In the pantheon of greatest 4x4 SUVs of all time, only a few names truly stand out. Pajero, Land Cruiser, Patrol, Hummer, and Land Rover are some of them, but there is one more, however, that can rise above all in terms of prominence, history and pedigree. And that's Jeep.
The “jeep” (coined from GP: General Purpose) is undeniably an icon; a legendary vehicle that defeated the Axis powers of World War II by its ability to go anywhere on the battlefield, carry much more than what it was designed to do, and reliability through sheer simplicity. In the Philippines, the jeep became a lasting icon, serving as the backbone of affordable public transportation from the post-war era to the present day, a staggering seven decades (and counting) of the tried and tested concept of a shared taxi.
The Jeep of today, however, is a brand of automobile and not just a military vehicle. In fact, today's Jeeps are SUVs meant to tackle any terrain, what with the large tires, the reliable 4x4 drivetrain, and the high ground clearance. And this is their most affordable variant: the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sport.
From the onset, there's the unmistakable look of Jeep. The Wrangler line is actually the model that preserves the spirit of the classic with the grille, the shape of the headlamps, the tapered hood with the external tie-down hooks, the upright rectangular windshield, the body-on-frame construction, and much more. Being the Sport variant, this Wrangler has what seems to be very basic wheels, but that's all good; the “standard” looking wheels fit the functionally cool design perfectly.
This is the Unlimited version, meaning it's a five door model. There's no stepboard of any kind given that it's a true 4x4 that prides itself in ground clearance. so it will be a challenge for the... uh... vertically-challenged when it comes to ingress and egress; you do have to pull your leg up a bit to get in or park next to a curb to get in more easily.
If you're looking for luxury, you may want to look elsewhere as the Wrangler's cabin is one that prides itself in function more than form. They really didn't use much in the way of soft touch materials; instead what you get is black plastic all around with black fabrics as the primary upholstery. You can see the body panels from the inside, but since the body is black, the color doesn't stand out. It sounds like a let-down, but let me tell you, this interior is quite easy to clean, though if you bring in mud via your shoes. It may be tricky to get it off the mats and interior lining. Perhaps a rubber set of car mats are best for this kind of a 4x4.
Like the jeeps of old, the Wrangler can be driven without a top after unscrewing bolts for the roof, revealing a full roll cage for protection. If you want to have just a little bit of sun, the roof panels above the front seats can be removed individually. Also, the doors can be removed using a torx screwdriver. This is the perfect vehicle to take to a place like Ilocos Norte, remove the doors and roof there, and go for a day's drive to Pagudpud.
Starting up the Wrangler elicits a neat growl from the engine bay; a sound that is unmistakably from a V-engine. The reason is that this Wrangler Sport gets the newer range of Pentastar 3.6-liter V-6 motors used in a wide variety of Chrysler group models like the 300C. Unlike the pushrod engines of old, this one is a more advanced all-aluminum motor, one that has 24-valves and variable valve timing. In this guise, the Pentastar V-6 has 289 metric horses and 353 Newton meters of torque.
As daily transportation, the Wrangler Unlimited Sport is far better than I thought it would be. The 5-speed automatic is not “pure” jeep per se, but it's going to be convenient for a weekend warrior that wants a vehicle for traffic and for adventures afterwards. The ride is fair; firmer when compared to upscale SUVs. You also need to keep in mind that this Jeep has live axles front and back. What that means is a bump on one side affects the other and vice versa; yes, you'll feel a bit more of the road with this one. One thing most of us will really appreciate is the ground clearance, especially when faced with the sporadic urban flash floods or stubbornly tall speed bumps.
Fuel economy, as expected, isn't very high; 6.4 km/l if you're being frugal in city traffic (19 km/h average) and 5.5 km/l if you're driving casually. On the highway, it improves a bit to 10.3 km/l. It could have been higher, but there really are limitations to a body shape that dates back to a time when they didn't care about aerodynamics and coefficients of drag. One way to tell is to lift off the throttle while cruising at 100 km/h; you will really feel the Wrangler slow down like you pulled the cord for a parachute.
Acceleration on an open road is quite quick. This Sport version can sprint from 0-100 km/h in 7.7 seconds (via stopwatch). Quite quick, all things considered. Top speed is at the 170 km/h range, but anything north of 120 and wind noise can become a bit annoying. The sweet spot for comfortable cruising really is at the 80-90 km/h mark.
Surprisingly, the Wrangler is enjoyable on a set of winding roads. The hands-on feel of steering system gives a feel as if constructed out of Play Doh, but the Wrangler can turn quite well. Again, the acceleration is quite enjoyable on the uphill, but the relatively high RPMs needed to achieve peak power and peak torque means you will be gulping a bit of fuel.
One place where the Wrangler does feel at home is, of course, off the beaten path. Between two towns in Bataan (Bagac to Mariveles) is a road that is still under construction; a good place to test whether this Jeep deserves its badge. At first, the road was made of concrete, but a few kilometers on down the way, the surface turns to packed dirt; a perfect place to have a little fun and kick up some dirt.
The suspension really takes anything thrown at it; rocks, streams, and a surface that isn't ideal for these standard highway tires. Further down the road, it starts to become a much more challenging trail, with a steep cliff to the right. The Jeep can easily take it, but later on, the road started to turn into what is essentially a goat path, so until this one gets all-terrain rubber, it might get a bit too tricky. And such is the charm of this Jeep; all you need are more serious tires and you're good to go. Anywhere.
At PhP 1,990,000, this 2016 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sport is quite a good deal given its level of equipment and capabilities. Clearly, this price strategy is geared to compete against the hot-selling, similarly-retro Toyota FJ Cruiser that benefits from JPEPA. The FJ may be undercutting this JK (the current Wrangler's code) by quite a bit, but the Jeep still has a coolness and charm uniquely its own.
If I were to get one, I'll have it done in OD Green... or digital camo.