War – what’s it good for? Very little, frankly, although armed conflict did inadvertently gift the world the forerunner of perhaps the greatest, most enduring off-road
vehicle to grace four wheels: the Jeep Wrangler.
Almost eight decades since the Willys military utility vehicles helped to change the course of the Second World War, sufficient visual cues remain in the all-new 2019 Wrangler that even casual observers could trace the lineage, not least that trademark slotted grille and rounded headlamps. Eliminating any danger of forgetting the heritage, there are mini Willys Jeep outline logos dotted all around the car, including on the window glass and gear knob – on top of a stick with, it has to be said, one of the nicest weighting to its shifter movement in almost any car you care to mention.
The latest Wrangler – or “JL”, in Jeep-speak, replacing the outgoing “JK” – is a rather more sophisticated beast than those battlefield warriors. But its brief was to meld technological advances with the rugged DNA that has helped the model sell five million units to date. Inside and out, it sure seems to have achieved that, updating the exterior design to smooth down angular extremes, while blending functionality with modernity inside. It’s rounder than ever but, particularly in the two-door form, retains a classic outline.
This being a Wrangler, taking a trip around the block on the UAE’s snooker-table-smooth roads wouldn’t really be entering into the spirit of things. So instead, I am at Camp Jeep – a temporary but sizeable automotive settlement near the city of Spielberg in the Austrian Alps. Motoring is in the blood in this part of the Central European nation, with the Red Bull Ring Formula One circuit a short drive away. To make us feel at home, there are a clutch of Wranglers with Dubai number plates, a whole 5,500 kilometres away from the UAE.
While day one involves on-road driving through some fairly unchallenging tarmac amid highly ‘Gram-worthy Alpine landscapes, the next morning, the focus switches to muddy mountainside tracks in the surrounding area, the scene of the real action.
The UAE gets six different variations of the new Wrangler – Rubicon, Sahara and Sport, all with either two or four doors – although there is only one engine on offer in the Middle East – a 3.6-litre V6 with a hardy 285hp. It is a whole 91 kilograms lighter than its predecessor.
When tackling mediumly perilous routes such as the ones Jeep has kindly provided for us, the Rubicon is the Wrangler of choice for serious scenery conquering. And for best results, it has a DIY option that transforms it into a pro-level off-roader: unfasten an array of clips holding the removable roof panels and foldable front windscreen, and after some stashing and reconfiguring, you are suddenly both exposed to the elements and almost at one with nature. The skeletal results are almost alien in comparison to the fully-loaded Wrangler, yet leave no doubt about Jeep’s intentions. Need further proof of its hard-core credentials? It has a washable interior.
The new Renault Duster looks to be a tough act to follow
Mountainous motors: the big benefits of the Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator
New 2019 Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen launched in Dubai – in pictures
Latest from The National's Motoring section
There really is a feeling that nothing short of a fallen redwood can stop the Wrangler once in its natural habitat, devouring the kind of gradients and rutted ground that many rivals would meekly refuse in the manner of a lame horse. The low-range four-wheel-drive gears make light work of all of this, even if you suspect purists in the Gulf may grumble about the fact the only transmission is an eight-speed automatic, with no plans for a manual here.
That’s not to say that the Sahara or Sport should be disregarded. Unless ultra-extreme off-roading is your thing, both have plenty of chops away from highways, but also offer better ride quality when you do decide to use the Wrangler on tarmac.
Off-road nerds will be happy to know that the Wrangler is replete with front and rear-axle lockers, plus a limited-slip differential, all of which is integral to maintaining traction and efficiently allocating the power to the wheels that most need it. Put simply, it just keeps on moving, seemingly undaunted, whatever you throw at it.
Much thought has gone into the vehicle’s interior in the context of that aforementioned tradition-meets-contemporary spirit – nowhere is that better illustrated than in the grippy rubber surround of the 8.4-inch touchscreen, maintaining a military edge to necessary tech. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come as standard. Elsewhere, there is 50 per cent more centre-console storage than the outgoing model, plus rucksack-inspired seat-back pockets.
For a more refined roof that doesn’t require you to peel off parts of your Jeep, there is a power-operated “Sky” top coming early next year, which can be opened at speeds of up to 88kph. Driver aids include blind-spot monitoring, park assist, rear cross-path detection and a rear-view camera. And you can customise your Wrangler to your heart’s desire while keeping things fully on-brand, with more than 100 official accessories available.
It’s doubtful that anything else on the market can do what the Wrangler does – and from Dh132,000, in showrooms now, certainly nothing comes close to providing this level of value for money while gobbling up just about any off-road terrain you can throw at it. Things will get truly interesting from 2020, when a plug-in hybrid version is due to be available. For now, though, this is a landmark vehicle in itself.