New Jeep Wrangler 2018 - First Drive Review

Test Location: Austria

There are factions around the globe devoted to Jeep, and these enthusiasts are called Jeepers. This can sometimes mean the brand is saintly - in the eyes of these disciples at least.
There are a couple of engines on offer on the new model. The withdrawing Wrangler’s 2.8-litre oil-burner and 3.6-litre petrol unit have been dispensed with. To replace them, there’s now a 200PS 2.2-litre diesel and a 272PS 2.0-litre turbo petrol. We tried the diesel in trail-ready Rubicon semblance.

The engine accommodated in this car is also used in Alfa Romeos and Fiats. It comes linked up to an eight-speed auto gearbox, and a 4x4 arrangement with a 4.0:1 low-range gear ratio. It also has heavy-duty axles and axle lockers. This makes the Rubicon irrepressible when it comes to climbing up, wading through and crossing any kind of territory. It’s not rapid on the road though, with a zero to 62mph time of 10.3 seconds. The maximum speed is a lowly 99mph.

The Sport is the basic model, and the urbane Sahara sits in the middle of the Wrangler line-up. The Rubicon we were given the keys to is the star of the show, but the Sahara is the one that is best for British tarmac. It's not as unshakable off bitumen as the Rubicon, but it'll still cope with a lot off the beaten path while giving a more obedient ride on the road. That said, all of us who sampled various Wranglers at the launch agreed none handled like a standard SUV. All have sluggish and imprecise steering, and you feel like you’re at the tiller of a vessel rather than an automobile. There’s lots of body roll and squeal from the tyres in corners, so you need to focus on making sure the Wrangler keeps out of mischief.

The Rubicon is muted and reasonably refined, and even at idle there’s no trace of it sounding like a diesel. Things only get less erudite when you step hard on the throttle, and then, just a boomy tone flows into the cabin.
Inside, you still get a block-like dashboard, but the materials are nicer than the ones in the last embodiment of the Wrangler. The plastics feel more pleasing to the touch and look like they will last for years. Indeed, after stealing a look in all the models, the Wrangler seems a better-furnished place to be seated now. And, in the Rubicon, we were particularly happy with the easy-to-use touchscreen and infotainment system.

You get a clear view of the road when you're sat at the wheel of the fresh Wrangler. The high-seated driving position makes you feel assured, and the switchgear is easy to use. However, most of the Jeep’s features are accessible by means of the touchscreen.
Driving the Wrangler is comfortable, with a steering column that is now alterable for rake and reach. It’s spacious enough for the driver and passenger, but there isn’t a vast amount of legroom in the rear. People who aren’t too tall will be contented enough though, and boot capacity is a decent 533 litres. You can enlarge this to 1,044 litres if you’d rather offload your passengers and collapse the rear seats instead.

The best bit about the Wrangler is that each model carries a toolkit that enables you to disengage the doors and detach the windscreen. This gives you a superb wind-in-your-hair drive. Underneath the boot flooring, there's a helpful area to deposit the windscreen and the bits you’ve taken off to detach the doors.
Despite its fortes, the Rubicon will only appeal to a fraction of the UK population, because our topography doesn’t include many rocky peaks or desolate sandy trails. That said; the car’s driving competency on-road is still better than, say, the now defunct, but loved, Land Rover Defender. The Rubicon four-door 2.2-litre diesel will do a claimed 35.8mpg, but in the actual world, we accomplished high 20s mpg. Mind you; this did incorporate off-roading up a steep and muddy Austrian trail, as well as some ‘normal’ on-road motoring. CO2 emissions for this model are 209g/km.

The new Wrangler is strongly assembled, and the amended cabin looks like it will survive years of use. Jeep is owned by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), one of the largest motor manufacturers on the planet. The fact that the diesel powerplant in our Wrangler is being used in other cars within FCA endorses that this is a dependable unit. 

But whichever way you cut the cake, the Wrangler isn't meant to be a polished road-car – it's an off-roader that just so happens to handle blacktop too.

Pros ‘n’ Cons
  • Legendary image √
  • Off-road performance √
  • Strong diesel engine √
  • On-road handling X
  • Pricey to buy and run X

Fast Facts (2018 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 4-door Diesel - as tested)
  • Max speed: 99 mph
  • 0-62 mph: 10.3 secs
  • Combined mpg: 35.8
  • Engine layout: 2.2-litre four-cylinder diesel   
  • Max. power (PS): 200
  • CO2: 209 g/km          
  • Price: £55,000 (est)
Written by motoring journalist, Tim Barnes-Clay.
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