultimately, how easily a car gets over an off-road course depends on the specific obstacles. That the Jeep is narrower and lighter than its competitors will be as significant as the clearances, depending on the day. But it was the most engaging car in which to off-road. The most fun. Which is at least half of the point of it, really. A Defender seems to want to make travelling through the rough very easy; the Jeep thinks pulling levers and getting involved is all part of the appeal. And, for me, I think that’s true. If I was looking for a car to do hobby green-laning or off-roading, it would be my choice.

Partly that’s also because the roof comes off. The two targa panels above the front seat occupants lift out quickly and easily and store on board, with the rest of the roof a five-minute operation involving just eight Torx bolts. You can even take the doors off and fold the windscreen down, for a fully open-air experience – although you lose the mirrors if you do. The roof squeaks a bit in general driving and rain patters on it like you’re inside a tent. But I don’t mind either of those, nor the hum that those Goodrich tyres make out on the road – my son always says he can hear it coming from quite a distance if I was on the way to pick him up.

From the outside they might dim the noise of the 2.2-litre, 197bhp diesel that drives through an eight-speed auto, but from inside it takes quite a lot of road speed before you manage that. Aurally, this is quite an unsophisticated car but so pure in its purpose that I can live with it.

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And over serious distances? Having spent a day or two a little down the range in an Overland model, which was at the office for another magazine test, I can tell you that on milder tyres and less tough axles, and with more sound insulation in the roof, it’s possible to make the Jeep more refined without overtly dimming its character.

But even this Rubicon is acceptable over long journeys – you’ve just got to change your perception a little. Two colleagues and I drove it to southern Germany and back for our upcoming Christmas road test and, sure, while a conventional saloon or executive car would have been quieter and more relaxed over the 1600-mile round trip, the Wrangler was fine and kept returning more than 32mpg – apart from a few stretches of autobahn.

You just have to raise your voice a bit more to talk. After all, distances in the US are big and temperatures are extreme, so it’s not like it’s not built for them. It keeps itself as hot or cold as you’d like inside, it has heated seats and steering wheel and a comprehensive smartphone integration and cruise control. You don’t need more. You just want more.

In the end, and because I like hobbyists cars, I wouldn’t have wanted for much more. You can, after all, dim the experience if you do.

Second Opinion

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I agree with Matt that longer journeys in the Jeep require a change of perception. It’s certainly far less refined and comfortable than any road-biased SUV and the off-road tyres are noisy. My 6ft 3in frame also found the lack of space for my left foot irritating.

Lawrence Allan

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Love it:

Towability Towing ability is excellent – the Jeep has pulled my own Defender to the mender’s once or twice…

Off-road performance It’s superb off road. That you can lock diffs or disengage the anti-roll bar involves you in the process.

Design touches There are some very cool visual details with historic and modern Jeep icons hidden around the car.

Loathe it:

Fuel cap lock Fuel filler cap needs the key put in it to open, like in the old days. Which is a bind.

bright lights Oncoming traffic occasionally flashes the Jeep, although this is a common new car phenomenon.

Final mileage: 25,670

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A mission to Germany highlights some surprising strengths - 21 October 2020

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Our time with the Wrangler is nearing its end, which gave it the perfect opportunity to remind me of its usefulness.

“When I’m gone,” it might as well have said, “who is going to tow your Land Rover Defender to the garage when its clutch packs up on a rainy Sunday October night?” Sigh. The Jeep, as a proper off-roader should, has snatch points front and rear, so it’s pretty easy to hook up a rigid tow pole.

With just under two tonnes of 203,000-mile Defender 90 on the back (at which mileage I think we’ll allow it a clutch issue), you’d hardly know the Land Rover was there under gentle acceleration or braking, were it not for an alarmed face in the rear-view mirror. I suppose being towed at that distance is quite disconcerting.

Anyway, it’s a bit extreme to keep a spare 4x4 hanging around in case another 4x4 doesn’t work, so it’s just as well that the Wrangler, for all of the rugged off-roady things we’ve used it for, has also turned out to be a surprisingly capable on-road vehicle.

