The orange dinosaur
With a lineage that goes back to the first civilian 4×4 vehicle, the Jeep Wrangler is a true American icon which retains the essence of its ancestor’s shape since 1941. Jeep kept the dinosaur’s amazing off-road abilities, only adding a few modern conveniences over the years.
Next to airbags and ABS brakes (on- and off-road), Wranglers benefit from ESP, roll mitigation, a multi-function steering wheel, electric windows, central locking, trip computer, vicious air-conditioning and a rather infuriating multimedia system which won’t play a USB device until you’ve copied its contents to the hard drive.
Our Sahara-spec model had other interesting features like two removable (targa) roof panels and what appeared to be a removable canopy or back roof section. A sturdy and padded roll-bar sits underneath all this and we found a rolled-up soft top in the ridiculous boot; together with a thumping Infinity subwoofer (Alpine for 2013 models).
You’ll surely agree that all these ingredients spell big fun and it only took us two minutes to turn our bright orange Jeep into a semi-convertible. The rear seats have adequate space for two adults or a few kids, plus you can fold them twice or remove them completely to drastically increase boot space.
Some strange characteristics became evident after just a few hours of driving and while everyone loved them, some may be a matter of taste. The flimsy doors aren’t so flimsy at all, thanks to man-sized door handles and solid rubbers which demand a man-sized shove when closing them.
The driving position is fairly low for a 4×4 but the driver’s seat is height-adjustable. The dashboard rises up steeply with very rudimentary controls, ergonomics are iffy, the accelerator feels like it’s three feet behind the brake pedal, steering feel is light ‘n fluffy, material quality isn’t bad and this Jeep even has height-adjustable headlights with decent brights.
Slumbering under the bulky bonnet (sorry, hood!) with its extra catches and stoppers is Jeep’s new “Pentastar” 3.6L petrol V6. Forget about lazy two-valve American iron, this is a modern aluminium-alloy unit with maximum outputs of 209kW (284hp) at 6,350rpm or 347Nm at 4,300rpm.
It starts up and commutes with a faint V6 throb but changes to a raspy scream when floored. The five-speed automatic (six-speed manual also available on 2-door Rubicon) isn’t the fastest ‘box on the market but offers a tip-function and beautifully smooth shifts at any speed – most importantly, also when off-roading.
Big body roll and wonky handling are par for this course, as are the obligatory 4×4 jiggles – the on-road sensation which can only come from a proper, old-school ladder-frame and solid axle setup. It spells out that this car means business and the little off-roading we did must’ve seemed like a walk in the park.
Equipped with a four-wheel-drive and low-range transfer ‘box, the Wrangler is usually in 2-wheel-drive High mode which, together with its chunky tyres, provided sufficient traction for most of our excursions. That may not be very surprising, but the following might be.
Given this robust engineering and the Transformers nature of its roof, we couldn’t believe the Wrangler Sahara’s exceptional highway manners. It’s already comfortable and pleasant to drive around town but you simply wouldn’t believe how quiet and planted it is at 120km/h.
The next shock will arrive from under your right foot and may even catch out hot hatches if that angry V6 catches the right ratio and rockets past the posted limit, complete with Yank Tank pitching nose. The same goes for traffic light starts – we measured 0-100km/h in 7.9 seconds (claimed 8.1) and believe it could easily max its 200km/h speedo.
The Pentastar motor also has impressive torque so you don’t need to take on every Speed ‘n Sound reader with kick-downs, especially because that can get a little expensive. After a few spirited blasts and some Low-Range crawling, our average consumption was just north of 14L/100km.
More sedate driving and highway cruising chipped away at this figure but I certainly don’t need to tell you that a Jeep Wrangler V6 isn’t the most economical vehicle. That also goes for its asking price of N$389,900 which includes a three-year/100,000km warranty and maintenance plan.
Economy is very far down on this car’s list and surely that of its existing and prospective owners. At the top of this list, written in day-glo orange (we even spotted a lime green Wrangler) and capital letters, is the word FUN. What we didn’t expect to find written just below that is fast, versatile, smooth, comfy and quiet.
0-100m: 6.5s / 90.5km/h
0-200m: 9.9s / 113.6km/h
0-300m: 12.8s / 128.0km/h
0-400m: 15.4 / 138.8km/h
1/4mile: 15.5s @ 86.4mph (139.0km/h)
Climate Sunny, mild
Road Dry tarmac, level
Occupants Driver, no passengers
Fuel level 1/3