A rolling contradiction
Every kind of car has a stereotype. Let me give you a few examples.
A two-door would make you think of a thrilling drive. A long sedan would give you the impression of luxury. Anything wagon-like will make you think practical. And married. See what I mean?
So when I got the keys to the Jeep Wrangler, I was expecting it to be a rough-riding, hardcore, and punishing experience on the road. Sure, it'll be great off-road but I was personally expecting it to be unforgiving as a daily runabout. I mean, just look at it.
It's tall, upright, and boxy, just like all the other Wranglers for the past decades. Trace the roots of this SUV and the genes of the original Willys' are still very present. Sure, the new Wrangler is a lot bigger than its great-great-grandfather, but the bloodline is very evident with this new model.
The Wrangler then is unashamedly old-school, but it's not retro. It's an evolution of a design and formula that's been around since 1941 and it's been “softened” out through the decades. Kind of like Coca-Cola.
The result is an SUV that looks like nothing else on the road today. Who else can make a 4x4 with wheels and fenders jutting out of the body? If you drive one of these, you're almost guaranteed to get some stares, and you certainly won't lose it in a car park.
It could also be said that the Wrangler's design is a textbook definition of function over form. The short overhangs make it ideal for attacking inclines, and the high ground clearance is perfect for fording streams and flooded streets. There are no step boards to snag on fallen trees and such and it rides on steel rims which suits this SUV so well. Did I mention that the roof and the doors are detachable? Oh, and that front windshield can fold down in true Jeep tradition.
That General Purpose (AKA: GP. AKA: Jeep) feel carries on inside with a no-nonsense cabin. There are no swooping lines or acute angles in here. The dashboard is flat and squarish and the door panels are almost bare. Its seats are there for you to remain seated in the vehicle, nothing more, nothing less. The Wrangler does have a touchscreen but it's almost as if it's there just for the sake of it. You don't even get a footrest in the Wrangler.
The rest of the interior has functionality in mind. Take the window switches for example. It's mounted on the center console because the doors are detachable. There's no fancy electronic dial to engage the four-wheel-drive system. Don't bother with an electronic parking brake as the Wrangler has a mechanical handbrake. It's not bare inside but the Wrangler Sport almost has a style-free interior. The thing is, it looks so utilitarian that it has its unique charm.
Quirks? There are a few. The lack of step boards makes it difficult to climb in and get down from the Wrangler. The built-in rollbar does obscure rearward vision and the swing-out tailgate makes it difficult to load in items in tight spaces. Then there's the steering wheel along with the buttons and controls. Like the last two Jeeps we tested, the radio and audio controls are behind the steering wheel. Also, the interior light switch is nowhere near where you'd expect it. To switch off the cabin light, you have to scroll the instrument panel dimmer switch on the left side of the dashboard.
Space inside the Wrangler won't be much of a problem although taller drivers might find themselves a little too close to the steering wheel. If you're not a six-footer though, then you'll find that the Wrangler will be more than enough inside. The same is true for the back seats but the narrow seat cushions would make it a tight squeeze for five. Cargo space on the other hand is decent, but you'd expect more from something made in America. The Wrangler crawls back some points when it comes to the headroom though, thanks to the high roof. If you take off the roof, then you get unlimited headroom.
Powering the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sport is not a brawny V6 engine. Instead, it takes the downsized turbo route with a boosted 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine. It may have two cylinders chopped off, but power ratings are still impressive at 268 PS and 400 Nm of torque. It still has less power than the old 3.6-liter V6, but the 2.0-liter turbo easily surpasses it when it comes to torque. Despite two fewer cylinders, the turbo-four has 47 Nm more than the big six-banger.
Out on the road, you'd think the Wrangler would be noisy, crude, and unrefined, but that's not the case. The turbo-four is hushed and it keeps things relatively hushed in the cabin. Drive it at cruising speeds and you'd think you're driving a premium SUV, not a trail-rated, rock-climbing 4x4. Its on-road manners aren't what you'd expect in something that looks like, well, this.
Then there's the rather smooth ride. Driving over big potholes and broken asphalt won't send shockwaves up your spine. On smoother roads, the Wrangler rides like a big sedan but without the float or wallow commonly associated with land yachts. You won't feel tired spending a whole day in the Wrangler, which isn't what the exterior design would lead you to believe. A comfortable, daily-friendly off-roader? It sounds like an oxymoron but that's what the Wrangler Sport feels like.
Fuel economy was another surprise. In light traffic, the on-board computer displayed 8 liters per 100 kilometers, which roughly translates to 12.5 kilometers per liter. Even with long idle times during shoots, this Wrangler still did 7.7 kilometers per liter. If it had the V6, the fuel economy results would likely be half of what this boosted 2.0-liter achieved.
However, handling isn't the forte of the Wrangler. The steering is numb and you do have to correct it to stay in between lanes. Also, the Wrangler can take on corners, but it will do so begrudgingly. I'm glad that it doesn't come with an off button for stability control. The reason for its truckish handling is its front suspension. It still uses a live axle, which is great for trails but not smooth asphalt. However, I'm told that the older models were even more of a handful. As far as Wranglers go, this is the most car-like to drive.
Then there are the rattles, but that's the price you pay for having detachable panels. Wind noise is also a constant, but you probably expected that with its upright design. There's a lot of wind rush by the side mirrors, and you can feel headwinds slowing you down too. It's amazing how the Wrangler still posted good fuel economy numbers despite having the aerodynamics of a back ride barrier.
How much is the Wrangler Unlimited Sport then? It starts at Php 3,590,000, which is a massive increase over the previous-generation model. The 2016 Unlimited Sport retailed for “just” Php 1,990,000, so what makes this one so much more expensive? The massive re-engineering done to the all-new Wrangler doesn't come cheap. Making it friendly on-road while keeping its off-road capabilities wasn't an easy task for the folks at Jeep either. What you're paying for here then isn't the features or the looks. What you're paying for here is the engineering. It's up to you if you find the price too much, or if it's just right.
The Wrangler Unlimited Sport is, in some ways, a practical toy. It's designed for taking on the toughest trails but it can be used as a daily runabout. Again, it's a rolling contradiction because a vehicle that looks like this isn't supposed to be practical, comfortable, or even have decent on-road manners. Sure, it still handles like a truck and we've seen more aerodynamic bricks, but it wasn't meant to drive like a car in the first place.
All in all, the Wrangler Unlimited Sport exceeded and defied expectations. What Jeep has done here is retain its capabilities, all while making it a friendlier vehicle to drive on the road. Besides, making a Wrangler drive too much like a sedan is not only impossible, it would be blasphemous.