I’ve always had a certain attraction to the Jeep Wrangler, but after testing the Wrangler back in 2011 with the old 3.8litre engine I was quite disappointed. A kind of “meeting your hero, and being let down” scenario. The engine was thirsty, the ride wallowy, gearbox slow and tedious but it was phenomenal off-road. Even though the interior had been updated, the every-day drive meant too much compromise for that weekend away off-roading.
Queue shining light from above and heavenly voices – enter the updated Wrangler. A new 3.6litre Pentastar V6 engine, a new 5 speed automatic gearbox for the Unlimited (A manual also now avail), improved on-road dynamics and even more off-road ability. Sounds good…but is it?
I had the opportunity to take the Wrangler Unlimited (5door) Rubicon (has more off-road goodies) to Kungwini off-road academy & 4×4 eco-trail. These guys are all about sustainable off-road driving, and were kind enough to take me through the full course as well as a final drive through their eco-trail.
First off, the new Pentastar engine is a HUGE improvement on the old 3.8litre block…no doubt thanks to the new 5speed auto gearbox… the new engine develops 40% more power at 209kW and 10% more torque at 347NM. Although it also claims greater fuel efficiency I didn’t see any of that, clocking around 19l/100km. Pretty steep, but considering it spent most of its time in crawling traffic and a heavy douse of off-road, I guess it’s … still pretty bad.
In traffic and around town the increase in power made it easy to cruise on the highway, overtake and even get off the line fairly quickly.
What has also improved quite considerably is the ride. New dampers and changes in the shocks have made a huge leap in handling on road. There is a lot less wallowing than one usually gets with a ladder frame chassis, and also a lot less pitch when braking. The turning circle is still close to that of the USS Nimitz, which can make parking a little hassle considering there’s also no PDC, so it’s best to get acquainted with the size of the Wrangler fairly quickly.
The interior is still the same refresh done in 2011, but this model had optional Media Centre (Sat Nav & HDD) included. Fairly simple to use, but the graphics were a little 2000 and late. That said, everything you need and nothing you don’t in the Wrangler, keeping it simple to the core, which for its purpose can’t be faulted. It’s definitely not as utilitarian as the Defender, and up there with most bakkies. The 5 door still allows the roof panels to be removed, as well as the canopy over the rear, allowing a full open air driving experience which the Wrangler is so well known for. There’s enough space in the interior to seat 5 adults comfortably, my only gripe being that the seats are a little flat on comfort. The rear two-stage door opens up to boast just under 500litres of space, with a 12V socket in the back for a fridge.
This is all of very little importance because when you really fall in love with a Wrangler is the moment those tyres rumble off the tar. Kungwini consists of a very thorough and strangely rather lush set of obstacles to teach the basics, a section of “advanced” track combining these basics out in the bush, and then an eco-trail. There’s a host of other activities such as camping facilities and winching workshops but I didn’t do any of those (more info here).
The guys at Kungwini believe in a thorough check around the vehicle, and immediately points out that the Jeep is able to tackle the steepest grades and deepest ruts, the approach angle for Jeep Wrangler is 35 degrees. Breakover angle is 22 degrees (18 degrees for Unlimited) and departure angle is 28 degrees. Ground clearance is around 240mm which is tackling all the obstacles. The Rubicon boasts an increased waiding depth (482mm) due to the air-inlet being as high up in the engine bay as possible, and is also extremely well sealed.
[ Video here ]
The Wrangler genuinely impressed with its low range (now improved 1st gear), allowing the car to creep along much like a diesel, keeping strong slow momentum, which is SO key when driving off-road. The Rubicon also boasts an upgraded heavy-duty transfer case for even lower gearing in low range (4.0:1 – for those that care) electric front and rear locking differentials and disconnecting sway bars, which I’ll explain in more detail later.
Maximum traction is key and to give even more traction, the Rubicon model has the ability to disconnect the sway bars. Basically a button on the dash disconnects the sway bars to allow the wheels maximum articulation, dropping further into a hole/rut. I’m not sure the exact increase, but there is a huge difference in the articulation, giving traction in those axle twister situations when you need it most. Wading was handled with ease, the big lip bumper creating a perfect bow for making your way through the water crossing.
The steepest of inclines handled without ANY wheel spin, thanks to maximum torque being available way low down in the rev range. When comparing the Wrangler’s off-road system to more modern electronic limited slip differentials, you are made aware of the benefits of this system in the way it doesn’t require slip to active, causing a lot less damage to the environment around you, and obviously less loss in traction. It was easy to modulate the vehicle slowly crawling over rocks on the eco-trail, and found the new Pentastar had an exceptional amount of low down grunt. Hill Descent Control kept the descents in check and was easily modulated through the cruise control buttons.
Overall the Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon is an exceptional vehicle off-road. [Video here] Providing maximum traction, at very low revs and in turn making sure there was minimum wheel spin for very low impact on the environment (both physically and in terms of noise). With the improvements to the interior in 2011, and now the HUGE improvements to ride, engine and handling both on and off-road, the Wrangler is back in the game!
Pricing for the Unlimited Rubicon 3.6l Auto – R414 990 and worth every cent, just spare some cash for the fuel bill.
Thanks to 4×4 @Kungwini – I can definitely recommend them if you’re like to discover the capabilities of your vehicle, a day out 4x4ing or a weekend away