KING OFF THE ROAD

INTERIOR

WORDS MATT RAUDONIKIS

JEEPíS WRANGLER HAS EVOLVED INTO A MORE USER-FRIENDLY AND EFFICIENT VEHICLE, WITHOUT COMPROMISING ITS KING-OFF-THEROAD STATUS.


IT HAS been a long time coming, but Jeepís JL Wrangler has finally arrived in Australia more than a year after it launched in the United States. The new Wrangler comes in a six-model line-up set to appeal to a wider range of buyers for the traditional off-road vehicle. Notably in the range, only one variant is available as a two-door short wheelbase, one of them is available with a diesel option, and none of them are offered a manual gearbox.

All of the international specification Wranglers are fitted with the ZF-sourced eight-speed automatic transmission and the most common engine is the latest incarnation of Jeepís Pentastar 3.6-litre V6 petrol mill. Thatís not a bad thing as the engine makes a healthy 209kW and 347Nm. The eight-speed TorqueFlite, as FCA brands like to call it, adds refinement and fuel economy to the new Wrangler, which otherwise will feel very familiar to anyone who has spent time with the previous JK model.

The Wrangler takes its DNA from the original Jeeps of WWII and, as the JK was the most successful civilian Jeep since those days, the seven-slot-grille brand hasnít deviated too far from the proven formula. The JL remains a body-on-frame vehicle with live axles front and rear, an old-school, almost agricultural body design and construction with a strong focus on off-road performance. In fact, with the new JL the Wrangler retains its title as the most off-road-capable new vehicle to drive straight off the showroom floor. While others might say their kitted-up 4x4s will better the Jeep in the rough, thereís probably two to three times more aftermarket off-road kit available for the popular Jeep to take the JL to a whole next level of ability.

The JL brings higher levels of user-31

As has the safety equipment of the latest Wrangler. The JL attracted widespread criticism late in 2018 when it only achieved a one-star safety rating in Euro NCAP testing - which ANCAP has since carried over. The vehicle tested there was a 2018 model and wasnít fitted with the added electronic chassis aids that the 2019 Australian vehicles are fitted with. The safety features include Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB), blind-spot monitoring and cross traffic alerts, in addition to the ABS, ESC, airbags and electronic roll mitigations systems. While these electronic systems will aid accident avoidance, they fail to address the poor occupant protection noted in the Euro NCAP testing where deformation of the A-pillar and driver-side (LHD) footwell were criticised. The Wrangler remains a specialised off-road vehicle and it will never achieve a five-star safety rating - at least not with the present off-road-focused design that we love it for.

INTERIOR

FEATURED interior highlights include Alpine Premium Audio System, Uconnect 8.4-inch touchscreen, sat-nav, dual-zone climate control, remote start, premium cloth, leather trim and more.

The Tasmanian launch was for the most off-road-focused Rubicon models only, so we are yet to drive the Overland or Sport S model in Australia. With the Rubiconís off-road ability at the fore, Jeep Australia ambitiously selected the Climies Track on the islandís rugged and stunning west coast to showcase its prowess. Climies covers 25km of low-speed trail including deeply rutted climbs, rocky and sandy sections, fast-flowing water crossings and boggy mud - a true test for any production vehicle and one only Jeep would be game to attempt.

Jeep had every right to be confident in the ability of its JL Rubicon, even in the often wet and drizzling conditions on this day. In the Rubiconís off-road arsenal are

With front swaybars disconnected, the convoy of JLs crawled their way through the ruts and holes where lesser 4x4s would have been lifting wheels and losing traction. The level of axle articulation under the JL is unrivalled in stock production vehicles, and this keeps those mud tyres in contact with the ground and moving forward most of the time.

When the track got more slippery, front and rear locking differentials were employed to ease the way through; although, leaving the diffs open and allowing the electronic traction control to do its thing equally impressed. Jeep has obviously done a lot of work on the calibration of its ETC and itís now faster to react and more capable of driving the vehicle forward without resorting to the lockers. This should be encouraging to Sport S and Overland Wrangler buyers who will have to rely on ETC in the absence of factory lockers. We look forward to putting these variants to the test soon.

TYRES

THE JL Wrangler Rubicon comes with BFGoodrichís excellent 32-inch KM3 mud-terrain tyres as standard kit.

