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Driving impression: 2018 Jeep Wrangler

11 July 2018

The Wrangler JK was first introduced to the world at the North American International Motor Show in January 2006. It went on sale a few months later in August 2006.

The current Wrangler doesn’t feel 12 years old. It still looks good, performs well and is a highly competent 4×4. An icon, if you will.

Still, 12 years is a long time in automotive terms, so we recently flew to Camp Jeep in Austria, where Jeep will be introducing the all-new JL to its fans this coming weekend.

What’s it like on road?

Our first driving session was spent solely on tar, in and around the Austrian town of Spielberg.

We were more nervous about this section than the upcoming off-roading. European country road are narrow, and a Jeep Wrangler is famously wide.

Turns out we didn’t have to worry, because Jeep has gone to great lengths to improve the Wrangler’s on-road driving ability.

The steering wheel still remains more of a suggestion wheel than anything else, but the Wrangler never felt nervous or twitchy, which is a stellar achievement considering the compromises Jeep has to make in order for it to do the things it can do off-road.

This time round it’s also equipped with a host of safety gadgets, including blind spot monitoring and rear cross path assist. Couple that with larger windows all round and you have a highly capable 4×4 that you could actually use and live with every single day.

The interior is a giant leap forward. It features some design elements that reminds of previous models, but for the most part it’s a modern space equipped with all the gadgets a customer could reasonably expect.

The quality of the materials is a highlight, as is the 8.4-inch touch-screen interface on the centre console and the seven-inch TFT full-colour instrument cluster display (standard on Sahara and Rubicon models). Integrated buttons on the steering wheel control audio, voice, and speed functions and allow the driver to keep their hands on the wheel at all times.

Jeep’s fourth-generation Uconnect system is a joy to use, as it’s faster and more intuitive than ever before.

Directly below the touchscreen you’ll find functional features such as climate and volume control knobs and media connectivity ports.

Two USB ports up front and two in reach of occupants in the back seat connect to the media center. Standard 12-volt accessory outlets are located throughout.

What engines are we getting?

The only engine confirmed at this point is the 3.6-litre V6 petrol, carried over from the current model. It produces 209kW and 347Nm of torque, but in the new model it will be mated to an eight-speed automatic, instead of the old five-speed autobox.

South Africa might also get the 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol with 202kW and 400Nm on tap. It basically provides nearly as much power and more torque, while consuming half as much petrol. We’re waiting for Jeep SA to confirm whether it will be form part of the local line-up.

Lastly, there’s an all-new 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbocharged diesel, which, unfortunately, will not be made available here due to the quality of our fuel.

It’s such a pity, because it works so well in the Wrangler. The 140kW/450Nm is more than up to the task of powering the Wrangler. On the highway it sits happily at 140km/h, and in off-road conditions you simply feather the throttle to keep it at 2000rpm, where all of that torque is available.

Is it still as good off-road?

Was there ever any chance that it wouldn’t be?

There are two flavours of Wrangler available – Sahara and Rubicon, both with a body-on-frame design and a five-link suspension setup.

The Sahara comes as standard with the Command-Trac four-wheel drive system, which features a two-speed transfer case with a 2.72:1 low-range gear ratio, heavy-duty next-generation Dana front and rear axles with 3.45 rear axle ratio for the petrol version, and 3.73 for the diesel versions.

The driver can select between 2H, 4H, 4L and the all-new 4Auto mode. In 4Auto it’s basically in 2H, but it can engage the front axle if it detects a loss of traction.

A limited-slip rear differential is available as an option.

All of the above make it a capable off-roader, good enough for most people.

The Rubicon, as Jeep fans will know, is the boss.

The Rubicon is equipped with Jeep’s Rock-Track 4×4 system, featuring a two-speed transfer case with 4.0:1 low-range gear ratio and front and rear heavy-duty next-generation Dana 44 axles and Tru-Lok electric front- and rear-axle lockers to tackle the most extreme off-road trails.

Rubicon models also offer added articulation and total suspension travel with help from an electronic sway-bar disconnect. This system allows drivers to disconnect the front sway bar to deliver additional wheel travel.

We drove both the Rubicon and Sahara up a fairly big mountain, through water and some deep mud.

There were sections designed specifically for the Rubicon, where we could test the articulation with the sway bar disconnected and the rear differential locked, but they proved no match for the Rubicon.

What seemed like at least a grade 4 trail was nothing more than a mere hindrance to the Rubicon. You simply kept the engine ticking over at 2000rpm and it kept on going. We were basically toying with it.

To test the Rubicon on the limit would require something extreme, which we hope to do when it arrives here in the fourth quarter of 2018.

We don’t have any pricing details at the moment, but we’ll update this page as soon as we get them.