Not that everybody believes me. Last month, I took the Jeep to southern Germany as support vehicle for our Christmas road test; something we thought we should get in the bag while we’re still able. Logistically, it was quite involving, because the road test vehicle in question would end up several hundred miles and in a different country from where we started – a journey photographer Olgun Kordal would have to make in the car. And, I’ll be honest, he wasn’t looking forward to it, thinking his Skoda Superb would have done a better job.

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Perhaps it would, but the Wrangler’s ability to swallow loads of kit yet be left in 2WD mode and cruise on a motorway in reasonable comfort is, I think, quite commendable. Its engine, tyres and aerodynamics make it noisier than the alternatives, and asking for a lot of high-speed motorway performance dropped economy to about 27mpg from my usual average of 32mpg. But I don’t reckon it’s as unrefined as people expect. Between now and the Wrangler’s return to its maker, I’ll do a genuine economy run to see just how much you can squeeze out of it. I suspect 40mpg is possible, even on some of the gnarliest tyres you can buy.

Loading up the Wrangler reveals a few things. Mostly good: it’s accommodating, with 548 litres behind the seats and 1059 litres with them folded. The boot floor is, understandably, quite high, although this is usually a good thing for your back. Only if heaving something very heavy into the car would that be a real bother.

I suppose really huge objects could be baulked by the roll-cage, too. This isn’t a smooth-sided, van-like interior like some big SUVs. And the side-swinging tailgate is quite long, so it pays to leave a bigger gap behind the car when parking than you would with a top-hinge unit.

But in the same way that it’s not meant to be a motorway cruiser, it’s not meant to be a hold-all, utility vehicle: it just happens to be adept at both. While retaining its true abilities for dealing with poorly maintained Defenders.

Love it:

Meet and greet Never noticed this before: Wrangler owners wave to each other as they pass, like Defender or Caterham owners.

Loathe it:

Flash Mob Oncoming traffic will occasionally flash their lights at night. I think the Wrangler’s dipped beam is quite bright, and can’t be lowered.

Mileage: 25,065

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Life with a Jeep Wrangler: Month 2

In it for the long haul - 7 October 2020

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The Jeep has been on a mostly motorway jaunt to Germany and back – 1800 miles in three days. Not quite what it was designed for (it’s noisy at speed), but it has a 550-mile range, rides well enough and swallows loads of photographic kit. It hits a limiter at 97mph, which feels fast enough, and at which point it’s no longer returning 30mpg-plus.

Mileage: 23,014

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Which would you rather have? - 16 September 2020

We tried a softer, Overland version of the Wrangler the other day, with milder tyres, less hardcore axles and more insulation inside the roof. No question it smoothens the on-road driving experience, with sharper steering and a more settled ride, and it’s quieter. But I think if you’re going to go Wrangler, you might as well go full Rubicon-spec Wrangler.

Mileage: 22,105

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In a specialised car like this, we’re willing to put up with a few compromises - 2 September 2020

The more time I spend with the Jeep Wrangler, the more I’m enjoying it. It has now gone head to head with the new Land Rover Defender and Mercedes-Benz G-Class and emerged with its head high.

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But just as nice as the day spent larking about in a quarry was, for me, leaving the front two targa roof panels off for the long drive home, windows down, trying to blow some of the dust from the interior, in bright evening sunshine. I’d have had an even better time if I’d taken the whole roof off for the entire day, before I left the house that morning – a process that involves eight T50 torx bolts and about five minutes – but there was a chance of thunderstorms, and while the two targa panels can be stored on board, the main roof structure can’t.

Removing the targa panels creates some turbulence, because the air has nowhere to go when it reaches the back window, but dropping the rear windows as well as the fronts keeps it tolerable. I don’t doubt that I’d have been more comfortable in the Defender or G-Class, but I reckon I was having more fun in the Wrangler.

As time passes, then, I’m starting to think of the Jeep as I would a sports car or other specialist car: they have their area of expertise, where they excel, and the rest of the time they have compromises because of that.

