Jaco Van Der Merwe
For R857 900, you have a choice of some serious vehicles when in the market for something new. Your choices will vary from performance hot hatches specced to the brim, luxury sedans, premium SUVs, a large family orientated SUV, a comfortable van and the top-of-the-range double cab on every manufacturers’ price list except for the Mercedes-Benz X350. But, should your fancy fall somewhere in between all of those – let’s say you don’t need oodles of storage space, you have no desire to burn rubber on the tarmac, love serious off-roading and want to stand out from the crowd – there is a car that’s perfect for you.
The Jeep Wrangler, and to be more specific the short-wheel base 3.6 Sahara we had on test recently. The new version was released locally earlier this year after its debut in the US in 2017. With our test unit clad in bright yellow, a colour Jeep calls Hellayella, we surely stood out, especially after unclipping the do-it-yourself roof panels over the front of the cabin and removing the canopy by unscrewing 10 bolts and simply lifting it off. The doors are also removable and the windscreen ready to fold down, but we weren’t ready to go all-out Camel man and stuck to some regular obstacles instead.
Let’s get the 4×4 stuff out of the way straight off the bat, because that is what the vehicle is renowned for ever since the Willys Jeep became the world’s first mass-produced civilian four-wheel-drive car in 1945 under the moniker of the Jeep CJ, which stood for civilian Jeep.
I’ve taken many a vehicle through many an obstacle, including a previous version of the Wrangler and its sibling the Cherokee, and I can vouch that there is nothing quite like the Wrangler manoeuvring through the tough stuff. As soon as you pull the drive system gear level up into low range, you have the confidence that you can tackle anything in your way. And the way in which especially the short-wheel base Wrangler, which has ground clearance of 250 mm, goes about its business at steep angles and with limited footing is simply amazing.
Even though you would have never doubted its ability to overcome an obstacle, the ease at which it does is still very impressive. But with all that said, making your way through city traffic on a daily basis does not make the Wrangler the most practical choice.
For starters, it clearly wasn’t sculpted with the aim of eliminating wind noise. So even though the 3.6-litre Pentastar powerplant, which produces 209kW/347Nm through an eight-speed automatic gearbox, is perfectly capable of achieving speeds north of the national speed limit, it is way too noisy and irritable to keep that up for long. Heaven forbid what the claimed top speed of 177 km/h must feel like.
Steering does feel a bit unresponsive, especially coupled with a scary slipperiness when cornering too fast. but at least the turning circle is very similar to that of a Volkswagen Polo which takes the strain out of parking. Once the top is down, anything more than 90 km/h becomes treacherous for occupants in the back.
In my case, it was my two small daughters’ hair blowing everywhere with the rear seatbelts flapping to the extent of becoming downright annoying. And with the rainy season well underway, you don’t have the luxury of pressing a button to close the roof at the sight of the first drop. When that does happen, you start regretting leaving the three-piece roof in your garage.
The space in the rear is decent for two adults, but once you have four bodies occupying the car, there is hardly space for more than three bags of groceries in the boot, let alone the schoolbags. And it goes without saying that the Wrangler isn’t the most economical in any traffic conditions, let alone bumper to bumper traffic.
We managed 12.9/100 km over 248 km of which half was on the highway with the cruise control set at 90km/h, so expect that number to swell considerably during rush hour. On the outside, flared wheel arches that are said to accommodate 33-inch tyres is one of the biggest changes on the new model, while the cabin has also evolved to keep up with the times.
It features upgraded materials, a redesigned centre console, an 8.4-inch integrated UConnect infotainment system, a 3.5-inch TFT instrument cluster, two USB ports plus a new steering wheel. The second gear lever low range transfer case has been kept next to the gear lever, something that should please hardcore 4×4 enthusiasts. You can get a Suzuki Jimny and BMW 3 Series for the same price, but those simply won’t fill the void if it’s a Wrangler you’re after.
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