|Photos by Ulysses Ang|
Although Jeep today is a brand under the Chrysler umbrella (spawning several other vehicles such as the Grand Cherokee in the process), the heart and soul of Jeep still is the Willys’s most direct successor: the Wrangler. Popularized in American pop culture by free spirited teens and surfer dudes, the Wrangler was once absent from Philippine roads, except for the occasional gray market import or two. Today, echoing the words of MacArthur, it has officially returned. But can a slice of Americana translate into something Filipino motorists would love and enjoy?
From looks alone, the Jeep Wrangler does well to turn heads. Although the model tested is the extended, four-door Unlimited model (not the iconic two-door soft top), it manages to stay very true to the original formula. It’s best described as a can of Spam with wheels, and that’s meant with the best of intentions. Like the mystery meat, it’s delicious and ageless with the vertically-slatted grille, round headlights, and boxed out fenders. It’s also fitted with nifty touches like exposed door hinges and hood pins. Plus, since it’s a Wrangler, you can opt to remove the doors, roof, and rear glass with the included tools, though it’s highly recommended to have a companion or two around because of the heft of these parts.
Don’t let the Wrangler Unlimited’s rugged exterior fool you, it’s quite civilized inside. Since it’s designed to be resistant to the elements as well as tough-wearing, the materials are hard to the touch, but at least there’s comfort in knowing that stains simply wash off the seats and coffee spills on the dash won’t harm the on-board electronics. And on the subject of electronics, this supposedly utilitarian off-roader is loaded with all the doodads you can think of: power amenities (except for seats), leather on the steering wheel and shift knob, a CD/DVD/USB/Aux sound system with seven speakers and a touchscreen interface (UConnect), Bluetooth hands-free, automatic climate control, and an onboard computer.
There are some compromises to the Wrangler Unlimited’s ergonomics because it’s designed from the get-go to work even with the doors and roof chopped off. The doors for instance are held in place by a mere canvas strap, and this is problematic when opening them at an incline as they don’t hold and stay open. The seating, though high-set and commanding, is let down by poor visibility thanks to the thick door pillars. Even basic controls such as the power windows and door locks require a rethink to operate because they’ve migrated from the door to the center console. And the UConnect’s touchscreen interface is easily erased by direct sunlight and is difficult to operate when the Wrangler Unlimited’s in motion.
Making matters worse for the Wrangler Unlimited though is its lack of interior room, particularly for the rear passengers. Despite the impressive 2,946-mm wheelbase, the rear quarters are definitely inhabitable for five people and barely passable for four. This weakness should have been offset by good room upfront or perhaps a larger cargo capacity, but in reality, you’re going to question where all that wheelbase went. The front quarters offer ample leg room, but is blighted by the protrusions from the center console and dashboard. The cargo capacity isn’t very spectacular as well, managing just to swallow a weekend’s worth of luggage for four. Perhaps, the engineers, at the expense of space and ergonomics, squeezed the entire drivetrain into the cabin area for maximum off-road prowess.
When off-roading is concerned, no other unmodified vehicle comes better equipped to handle impossible-looking terrain than the Wrangler Unlimited. With the Rubicon package, the Wrangler Unlimited gets everything a hardcore off-roader would dream of: Tru-Lok front and rear electronic differential locking, electronic front axle locking, Heavy Duty Dana 44 front axle, 4.10 axle ratio, Roc-Trac 2-speed transfer case with 4:01 low range, and 245/75 R 17 Goodyear Wrangler all-terrain tires. Though most owners wouldn’t know what a differential lock or axle locking does, it miraculously takes this car to where other vehicles fear to tread. Tackling a trail that consisted of mud, loose gravel, broken pavement, and sand, the Wrangler Unlimited simply crossed them without breaking a sweat. Plus, it’s mighty comfortable in doing so.
As the five-kilometer trail ended and turned into a highway, the Wrangler Unlimited showed its Achilles’ heel: smooth pavement. Despite pushing 200 horses and packing 460 Nm of torque from its Fiat-sourced 2.8-liter CRDi engine, this car has to work hard on two-lanes. First, the solid axle suspension and all terrain tires equate to a bouncy, numb driving experience. Second, the transmission, though a five-speed unit, is clearly designed for torque and not top speed. Third, the Wrangler Unlimited has the aerodynamic properties of a brick, and this is confirmed with the excessive wind noise at speeds over 80, yes, 80 km/h. Lastly, it features seven boxed cross members built into the chassis which add strength and weight—checking in at an anvil-like 2,173 kilograms. In short, the Wrangler Unlimited simply isn’t the vehicle to drive when tackling highways even when it’s equipped with cruise control.
The Jeep Wrangler Unlimited is also not a gas mileage champ. Despite being fitted with a CRDi engine and tested in the best circumstances (almost purely highway, weekend of use), it managed just 9.43 km/L—figures which are comparable to other diesel-fed SUVs but driven purely in traffic.
At P 2,990,000 the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon certainly isn’t cheap and there are a half dozen ways to better spend that money. However, there’s a generous caveat here: if you need a truly capable vehicle that can tackle trails straight from the showroom, there’s no better vehicle than the Wrangler Unlimited. It’s undoubted cheaper than its European counterparts such as the Land Rover Discovery and Mercedes-Benz G-Class, but it’s equally capable and most likely, more affordable to maintain. Above all, choosing the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited is like choosing a piece of history, offering a much better connection to Philippine liberation and freedom.