As an enthusiast, I can live with those. In a Jaguar F-Type, it might be a shortage of luggage space. In the Jeep, it’s a cruder on-road ride, some inaccuracy to the steering, higher noise levels and a roof that pings away like you’re sitting inside a tent when it rains. That noise is extraneous but endearing, like being kept awake by the cat snoring.

Our triple test day was the first time I’ve fully loaded the Jeep with kit, and it proved pretty practical. The 70/30-split-fold rear seats’ headrests can be dropped separately to improve rear visibility. And there’s a 12V socket in the boot, plus a domestic plug socket and two USB ports in the rear cabin, all shielded to protect them from dust or grime. This car really understands its role in life.

Love it:

heritage touches As a sweet example of Jeep’s nods to the past, the information screen in the instrument panel shows the grille of a 1941 Jeep on start-up.

Loathe it:

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Fuel filler cap You have to use the ignition key to unlock the fuel cap. It may aid security, but it’s a bit of a faff.

Mileage: 21,460

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Life with a Jeep Wrangler: Month 1

Welcoming the Wrangler to the fleet - 12 August 2020

You don’t see many Jeep Wranglers in the UK but there’s no denying the success of what I’m going to dare calling the original off-roader.

I mean, you could make a case that any really early car or truck was designed for rough track use. But the modern 4x4 as we know it? I think its origins all started here: the Jeep. Today’s Wrangler is the latest in a model line that, as with a Porsche 911 or Toyota Corolla, has been in constant evolution, ever present since 1941.

Jeep currently sells nearly a quarter of a million Wranglers annually. Just not to the UK, where we buy a handful. Why? Too big, too thirsty, too American? They’re the easy reasons but I think it’s a bit more nuanced. Here, it’s rarer to have a lifestyle that suits the Jeep because it excels in wide open spaces. Besides, we also had our own beloved 4x4. Ah, the Land Rover Defender. It’s back this year and no talk in the UK of a Jeep Wrangler would quite be complete without a passing mention. But they’ve never been quite the same thing.

The Jeep isn’t typically a utility vehicle in the US and the Land Rover became a lifestyle vehicle late in its life. So the biggest overlap has really just been in their off-road ability. Fresh from the factory, they were perhaps the two most capable off-roaders in the world. (Please don’t conflate durability and reliability into that, Toyota fans.)

And given the return of the Defender, as a more lifestyle than utility car, now seems a good time to spend a while with a Wrangler, a car that it is both more like (neither is a workhorse) and less like (the Jeep retains a separate chassis) at the same time.

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I’m rather fond of the old-school nature of the Jeep: that separate body and chassis, solid axles at either end. This one is a Rubicon, which is as hardcore an off-road variant as you’ll find in the UK, so it has 17in wheels with 255/75 BF Goodrich MudTerrain KM2 tyres, of 32in diameter (apparently the way serious 4x4 types gauge a wheel and tyre set-up). It also has a disconnectable front anti-roll (sway) bar, electronically lockable differentials and an uprated off-road software programme to make the most of them. The way I figure, if you’re going to have a Wrangler, you might as well go full Wrangler.

This one arrived with a fair few miles on it – 18,000 – which also suits me fine. It’s still not a big number, but interesting to try to get a bigger handle on durability. I had thought that would guarantee we’d need to service the car at some point during its stay with us, given the 12,000-mile intervals – again, a useful exercise – but I see there’s a stamp in the book at 18,000 miles, too, and it seems unlikely I’ll hit 30,500. We’ll see.

Some cars are better than others at being driven big amounts of mileage in short amounts of time. Unlikely though it might seem, a Toyota Land Cruiser I ran last year was one of them. I covered 38,000 miles in it and it was a surprisingly easy motorway cruiser.

The Wrangler isn’t quite the same – those KM2 tyres hum like an apiary at speed – but it’s better than you might think. Everywhere in America is a long way from everywhere else, after all, so it’s built for it. And the 2.2-litre diesel, mated to an auto transmission and a drivetrain that has a 2WD mode (as well as 4WD high and low ratio) means I’m seeing more than 32mpg so far.

