My most metrosexual friend drives a Jeep Wrangler Unlimited and loves it.
John – a pseudonym to protect the innocent – is as urban as urban can be. He’s a citified capitalist, always perfectly groomed, who regularly out-shops his shopaholic girlfriend.
For John, a Jeep is a fashion statement grounded in a history rich in toughness and authenticity.
Yes, yes, an off-road adventure for him is an unpaved parking lot at an outlet mall stuffed with exquisite brands being sold at bargain prices. But what John loves and appreciates about Jeep is styling and execution that reflects real Americana. Seventy-five years of it.
He doesn’t mind that his Wrangler’s highway ride is jarring and bumpy and he’s not troubled by the chintzy switchgear and finishings that have for decades been as raw as a Trump rally.
And another thing: John’s Jeeps (two of them so far) have been “bullet-proof.” This flies in the face of a long list of third-party quality studies. Most recently, Jeep’s reliability is ranked in the bottom third of car brands by Consumer Reports.
With all that in mind, I expect John will soon have a new, reinvented Wrangler in his driveway. The latest version, redone stem to stern, is a dramatic improvement over the old model and still delivers on the Jeep brand essentials – design, authenticity and heritage.
The driving dynamics of the new Wrangler are shockingly good right up to about 110-120 km an hour. The steering is tight, the cabin well-fitted and loaded with accessible technological wonders. The entire interior is a revelation, a blend of modern with a nod to history. The windshield folds flat, like it should, and the doors and roof come off easier than ever before, too.
Jeep was under enormous pressure to deliver a better Wrangler for a growing global audience (read China) and delivered. I was immensely impressed right up to the moment I eyeballed the window sticker of my 2018 Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 4×4 with its short but pricey list of options. As tested: $58,910.
Whoa. A Land Rover Discovery Sport starts at $43,500 and the base price for a Range Rover Evoque is $49,900. Is Jeep now a luxury brand, competing with Land Rover? Have the Jeep people lost their minds?
No, they haven’t. Jeep sells a completely prosaic two-door Wrangler for $27,000. It has the look and the pedigree, along with the amazing off-road capabilities of pricier Wranglers.
Jeep’s designs are not nearly as exquisite as Land Rover’s, but the Jeep look in the latest Wrangler is solid and it’s bolstered by details such as the ($895) LED headlights, taillights and fog lights of my tester ($46,245 base).
The updated design itself is an evolution of the traditional boxy Jeep shape, with its vertical, seven-slot grille, the round headlights and square taillights. What is impressive is the extensive and expensive use of lightweight aluminum doors, hinges, hood, fenders and windshield frame, along with a magnesium swing gate at the rear.
Rugged and capable? The new Wrangler is available with three different 4×4 systems, though most will want the Selec-Trac full-time, two-speed transfer case ($795). This Jeep is available with electric front- and rear-axle lockers, a limited slip differential and massive off-road tires.
I won’t bore you with all the details about ground clearance, breakover and departure angles, crawl ratios and water fording capabilities. Whichever Wrangler you get, it’s Trail Rated, complete with skid plates to protect vulnerable underbody gear. Rest assured, this rig can tackle anything, anywhere.
You have three engine choices: a 2.0-litre turbocharged inline four-banger; a 3.6-litre V-6; and a 3.0-litre diesel new for the 2018 model year. My tester had the eight-speed automatic gearbox with ratios that make good use of the horsepower and torque, though historically, it’s been plagued with problems. A six-speed manual is standard.
My tester also had the best possible iteration of the excellent Uconnect system that includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The 8.4-inch touchscreen, which pinches and zooms like a smartphone, is outstanding; you will want it, not the more basic 7.0- or 5.0-inch screens in cheaper models.
As you’d expect, the doors, windshield and top all come off in various ways for an open-air experience. The latest Wrangler has a windshield frame that lets you fold it down yet not lose the rearview mirror.
If you want to remove the aluminum doors, the tool size is stamped directly onto the hinge and the door pulls inside double as handles for carrying them away. As for the top, well, you have choices there, too: a body-color option or a black, three-piece hardtop, among them.
Most startling of all, though, is the interior – a metrosexual dream. The horizontal dashboard sits like a T atop the centre stack. There are soft-touch surfaces and accent stitching for style. For function, the readouts are clear and truly outstanding. The instrument cluster’s LED display spits out all sorts of information and steering wheel controls put you in charge of audio, voice and speed.
It’s good to see real knobs for climate and volume control and you’ll find all the charging and connectivity ports you could ever want. Circular vents are wrapped in chrome and look expensive, as do the metal-plated accents in the centre console. Naturally, you’ll find a gear shifter alongside the transfer case and parking brake handles in the centre console.
The cabin is a tight fit, so if you’re packing extra pounds you will be squeezed. On the cheap side: mesh pockets in the doors look. The cargo area is small, but at least the subwoofer is tucked away on the right side. There is under-floor storage behind the rear seat.
Most impressive of all, though, is the ride quality. The body-on-frame design is car-like and a five-link coil suspension is tuned for comfort and off-road capability, not on-the-road sportiness.
Everyone knows to take their time through corners in a tall Wrangler. What will wow John and the rest of the current Wrangler world, however, is the refinement. This Jeep will be a hit.
2018 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 4×4
Base price: $46.245. As tested: $59,910
Engine: 3.6-litre V-6 (285-hp/260 lbs-ft of torque).
Transmission: eight-speed automatic.
Drive: full-time four-wheel drive.
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 12.9 city/10.2 hwy using regular fuel.
Comparables: Broadly, Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, Ford Escape, Nissan Rogue, Hyundai Tucson, Mazda CX-5, Chevrolet Equinox, Subaru Forester, Volkswagen Tiguan, Kia Sportage, Mitsubishi Outlander.