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Click to view road test review picture gallery“Wagons roll! The new
  and much improved
  all-American Wranglers
  are here. Tougher than
  the Texas Rangers,
  with an excellent turbo-
  diesel engine that
  returns 28mpg, the
  new models offer
  impressive value for
  money...”


THE UK'S 4X4 MARKET, whilst slightly in decline for overall sales numbers, shows no real sign of collapse following pressure from the self-appointed anti-4x4 'eco police' or the higher taxation charges being levied on so-called 'gas-guzzlers'.

In fact, a veritable feast of new small, medium and large, fashion, family and workhorse models are keeping the market alive by appealing to a broad spread of customers.

Chrysler Group has done its fair share of new 4x4 and SUV model introductions this year under their Jeep and Dodge labels. So step forward the all-American new Wrangler range launched in the UK this summer. They now come in the form of the two-door Jeep Wrangler and four-door long-wheelbase Jeep Wrangler Unlimited, with prices ranging from 17,995 to 23,090.

Peter Lambert, managing director of Chrysler Group UK, said; "The
new models are a significant step forward from the old vehicle as it offers a diesel engine for the first time, a choice of two and four-door body styles, much better road manners, reduced noise levels, a host
of safety features and an all-new interior with space in the Unlimited model for five adults and their luggage."

It might be new, but the newcomer still looks like a Wrangler, and Jeep are more than happy to trade on its iconic styling and heritage dating back to the original 1941 Willys MB Jeep.

The latest Wranglers have a new chassis, new exterior and a functional but refreshed interior design, new engines, an electronic stability prog-ramme and traction control across the range. It retains its almost un-beatable off-road performance — it is no less tough and rugged, but it is now more sociable to drive and ride in on the road.

In addition, the new Wranglers offer impressive value for money with much better fuel economy — thanks to the introduction of a diesel engine. Just one per cent of customers are expected to choose the new 3.8-litre petrol engine, which is only available for the two-door Rubicon model. All the rest are powered by the latest 2.8-litre CRD common-rail turbodiesel engine from VM Motori. This unit will return almost 30mpg and there is the option of an automatic transmission.

So who will be attracted to the new Wranglers? Jeep say they have two target groups of customers. Firstly, they are looking to attract the attention of people who normally buy the Land Rover Defender as a family vehicle. Secondly, they are expecting the Wrangler to appeal to customers who have bought double cab pick-ups in the past as leisure and work transport.

Because of the new higher taxation levels relating to commercial vehicles with several passenger seats — such as double-cabs — this sector of the market has collapsed and is down by 23 cent so far
this year. People have had their fun with double-cabs but its time to move on to something different and the Wrangler Unlimited could definitely be in the frame. The convertible hard roof, removable doors and fold-down windscreen are also standard features on the Wrangler and Wrangler Unlimited — features not offered by the competition.

While the Wrangler range will not sell in big numbers — around 1,000 units in the UK in a full year, and the vast majority of these will be the long wheelbase four-door versions — Jeep say the Wranglers will sell in a sector of the UK 4x4 market that has grown threefold in the last five years.

There are six models in the new Jeep Wrangler line-up. The short-wheelbase is available as Sport, Sahara and Rubicon models. Only Rubicon has a 3.8-litre V6 (with 196bhp and 232lb ft of torque) petrol engine and this is mated with an automatic transmission with a high and low ratio transfer box. Two other models use the new 174bhp
2.8-litre CRD common-rail turbodiesel unit supplied by VM Motori and which delivers 302lb ft of torque. The Sport version has a manual gearbox, the Sahara an automatic transmission; both have a high/low ratio transfer box.

The long wheelbase four-door Wrangler Unlimited models all use the
2.8 CRD diesel engines with manual transmission for Sport and Sahara derivatives, but the Sahara also has the option of an automatic transmission.

My test vehicle was the top of the range Wrangler Unlimited 2.8 CRD Sahara Auto, priced at a very competitive 23,090. This is a sub-stantial 16.7 per cent lower in price than the comparative Land Rover Defender 2.4TD 110 County SW and about the same price as a fully specced Double Cab with rear load area canopy.

The long wheelbase Wrangler Unlimited is 4,751mm in length — making it longer than the Defender 110 — and it is wider too; so there is plenty of room for five adults and luggage and load carrying space to match.

Like all Wranglers, it has novel features such as the removable fully-framed doors, fold-down windscreen, rugged bonnet latches, revealed door hinges and the distinctive 7-slot Jeep grille with round headlights either side — all true to the Wrangler heritage.

However, a must-have feature for when the weather improves is the Freedom Top. This is a three-piece modular hardtop which has left and right front passenger panels that can be removed and stored in the vehicle. There is also a rear section that can be removed separately. However this is a big unit and it will need more than one person to take it off the vehicle. Jeep supplies, as an option, a hoist for doing just this. For added safety a roll-cage is incorporated within the rear of the vehicle.

Being a Jeep, the specification of fixtures and fittings is, of course, high. The list is long but the main items of interest are: cloth seats with adjustable head restraints, leather-wrapped steering wheel, rear 60:40 folding seat, under-seat storage, air conditioning, full sound system (six speakers with subwoofer), electrically-operated windows, electronic stability programme, brake lock differential, traction control, on- and off-road anti-lock braking, two- and four-wheel drive with
high and low ratio transfer box, underbody protection 'skid' plates,
18-inch alloy wheels, flared wheel arches and tubular side steps.

The Wrangler Unlimited looks ready for 'real' 4x4 action. It is no soft off-roader = in fact, it probably is the best production 4x4 for really rugged terrain. The new chassis provides better torsional stiffness for improved and controlled handling and it comes with a revised suspension set-up that uses coil springs, dampers and stabiliser bars front and rear. The long suspension travel allows the wheels to remain in contact with the ground over the most arduous obstacles.

On road the ride comfort is very good: not too firm, not too soft. The recirculating ball power steering layout is not as precise as a conven-tional rack and pinion system, so there is some 'vehicle wander' especially under gusting side wind conditions. It is a relatively tall vehicle, although the centre of gravity is low, but body roll is evident and it needs to be driven with respect.

The latest 2.8-litre turbodiesel is excellent in this vehicle, being ideally matched with the five-speed automatic gearbox. There is plenty of power and response and the huge torque output (302lb ft of torque from 2,000rpm) makes it a gutsy performer both on- and off-road. It also has a payload of 525kg and a braked towing weight of 3,500kg.

The fuel economy wasn't bad either: 27.7mpg against the published figure of 28.5mpg in the combined cycle. However, CO2 emissions are in the top Group G bracket at 263g/km, so the road tax will cost you 300 this year and 400 from next April. For the record, the top speed is 112mph and the 0-62mph dash is covered in 13 seconds.

Not much one can complain about here apart from the slow acting and vague steering and to a lesser degree the unknown future residual values. Plus points are manyfold: unique all-American iconic off-roader design, good on-road behaviour and brilliant off-road, a decent diesel engine, well equipped standard specification, a versatile removable roof and door functions. In addition it's tough and, in a single word, a legend in its own time.

So if you are a fed up and bored double cab owner or a Land Rover Defender diehard looking for a change — or even just a 4x4 user looking for the 'real-deal', the new and thoroughly-modern Jeep Wrangler Unlimited could be just the four-wheeled sturdy steed you need. — David Miles

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Jeep Wrangler Unlimited 2.8 CRD Sahara Auto | 23,090
Maximum speed: 112mph | 0-62mph: 13 seconds
Overall test MPG: 27.7mpg | Power: 174bhp | Torque: 302lb ft
CO2 263g/km | VED Band G 300 | Insurance group 10
E
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