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The Wrangler’s interior is also more habitable than tradition would suggest. Material grades are good and there are some quite sweet design touches – a little Jeep motif in the corner of the windscreen, for example. There’s climate control and a sufficiently sized centre screen with smartphone mirroring, while visibility is good so it’s actually a pretty easy car to spend time with. There is ingress into the left side of the driver’s footwell from the transmission casing, but it doesn’t bother me much.

Refinement could be stronger, but I’m also prepared to overlook that. The fact is, you can remove the roof panels and then the entire roof, and, should you want to, the doors too. So it’s bound to be a little less snug. As soon as I can guarantee a couple of dry days, I’ll try that. I think the only issue, on the road, is that the door mirrors will come off with the doors. Off road, obviously, it’s brilliant.

The ground has been pretty dry since the Wrangler arrived and, for a while, doing anything fun was frowned on anyway, so I’m only just starting to enjoy that bit of it. More of that will follow – with the car both on its own, and alongside its new rival.

Second Opinion

The Wrangler’s sheer size combined with its relaxed, off-road-centric steering makes it a pretty hilarious machine to pilot around busy London streets. And given the fact that the new Land Rover Defender will probably be a common sight with the ‘lifestyle’ crowd, it will be interesting to see how the two compare here. It will be even more fun to test them off the beaten track, mind.

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Simon Davis

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Jeep Wrangler 2.2 Unlimited Rubicon specification

Prices: List price new £49,815 List price now £50,815 Price as tested £50,490

Options:Firecracker red paint £675

Fuel consumption and range: Claimed economy 29.4mpg Fuel tank 70 litres Test average 32.5mpg Test best 34.6mpg Test worst 27.5mpg Real-world range 500 miles

Tech highlights: 0-62mph not stated Top speed 99mph Engine 4 cyls in line, 2143cc, diesel Max power 197bhp at 3500rpm Max torque 332lb ft at 2000rpm Transmission 8-spd automatic Boot capacity 548-1059 litres Wheels 8.5Jx17in, alloy Tyres 285/70 R17, BF Goodrich Mud-Terrain KM2 Kerb weight 2047kg

Service and running costs: Contract hire rate £650 CO2 252g/km Service costs None Other costs None Fuel costs £1242 Running costs inc fuel £1242 Cost per mile 17 pence Faults none

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Comments
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joetz 30 November 2020

When is the next update coming?  It's been over a month since month 2.  This car has so much character it's impossible to judge it objectively. 

JorjaDruitt 8 September 2020

I am making a good salary

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Rollocks 8 September 2020

Why do we buy so few of 'em?

Two reasons: 1) Unaffordability. A double whammy of extraordinarily ambitious UK dealer pricing (the Wrangler is NOT a luxury vehicle but, over here at least, is priced like one) plus exorbitant fuel taxation; 2) Anti-American sentiment. For decades the British motoring press has sneered at US-designed vehicles, as much (I suspect) out of envy as any serious appreciation of said vehicles' capabilities, and made ludicrous claims about their "sheer size" (the latest example is in this very article). The two-door Wrangler is shorter than a Dacia Duster or a Honda HR-V and narrower than a Volvo XC-60 or Kia Sorento, but the average Autocar reader could be forgiven for thinking it's bigger than a Bentayga!

xxxx 8 September 2020

Ans

That and it drinks diesel, costs a fortune in tax, over weight, slow, expensive, looks cheap inside, on the road it's poor, off road well how many people want to spend 50k on a Fiat and bent it in a field when they can get a far better Toyota or LR.

fhp111 4 December 2020

You'd think ANS had been fooled by such topics, but it seems he doesn't even bother to read teh review, just jumps straight to talking rubbish....

-Drinks Diesel? - I mean the review established how well it does on fuel considering what type of vehicle it is.

-Costs a fortune in tax - It costs the exact same as any other vehicle costing over 40K and after a few years costs the same as every other vehicle?

-Over weight - Its ligher than a Defender, a Land Crusier, a G wagen? Over weight compared to what?

 

Perhaps no point in even going any further, what a load of rubbish your speaking!