SOME loved its rugged charm. Others loathed its tar-road manners and cramped cabin. Very few vehicles this year have polarised the CAR team as much as the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited. Some of the comments included: “It stinks of fibreglass; the engine feels strained … it looks fantastic; loads of presence and appeal; it’s so capable off-road.” Is the Wrangler simply misunderstood, or is its retro style behind the times?

The first thing we need to discuss is the model nomenclature: Unlimited sounds serious but simply means that this is the long-wheelbase, five-door version with seating for five people in place of the four seats of the three-door model. It comes fitted with a low-range transfer case but no front and rear diff locks (this is left to the Rubicon version).

The new-in-2012 V6 under the flat expanse of bonnet is a Pentastar unit with variable valve timing and 209 kW of laid-back-but-smooth power mated to an equally laid-back automatic gearbox with only five ratios (which, granted, is enough for this mill). Manual gear shifting is available by nudging the lever left or right.

The Wrangler is all about versatility and, to this end, fibreglass panels abound, allowing several configurations. You can remove the two above the driver and passenger in a few minutes by releasing some levers and two spin-on, threaded wheels. If this doesn’t blow your hair back sufficiently, why not remove the entire rear roof (you will need help for this). But wait, there’s more…

For the certified claustrophobes, the doors themselves are removable. The rear door also has a mix of aperture possibilities, with a side-opening, hinged door and a upper hatch section. Frustratingly, this means you can’t really load large items through the back. In fact, interior space is compromised in this car. There isn’t much legroom in the rear and luggage space is reduced by the soft-top mechanism.

As one colleague said, this is a vehicle for those with a holiday house. Remove what you don’t need, stash the panels in one half of the garage and park your Jeep in the other half for trips to the beach, mountain, river or dam.

You may not want to go the conservative colour route of our silver test car (which, incidentally, now also covers the roof). Rather opt for Commando Green or Rock Lobster Clear Coat that looks similar to the shade you’ll find on some Lamborghinis…

Thanks to the flat angles of the glassware, especially at the front, the facia is shallow and the steering wheel (which adjusts only for rake) is very close to the former. This configuration was suitable for the taller members of the team, but shorter staffers struggled to reach the wheel.

While some did not like the smell of fibreglass, or the doors that were difficult to close thanks to straps in place of opening stays, they appreciated the effort expended on creature comforts; for example, the Wrangler comes with a touchscreen audio system with 30 Gb hard drive and Bluetooth with USB, as well as climate control. Both the glove compartment and centre-armrest storage are lockable should you park it sans its roof. However, given that car batteries are very desirable items among the more dubious members of the South African public, the bonnet is not lockable and merely held closed by rubber tie-downs.

Once you’re comfortably ensconced (or, in this case, perhaps not) behind the wheel, you’ll notice strong acceleration from the V6 but a heavy throttle pedal might discourage you from being too eager. The zero-to-100 km/h acceleration test resulted in sprint times of less than 10,0 seconds, which is more performance than anyone would reasonably need.

Those big Goodyear, ahem, Wranglers give great grip when the road surface gets slippery. They weren’t a great aid when we did emergency braking, however. An average stopping time of 3,72 seconds nets it a “poor” rating in our books.

Road and wind noise on tar is excessive, which we expected. What we didn’t expect, though – considering the somewhat rudimentary solid-axle, separate chassis setup – was to find the ride firm but well damped, especially at lower city-based speeds. This goes some way to vindicating city dwellers’ decision to purchase these vehicles and use them in urban confines (but forget about making U-turns; the turning circle is huge!)

Of course, take the Wrangler off-road and it relishes the task at hand. The recirculating-ball steering setup, so dull and devoid of useful feedback on tarmac, results in damped responses when traversing rocks and the like, while the pukka tyres and generous ground clearance sees major obstacles become pebbles in the Jeep’s path.

Test Summary

Yes, it has its detractors, but the Wrangler is surprisingly adept at commuting. But it’s still too compromised for urban use. That said, seen as a competitor for something as Stone Age-like as the Defender, it makes far more sense.

We’d recommend it more for occasional use, though. Remove the roof, chuck a surfboard in the back and head for your favourite spot and you’ll never want for anything more.


ery few vehicles this year have polarised the CAR team as much as the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited. We test the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited...