American carmaker Jeep is ready to start selling its SUVs in India. It’s got an impressive line-up of burly vehicles that include the Grand Cherokee and the performance-stroked version of it too – the Grand Cherokee SRT – that you’ll find reviewed in this month’s print edition. But the one ride from its soon-to-be-launched India portfolio that looks like the most capable bare-knuckled off-roader of them all is this Wrangler Unlimited.
The Wrangler is a positively rugged vehicle that’s mostly edges with very few curves. The windscreen is set nearly vertical, the wheel arches are flared prominently with heaving 17-inch wheels underneath and the spare wheel isn’t neatly tucked beneath the luggage hold but instead, mounted on the outside of the tailgate. You could knock the roof off, but it’s a fair bit of dextrous manual labour involved that requires you to unscrew, unlatch and stow away the hardtop roof.
The single-minded focus on its off-road mechanics meant that creature comforts weren’t top-of-mind when putting together this beast. If you really miss those parking sensors, just pop your head out of the window the good ol’ fashion way. If you’ve been spoilt silly by cars with electronically adjustable front seats, it’s time you learnt to grip the lever below the seat and substitute mechanical power with muscle power. The air-con — that thankfully made the cut — almost seems like a gratuitous luxury offering in a stripped-down ride like this one.
Before I even step into the Wrangler, the primary tactile pheromone signalling that this is a rough-riding machine is the chunky door that requires more than a firm whack to slam shut. The pedals within the foot well aren’t very intuitively placed, and the first time I got in, I had to fish around to find the throttle.
The 2.8-litre turbocharged diesel engine is, expectedly, throaty. The steering feels much lighter as I go faster, though at low speeds, especially around thick traffic, I have to wrestle with it. The high-riding stance, tall hood and that skirting that runs around the car, gives it an intimidating aura of something of a battering ram ready to knock some sense into errant motorists.
The party piece on this 197hp ride is the Command-Trac 4×4 system operated by a selector located to the left of the five-speed automatic gear transmission on the centre console. It uses a highly-complex system of differentials and torque vectoring with which you toggle between two- and four-wheel drive modes on demand. This is where the magic happens and it is what makes the Jeep one of the world’s most formidable off-roading machines.
Typically, when pottering around in the city, you’d let this SUV roll around in “2H” 2-wheel drive mode, where all the power is fed to the rear wheels, resulting in maximum fuel efficiency and decent traction on paved roads. When you drive off those paved road, onto moderately tough terrain, you’ll want to throw it into “4H” mode where the torque (there’s a maximum of 460Nm available at 1,600-2,600rpm available) is split 50/50 between the front- and rear-wheels. You can stay in this mode for speeds upto 90kph, but remember that the wear of the engine is also greater than 2H mode. The third “4L” mode should only be used when you get really stuck while attempting theatrics off road. Engaged, it sends maximum torque and pulling power to all the four wheels to lift it out of the nastiest of spots – but this mode is so brutally aggressive on the engine, that it should be used only at speeds of less than 10kph and for no more than a few metres. The final “N” mode is for when you want to set up the car to be towed by an RV.
The Wrangler isn’t built to go flat out, but despite its boxy dimensions it still manages to comfortably cruise at between 100-120kph on the expressway, capable of course of doing much more if pushed harder. But for serious off-road enthusiasts, what the Wrangler can do at low speeds in rough terrain matters far more than what it does at higher speeds on smooth roads.
The estimates as to how much this car will cost at launch vary wildly from Rs 25 lakh to double that figure – strike a median to guesstimate the cost. What you won’t have to second-guess are its impeccable off-road credentials.