With the launch of the new-gen Wrangler, the quintessential American ‘Jeep’ also had a go at saving some big bucks by commencing production of this iconic 4x4 near Pune. While most will praise the fact that this is a first in the company’s history to have a Wrangler crafted outside the USA, I’ll bluntly admit that we saw this coming, owing to the economics involved. So, as much as it’s a win-win for us due to the lower price tag, I’m sure Jeep will eventually ship a significant number of its made-in-India Wranglers to other markets to take maximum advantage of the cheaper costs of production.
For starters, the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon makes even the giant Toyota Fortuner look lean. As with everything American, the Wrangler, too, is ‘big’ owing to the XXXL dimensions and a towering bonnet. Adding to the solid character of this off-roader is that it’s tall too. For the time that the Wrangler Rubicon was with us, there wasn’t an instance when a motorist did not give way to its bullish stance. It’s quite a dominating experience. And did we forget to mention that all this chaos is before one pulls the roof off for an open-top experience?
Firstly, in the absence of a footboard, ingress/egress from its cabin just can’t be performed in a graceful manner. But once inside, you’re witness to the attractive matte-red trim that highlights the otherwise functional cabin. Ergonomics too are more or less sorted, and so is the build quality along with the extravagant use of soft-touch materials. On the flipside, while some screws/fasteners are visible, the quality of plastic deteriorates lower down the cabin. Likewise, in the absence of a dead pedal, there’s remarkably no room for the left foot!
Adding some oomph to the experience is the dual dial instrumentation with a large screen wedged in between displaying comprehensive data. In the same manner, the new UConnect touchscreen infotainment system throws immense information at the driver, while still being easy to use on the go. Storage needs as such, can only be satisfied by the armrest compartment. More so because these removable doors have nets that really can’t hold much, and the glove box is the size of one’s fist. And lest I forget, the removable roof means there’s almost no noise insulation; so external noises galore.
With regard to the front seats, one sits high even in the lowest position, they’re supremely large and quite supportive too. However, at the rear, after getting past the narrow door, the rear 60:40 split-folding bench is not only upright with zero adjustability, it’s devoid of any thigh support. Offering some solace in an otherwise uncomfortable rear seat experience is an armrest that has air vents, two USB ports, a 12V supply outlet, and can also swallow cups. Plus, the boot is cavernous, to say the least.
Unique features on the Wrangler Rubicon include roll bars, the removable roof and doors, the ability to take on traction, water wading and the related manoeuvrability and articulation. It’s also got heavy-duty axles with a sophisticated transfer case, locking front and rear differential, and a full-time transfer case with a low-range gear and 255/75 R17 fat knobby tyres. Then, there’s also a front sway bar that’s electronically disconnected by a switch on the dash, allowing 30 per cent more suspension travel. In terms of safety, there’s a slew of airbags, ABS, electronic stability control, enhanced accident response system, hill start assist and hill descent control, and front and rear parking sensors with a reverse camera.
Since the Jeep Wrangler is currently a CKD, there’s only engine option; a 268bhp/400Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine that’s not just paired to an eight-speed automatic gearbox, but also a whole bunch of off-road hardware as standard. While the Unlimited variant is only equipped with the ‘Selec-Trac’- a full-time AWD system, the Rubicon variant in this review gets the benefit of ‘Rock-Trac’ (full-time AWD) with ‘TruLoc’ locking front and rear differentials with electronic disconnect.
Being a petrol, refinement levels are excellent. But the interesting thing is that the 268bhp/400Nm doesn’t pound on your brains as soon as you get on the go. It feels curiously sedate and usable under 2,000rpm, satisfying all urban driving situations. Flooring the accelerator though, allowed us to spectate its rev-happy nature wherein the automatic gearbox gladly holds back from shifting until about 5,500rpm. The result? The engine note sounds marvellously angry while darting ahead with supreme athleticism.
Getting up to highway speeds is done and dusted as a result of the strong mid-range power delivery. Be that as it may, while some long-distance travelling is acceptable, you really can’t expect the Wrangler, in all of its off-road glory, to pick up its skirt and excel in the mile-munching duties. Furthermore, the gearbox is prudently smooth and seamless for the most part, but it isn’t and we shouldn’t expect it to be in the league of a DSG, so to say. Having said that, this motor is a petrol guzzler by all means; returning around 6.5kmpl in the city!
Additionally, hitting the ‘offroad+’ button on the dash makes adjustments to the throttle, traction control, and transmission shift mode so that you can get the Wrangler Rubicon to crawl over rocks and speed through the sand. Regardless, driving the Wrangler, with its commanding view and stance, is more like ploughing through the roads/fields. Clad in fat knobby tyres to start with, the Rubicon’s ride is jittery even over well-paved roads. Nevertheless, the rugged chassis mated to the well-judged damping results in a reasonably well-balanced ride despite some vertical and side-to-side movement; traits usually associated with a ladder-on-frame chassis.
Expectedly, the Wrangler shines best when the roads disappear, annihilating almost everything in its path. When it comes to the steering wheel, it’s fine as long as you treat it like a serious off-roader. And it’s only when the expectations run high that the setup upsets you. Take for instance certain traits, such as the severe vagueness off the dead centre and the heavy/slow manners while turning in; all of which usually help in off-roading situations. Even the vibrations off the knobby tyres require one to constantly correct the steering. The only way we can come to terms with these drawbacks is if we don’t expect to set every corner on fire. All in all, we adamantly confess that the brakes need to be more feel-some, with some more initial bite.
With the Wrangler rolling out of their Ranjangaon plant instead of the Toledo facility in the United States, this iconic full-fledged 4x4 now ranges from Rs 64.48 to Rs 69.24 lakh (OTR Mumbai). That’s about Rs 10 lakh cheaper than it was. The question is, at this price point, how many buyers are going to warm up to its ‘style/full-on off-road package’ vis-à-vis a ‘style/comfort/decent off-roading package’ from the Germans/Land Rover/Volvo stable? I guessed right, a handful maybe. But these handful of buyers will get exclusive street presence with decent dynamics and a whole lot of mud-plugging to show off under.
Pictures by Kapil Angane and Kaustubh Gandhi