Jeep’s newest Wrangler offers more on-road comforts. 

Story Bruce McMahon

The latest Jeep wagon has moved on. It’s still one of the best off-road machines on the market, and now it also has improved on-road manners. Extra creature comforts and safety features, complemented by a much better-behaved chassis, make this a more refined tourer. It’s perhaps not as sporting as some citified sports utility vehicles, but it’s a more engaging drive all the same.

The four-door Wrangler arrived in showrooms a decade ago, to sit alongside the short wheelbase Wrangler. That traditional two-door Jeep and its antecedents are the basis of a 4WD business and proud heritage that stretches back to 1941. 

This new JL Series of Wranglers carries only some 5% of carryover body parts from its predecessors, yet retains that iconic, square-jawed style, with flat body panels, seven-slot grille, round headlights and squared tail-lights plus those exposed door hinges. 

While the body style and internal layout is well recognised, the Wrangler’s cabin and appointments are a far cry from previous models, bordering on plush for a true off-road machine. Along with the usual switches and controls for 4WD transmissions, hill descent control, push-button start and more – all tidily arranged across the dashboard and centre console – there is a leather-wrapped steering wheel, USB and power outlets, a big touch screen for audio system, phone hook-ups and maps, plus colour-coordinated finishes for the dash. Here and there, on top of the gearstick for instance, are stylised silhouettes of the original Jeep.

Driver and passengers sit high. Back seat leg room is very good but front seat occupants – the driver, in particular – will find the transmission tunnel intruding on space in the footwells. Auto models could do with a dead pedal to rest a driver’s left foot.

There are three variants for these Wrangler Unlimiteds – the Sport S, Overland and the hard-core Rubicon. All arrive with 3.6-litre V6 petrol engine and eight-speed automatic transmission, though there is a 2.2L diesel engine option for the Rubicon.

The V6 puts out a handy 209kW of power and 347 Newton metres of torque. It works well with the auto, even if sounding a touch harsh at higher revs, and there is plenty of performance to deal with open-road cruising and overtaking. A mixed bag of highway, back road and bush trail work should see about 13L/100km.

On highways and back roads, the Unlimited’s re-worked coil-spring suspension offers more positive handling and better ride comfort than its predecessor. The steering feel is a touch light, but there is now more confidence about where the front end is placed. It is quieter on road, rides and steers better, and is backed by a suite of driver aids, from blind spot monitors to adaptive cruise control and auto emergency braking, which pulls the Jeep up in a hurry if sensors and computers deem the vehicle is close to experiencing a collision. (How this would work with wandering stock or errant kangaroos is not clear.)

These new-found road manners will be a bonus for those looking to get family and friends out into the bush or down the beach because the Wrangler Unlimited’s main attraction remains its off-road abilities. This is a proper 4WD, come mud or creeks, hills or dales, paddocks or sand dunes.

Good ground clearance, approach and departure angles plus underbody protection are primary assets. Then there is a smart pair of transmissions, with excellent low-speed gearing and engine responses.  

Crawling over boulders in the Rubicon model, with locking differentials and heavy-duty axles – plus the ability to disconnect the front stabiliser bar for better wheel articulation – is a cool breeze. Locked into first-low the Jeep ambles over rocks, fallen trees and climbs rutted slopes with ease. There’s no lurching, just ever-steady progress. It is a confidence-inspiring machine in the roughest of terrain and it will be interesting to see how this Jeep’s off-road prowess compares to the next, and all-new edition of Land Rover’s short and long wheelbase Defenders.

These latest iterations of the original American and British 4WDs have progressed well beyond the rudimentary machines of the past. With all its improvements, the Wrangler Unlimited may now shade Toyota’s LandCruiser 79 Series wagon as a dual-purpose 4WD for the backblocks.

As an extra bonus, the Wrangler is backed by a five-year warranty and five-year roadside assistance package if serviced by a Jeep dealer. 

Jeep Wrangler Unlimited

From $53,450 to $68,950

For more information:

This story excerpt is from Issue #129

Outback Magazine: Feb/Mar 2020