Tough and immensely capable off-road; the Jeep Wrangler offers back-to-basics thrills, and an uncompromising focus on 4x4 performance."
It's true that the Jeep Wrangler can go many places than most other cars simply can’t - the big question is whether you would want to go there with it. Being nice, it's a rugged, formidable off-roader with big dimensions and it dominates the road. It's an evolution from the kind of vehicles that the US military used in the Second World War – and it shows. Being not so nice, luxury and comfort have been completely neglected and while the current Wrangler is a better on-road performer than its forebears it is nowhere near good enough to compete with other SUVs and 4x4s out there from the likes of Land Rover – the Land Rover Defender has always been more popular in the UK than the Wrangler and it's obvious why. Resale values in the used car market are equally poor as a result. The Jeep Wrangler comes in two main specifications – entry-level Sahara and top-of-the-range Overland.
MPG, running costs & CO2 emissions
We’ll let the numbers do the talking – 34-35mpg in combined fuel economy; 213-217g/km of CO2 emissions. By definition, and sticking to the big American 4x4 stereotype, the Wrangler isn’t cheap to run. But even then, it's not awful, simply because of the sheer bulk that is being lugged around. We can understand paying this money if you have a sheer hill climb that you just have to make in your car, but we’re baffled why you want to lose this much money to drive its brick-like dimensions on the UK's generally small roads.
Interior & comfort
Well, the Wrangler isn’t comfortable. The diesel engine is extremely loud and growly, clattering about a lot, especially when you drive it fast. Surprisingly, given its mammoth size and brick-like proportions, wind noise is actually not bad, but it will still test your sanity if you drive it on the motorway. The ride is harsh and bumpy, while the seats don’t really hold you in place and bounce you around. The dashboard is basically a slab made of hard, cheap-looking plastics that hurt when the clattering ride bumps you into it.
Practicality & boot space
You’d normally associate a greater level of practicality with such a big 4x4, but the Wrangler continues its single-minded off-roader rampage by being only okay in this department. It comes in two and four-door versions, and we prefer the latter, simply because having only two doors makes getting to the back seats extremely difficult, with little room for actually climbing in. It also comes with an almost pointless 142-litre boot. The four-door is better, mainly because it offers a much more respectable 498 litres of boot space and it's significantly easier to get into. You can – if you really don’t mind spending time doing fiddly manual labour – take the solid roof off, transforming the Wrangler into the market's only four-door, four-seater convertible. Does that sound practical to you? The rear seats do split 60/40, though, and the tailgate splits too, which is handy when loading the teeny tiny boot.
Reliability & safety
Jeep ranked 18th in the 2013 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey, reflecting Jeep's solid reputation for reliability. The Wrangler is pretty robust thanks to years of development, testing and use under the harshest of conditions. But even knowing that, reliability is difficult to gauge, as it's been absent from customer surveys for some time due to its relative rarity on UK roads (and hills, and mountains, and fields). The mechanical components are pretty basic and well proven, though, so there's less to go wrong than on most other cars, but that's also because it's so stripped down and lacking in finesse. It hasn’t been put through the Euro NCAP crash safety test, but it could do with more safety equipment, even if two airbags, electronic stability control and ISOFIX child seat anchor points are all fitted as standard. It's so huge and chunky that it is probably likely to stand up well in a crash – we just don’t want to see the state of whatever it crashes into.
Engines, drive & performance
If you want an SUV that drives as well on the road as off it, don’t buy a Wrangler. It does perform better on the road than it has in the past, but the most positive take on it is that it's utilitarian to drive. The 2.8-litre turbodiesel engine eats diesel like there's no tomorrow, but it does generate 174bhp of potent pulling power to get you up those steep slopes. It never feels fast, mainly due to its size as much as anything else, but the power at low revs also makes it handy when you encounter slippery or rough surfaces – and of course it's ideal for towing. But as soon as you do take it on the road, and the soft suspension (that's designed to absorb big rocks and massive holes) starts to throw you around and makes it wobble around on the road, you realise that it truly only belongs off it.
Price, value for money & options
You wouldn’t describe the Wrangler as cheap, but you do get a decent amount for your money – in terms of sheer pound for pound of big car. You do get air-conditioning, alloy wheels, cruise control, leather seats and the (sort of) removable hard top all as standard equipment – which in many ways is more than the Land Rover Defender gives you. It's also a little bit cheaper than the Defender, so there is a logic to seeing it as better value. But you probably won’t be able to sell it on the used car market once you decide to get its weight off your back, with pretty poor resale values. And in the end, the Defender is simply better – doing what the Wrangler aspires to do. So, in that sense, its value is limited.