The Jeep Wrangler is unmistakable, and so is its off-road prowess. The trouble is, it’s expensive to buy and run and there are more practical SUVs on sale.
A quick heads-up: if you’re after a £40,000 family SUV and your list of possibles includes cars like the Audi Q5, BMW X3 and Volvo XC60, then head over to those reviews right away – the Jeep Wrangler isn’t for you. Yes, Jeep says its latest Wrangler is the comfiest to drive yet and has improved interior space, but it remains at heart an incredibly raw off-roading device.
It has an old-school ladder-style chassis for sturdiness, a low-range gearbox for crawling over boulders, locking differentials for better control at each wheel and can disconnect parts of its suspension to help keep its wheels on the ground. You can also add all manner of winches, light bars and lifting kits to make you look like something from Mad Max and get you as far from the Tarmac as possible.
However, the Wrangler is also bought for its iconic looks. As such, its famous shape hasn’t been messed with too much, including that bold seven vertical-slat grille and (now LED) round headlights on its bluff front end, as well as a squared-off body and huge chunky wheel arches. Extroverted buyers have new colours including bright orange, yellow and green to choose from too.
The Jeep Wrangler is available in either two or four-door forms, but both benefit from improved interior quality inside. Improved, yes, with plusher plastics and slicker switches, but still not a patch on Audi, BMW or Mercedes. A new 8-inch Uconnect infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is standard, as well as a 7-inch colour driver’s instrument cluster. Both are welcome upgrades over the previous car, but there are more visually impressive and easier to use touchscreens on the market.
And there are better SUVs for hauling around a family too. The two-door model has a tiny boot and it’s difficult to shoehorn your way past the front seats and into the rear ones. The four-door is much better for boot space and its headroom front and back is good too, although rear knee room is still average for tall adults. Both cars also have an awkward side-hinged boot which will prove annoying in tight car parks or garages.
Few SUVs are able to offer open-top motoring like the Wrangler, though. In fact, you can opt for a power opening top, a three-piece removable hardtop or removable soft top models to get the wind flowing through your hair.
There’s no doubting the Jeep Wrangler is, and always has been, cool. The price for you pay for this latest one, though, is not - it starts from around £45,000.
Engine-wise there’s a 200hp 2.2-litre diesel engine or a turbocharged 272hp 2.0-litre petrol, while every Jeep Wrangler is fitted with an eight-speed automatic gearbox. Both are strong engines, although the petrol is the smoother and quieter option – although also the thirstier. Given both cost the same to buy, we’d go for the (slightly) more frugal diesel.
There are three well equipped Wrangler trims, starting with the Sahara, then the more luxurious Overland and finally the seriously off-road focused Rubicon. All are more comfortable to drive on road than the previous Wrangler – the longer five-door Wrangler in particular – but all are still some way short of traditional SUVs. Go for a Rubicon with its larger standard knobbly tyres and you’ll have to put up with far more road noise on the motorway too.
The Wrangler’s width can also make it daunting to drive on narrow town roads and if you enjoy driving quickly on winding country roads then forget it, that isn’t the Wrangler’s natural habitat. No, it’s most comfortable off-road, where few cars will keep up with it on its home turf.
But even if you’re a hardened off-roader, or simply love the way the Wrangler looks, it’s difficult to stomach the costs involved. Neither engine will be cheap to run and the Wrangler starts from a staggering £45,000, which places it against German alternatives that are infinitely better to drive and sit in. There’s also the Wrangler’s Euro NCAP safety rating to consider – it scored just one star out of five, which is extremely poor.
So if quality, quiet and comfort matter most, avoid the rugged Jeep Wrangler. But if you’re more interested in going where other cars can’t, or standing out from the crowd, then there are few better SUVs to do it in.