REVIEW | Jeep's Wrangler is politically incorrect, but remains loyal to its purpose

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• The new Jeep Wrangler was launched in South Africa in 2019.

• Our test unit was fitted with bigger tyres and a raised suspension.

• The Wrangler's strongest traits shine through in off-road conditions.

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When one thinks of Jeep and the vehicles it spawned over the decades, thoughts of impeccable off-road machines come to mind. The very first Willys Jeep set the tone in those early days, being a vehicle the US Army could use during World War II. Over the years, the vehicle improved on its offering and before long, the next generation of Jeeps took things a step further.

Whether it was improvements in on-road dynamics or occupant comfort, Jeep bettered its vehicles with time.

One of the most famous of Jeeps is the Wrangler, a direct descendant from the Willys Jeep. This SUV has it all: the looks, the design, the off-road credentials, and the presence. You see a Jeep on the road and a sense of respect comes to mind because you know that this is a vehicle that has no qualms about its identity.

Ironic, because it is this very identity that puts it out of place in a modern, contemporary world.

Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara
2020 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 3.6

Brutish and bold

The Jeep Wrangler in question is not an ordinary vehicle. It may be the entry-level model - the Wrangler Unlimited 3.6 Sahara - but there is nothing ordinary about its views on life. The SUV is fitted with bigger tyres, has a raised suspension, and an in-your-face design that will make onlookers look twice at this beast on our roads.

Inside, it is all familiar Jeep, but the cabin's design is showing its age. Big time. The 'new' Wrangler was revealed in 2017 and came to market in 2018. South Africa, though, had to wait until July 2019 for the Wrangler to make its local debut. Still, local buyers flock to local dealers to acquire this beast of an SUV, although it is a few years old.

However, the Wrangler has a few tricks up its sleeve that will change its complexion completely. Requiring the assistance of a few hands, one can remove the Wrangler's roof and have an open-top experience. This allows driver and passengers to become one with the environment, especially when undertaking off-road adventures. If open-top off-road adventures are your thing, though, opt for the Wrangler Rubicon. You can remove its doors, as well.

Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara
2020 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 3.6

The driving experience

The Wrangler, sadly, is unable to conjure a ride quality that will leave you impressed. It suffers from vast amounts of play on the steering wheel, the body is wobbly when suddenly changing direction, and nose-diving is severe when laying on the brakes hard. This is not confidence-inspiring, and it is worrisome that something retailing for almost R900 000 (in base specification) is this uninspiring on the road. Even the slightest wind will have you applying counter steer.

But take the Wrangler off-road, and it comes into its own. The updated mechanicals (wheels, suspension) allow the SUV to conquer almost anything in its path, and its grade 7 off-road rating makes it one of the toughest, most capable 4x4s around.

Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara
2020 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 3.6

In summary

The Jeep Wrangler had come a long way since 1987 when it first came to market. It was - and still is - characterized by impeccable off-road capabilities, even if it comes at the cost of on-road dynamics. Yet, ardent fans and off-road aficionados will tell you that where it matters with the Wrangler is off the beaten track. And for that, for staying loyal to its cause, one must commend Jeep.

In today's climate, producing a vehicle that is so politically incorrect as the Wrangler and still making a success of it is a commendable task. Jeep didn't venture away from the Wrangler's success recipe, nor did it alienate the vehicle from its core target group. But it does make you wonder, though: Just how long can the Wrangler keep it up for?

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Quick stats: Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 3.6

Price: R893 293 (base)

Engine: 3.6-litre, V6 petrol

Power: 209kW @ 6400rpm

Torque: 347Nm @ 4100rpm

Gears/Drive: Eight-speed automatic, 4WD

Ground clearance: 242mm (standard)

Wading depth: 760mm (standard)

Economy: 16.0-litres/100km

Warranty: 3-years or 100 000km

Maintenance plan: 3-years or 100 000km

Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara
2020 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 3.6
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