RELATIVE REFINEMENT

4X4 SHED

WORDS MATT RAUDONIKIS

4X4 SHED†0052289 KM

PRICE: $73,275

KM SINCE LAST UPDATE: 2101KM

AV FUEL: 10.97L/100KM

IF YOU, like many people, think that the JL Jeep Wrangler looks just like the old JK Wrangler youíre not far from the truth. It takes a Jeep nerd to spot the visual differences, but the real improvements to the newer model really lie under the skin.

The JL is the best on-road driving and most refined Wrangler in Jeep history. Much of the JLís improved on-road manners stem from revisions to the chassis and reductions in body weight thanks to the use of aluminium for some of the hanging panels. This not only makes it better to drive, but less weight is good for fuel economy too.

In fact, for this last month where we covered 2101km of commuting and touring, the Rubicon has averaged a smidge under 11L/100km. Thatís damn impressive for a 4x4 wagon that is still shaped like a breeze block and rides on mud-terrain tyres. No doubt this is helped by the sweet new 2.2L diesel engine and eight-speed auto transmission that are both new to the JL.

The on-road drive has improved, but unless youíre accustomed to driving vehicles with heavy live-axles both front and rear, a high centre of gravity, and on knobbly mud terrain tyres, you might think the Wrangler is the worst handling car youíve ever driven. At highways speeds you really want to keep your hands on the wheel as the steering is slow and the Jeep likes to wander in its lanes. High crosswinds really knock it about too, but such is the price you pay with a design that prioritises off-road ability over highway driving. Itís not a bad thing but it keeps you on your toes and youíll never get bored driving a Jeep Wrangler on or off the highway.

If youíve spent time behind the wheel of a JK Wrangler youíll really notice the refinement in the new model, particularly in the top-spec Rubicon like ours, as well as the mid-spec Overland model. With lots of leather covering the seats and dashboard, soft touchpoints on the controls and surfaces around the cabin, and improved sound insulation to keep the NVH levels down, the inside of the JL is a much nicer place to ride in than Wranglers past.

Again, the new 2.2L diesel helps here as itís a much smoother and quieter engine than the old VM 2.8L engine it replaces. Itís a real shame that you need to fork out for the top-spec Rubicon to get this sweet little engine in a Wrangler.

We were able to experience the improved characteristics of the Jeep in the past month with weekend getaways to regional areas of Victoria; no serious off-roading but nice touring roads and gravel tracks. The more comfortable interior with its great sound system, Apple CarPlay and heated seats were much appreciated, especially the seats on those sub-zero winter mornings out in the hills.

Despite its newfound comforts the Rubicon still has the feel of a traditional off-road vehicle; itís still a true Jeep. The windscreen might be angled back a bit more than before to improve aerodynamics, but itís still broad and flat, offering a good view of the track ahead, and you can still fold it down flat on the bonnet if you want to. The switches for the power door windows are still located down in the centre stack instead of on the doors, so that you can remove the doors altogether if you like; although, check with the local regulators before you go driving around doorless, as some in authority frown on this sort of behaviour.

The Rubicon now has an all-wheel drive ĎAutoí setting in its transfer case as well as the familiar 2WD, 4x4 high and 4x4 low settings, and this Auto setting was all that we needed for the gravel tracks and wet, grassy paddocks we traversed. It is also handy on wet roads for added safety and you donít have to remember to switch back to 2WD on sealed dry roads. Thereís nothing to stop you leaving it in Auto 4x4 for all your regular motoring.

Now we just need to find some more time to get our Rubicon out on some tougher tracks!