The Wrangler Rubicon is the only model in the JL range to be offered with the diesel engine option, and this was the first vehicle we sampled. This is an all-new diesel engine for Wrangler, having previously been found in the Cherokee and some Alfa Romeo vehicles, and it has no relation to the previous 2.8-litre diesel engine from VM Motori.

The 2.2-litre Multijet II engine is a 16-valve, aluminium-head-and-block design with a VGT and common-rail injection that meets EU6 emission regulations by employing both EGR and SCR (AdBlue). In this Wrangler application, it makes 147kW at 3500rpm and 450Nm at 2000rpm, and it gets along nicely in the JL which is lighter than the previous JK. It is quieter and, when mated to the eight-sped auto, more refined than the old 2.8, delivering a near-perfect balance of performance and efficiency.

Unfortunately, the diesel is only available

Not that thereís much to complain about with the old Pentastar V6. It makes its power higher in the revs than the diesel and requires a bit more right foot to get it through the rough stuff, but the eight-speed auto does a fine job of keeping the mill in its sweet spot and pushing onwards. The 2.2-litre diesel engine is rated at 7.5L/100km combined cycle fuel economy, while the 3.6-litre V6 petrol is 10.3L/100km.

There is a 2.0-litre mild hybrid, turbocharged petrol engine available for the JL in the USA that is rated there at 11.7L/100km, compared to the V6ís 14.0L/100km US rating. This torquey little mill (400Nm) is currently not offered in Australian Jeeps at all, but Jeep Australiaís Guillaume Drelon said: ďNothing is off the table if there is a proven demand for it.Ē We feel this option would be popular with urban buyers who love the look of the Wrangler but are looking for better fuel economy.

STORAGE

THE new Trail Rail System is a premium, adjustable rail-based tie-down utility system that mounts on the cargo floor and swing gate.

All Australian Rubicons are long wheelbase four-doors, and that long wheelbase creates a poor rampover angle that had the Jeepís undercarriage touching down multiple times on the test drive. Luckily, it is well-protected with metal underbody plates, so drivers should feel confident of not doing damage.

The numbers that matter here are a 41.7į approach angle; 31.9į departure; 21.2į rampover angle; and 252mm ground clearance. That gives a wading depth of 760mm, which we put to the test through the creeks in Tassie. The ground clearance could be better, and that additional tyre height (see ĎWhatís the Rubicon missingí breakout below) is definitely missed.

Itís also worth noting the vehicles on this test were international specification and not full Australian spec. All of our Rubicons will be fitted with a steel, winch-compatible front bumper incorporating recovery hooks as per the US models, but this isnít allowed on the European variants.

DASHBOARD

THE seven-inch Driver Information Digital Cluster Display shows key driving data, safety and security features, navigation, radio information and more.

WHATíS THE RUBICON MISSING?

UNFORTUNATELY for Australian Wrangler enthusiasts there are a few items missing from the international specification Rubicon that are available on the US Rubicons. Aside from a short wheelbase Rubicon and the aforementioned absence of the 2.0-litre eTorque engine, the most noticeable difference is that our Rubicons ride on 32-inch tyres while the US Rubicons come standard on 33s. Thus the Americans are able to legally option 35s on their rigs without any suspension or other modifications.

There are a couple of reasons for this difference in our vehicles. The new generation Dana 44 axles fitted to the Rubicon in the USA use uni-joints, while the same axles in international-spec cars use CV joints. This is because our cars are all fitted with the full-time 4x4 ĎAutoí setting in the transfer case. The CV-joint D44 axles are not rated as strong as the uni-joint versions and hence are not suited to the larger tyres. The US Rubicons are also fitted with the high-riding fender flares as standard, which allow clearance for the taller tyres without any suspension lift. These are not fitted to the international models nor are they officially available through the MOPAR accessories range in Australia.

Not that this will stop enthusiasts fitting them, but it will work to the advantage of specialist shops who fit higher rated aftermarket axles to Wranglers as they have done on the JK models. This has allowed 35-and 37-inch tyres to be legally fitted (in some states) to Australian JKs.

The JL Wrangler is a more refined, more efficient and easier to live with version of the JK weíre familiar with. Itís also significantly more expensive, with Jeep justifying this price hike with a long list of added standard features that werenít available on this model in the past. However, the entry price to the model is now $10K higher than it was on a JK, and the top-of-the-range Rubicon diesel is some $15K more expensive than any Wrangler before it - this will be difficult for many existing Wrangler owners and fans to follow. Hopefully for Jeep, new buyers will see beyond the price hikes and jump onboard regardless.