Fiat-Chrysler is bringing iconic American brand Jeep back to India. The first two models to arrive in our showrooms will be the Grand Cherokee SUV and the Wrangler off-roader.
The Wrangler Unlimited, right from the chassis to the plethora of equipment, is a thoroughbred off-roader. Jeep plans to offer the five-door version of the Wrangler powered by a 2.8-litre diesel motor paired to a five-speed automatic gearbox.
We got our hands on the Wrangler Unlimited Overland Sahara. As its incredibly cool name suggests, it is an unashamedly rugged off-roader that has plenty of character. By that we mean it can be crude but completely lovable, in a Harley Davidson, Zippo lighter kind of way.
What we loved about it the instant we laid eyes on it, though, are its timeless looks – you’ll see all the Jeep design traits we know and which have influenced so many SUVs today – seven-slat grille, big fenders – front and rear, clamps to hold the bonnet down, exposed door hinges and a tailgate-mounted spare.
Under its rugged exterior is a body-on-ladder-frame chassis that has live axles at both ends. Suspension is by way of coil springs and leading arms and, unlike the Cherokee, there’s a reassuringly mechanical four-wheel-drive setup.
Even the driving position is evocative. Use the rock-slider footboard to climb up into the seats and you’re looking out through a pillbox windscreen with a very upright dashboard in front of you. It’s all black plastic, solidly built and hard wearing, but not too plush, and you notice how the speakers are mounted on the ceiling (so they don’t drown when you go water wading, we presume). There’s no powered seats and no parking sensors, but you do get power windows and a high-mounted UConnect touchscreen infotainment system that has Bluetooth connectivity, navigation and voice control.
The pedal positions are weird in relation to the seat and the steering wheel – the throttle pedal has exceptionally long travel and when you adjust the seat to comfortably reach full throttle with your leg, the steering is too close. There is no reach adjustment for the steering to counter this and the stretching you have to do makes your feet hurt after an extended period at the wheel. The rear seats are quite ‘military’ too – despite the wheelbase being stretched 500mm for this five-door Wrangler, the door aperture is small, the seat back is uncomfortably upright and the seat squab has been designed for people with very short legs.
The Wrangler is also a five-seater and thanks to the roll cage running through it, removing the roof and doors (which you can do with a bit of effort) apparently doesn’t affect body stiffness.
Start the 2.8-litre four-cylinder common-rail diesel and it settles into an audible clatter. It makes an impressive 200hp and 460Nm of torque, so it isn’t slow, not even close to it. Its 100kph comes up in 10.79sec and we saw 180kph on the speedo.
What is annoying is the five-speed automatic gearbox. It’s always hunting through gears, sometimes refusing to downshift or upshift and rarely second-guessing what you actually expect it to do. The long throttle travel also means the dull initial throttle response transforms into a sudden surge of torque when you further depress the pedal, and it’s accompanied by quite a lot of engine noise.
Then there’s the ride, which is quite lumpy at low speeds, shudders over expansion joints and doesn’t quite settle down even at speed (typical live-axle characteristics) and the handling, which thanks to the vague steering and soft suspension, isn’t the most fun. A refined, fun-to-hustle vehicle this is not, and those looking for such should walk away.
What it is, then, is a clearly off-road-biased vehicle that’s much more refined than before. It can’t hold a candle to the dynamics of a modern soft-roader, but by hardcore off-roader standards, it is quite refined and handles and rides very well.
It’s when you switch the smaller gear lever into 4L mode that it all comes together. That sluggish initial throttle response that’s annoying on the road gives you incredible throttle control over tricky terrain, and the slow steering and soft suspension allow you lots of control and good amounts of wheel articulation. On its off-road tyres (Goodyear Wranglers, of course) it felt unstoppable, getting through most climbs and slush with little effort or wheelspin. It is off-road that the Wrangler really feels special.
Unfortunately for the Wrangler is priced at a steep Rs 71.59 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi) This puts it in a bracket where the other cars are very different from it. It is, after all, a hardcore off-roader and most in India would shy away from shelling out so much for something that is not a luxury sedan. But it is one of the best off-roaders around and definitely worth a look.
Also read: Jeep India launch report and pricing details