India's journey with the Jeep is not something that will start in 2016 with the launch of the Wrangler Unlimited and Grand Cherokee. Most SUVs in India are called Jeeps by the common man because of the American brand's presence in the 60s, 70s and 80s. But Jeep as a brand has come a long long way from making rudimentary military type vehicles with civilian applications and are now synonymous with making extremely capable enthusiasts SUVs that have carved out a niche of their own.
And their most iconic UV has to be the Wrangler. A direct descendant of the CJ series, the Wrangler is the iconic Jeep shape re-imagined in the 21st century. Internationally, the Wranger comes with both a two door and a four door variant. India though will only get the more practical 4-door Wrangler Unlimited variant, which is a good and a bad thing. Why is it good? Well, India has always preferred practical cars a lot more than their sportier 2-door variants. On the flipside though, we won't get to enjoy the lovely 2-door wrangler, which is a lot more capable off-road than almost any other production vehicle today.
The Wrangler's design needs no introduction. With the iconic seven slat grille that instantly makes people know what you are driving to the inset headlamps that harks back to the original Willys Jeep, there is a lot to admire. The large plastic bumpers add to the aggressive look and make the car look much wider than it is and so do the WIDE fenders. The Wrangler also gets a set of a rather simple yet attractive five spoke 17-inch wheels in India. Of course, expect almost all buyers to opt for a set of aftermarket wheels either in a street or off-road style. What does really impress though is the simplicity that this design has and considering how the car is nearly a decade old in its current avatar, how well it has aged.
The roof is made of industrial strength plastic and can be unclasped to make it a targa-top or can be completely removed altogether to make is an open top vehicle. In fact, if you really want to go all-out, you could even unbolt the doors off the Wrangler Unlimited. Move around the rear and the typically Jeep trademark of a tailgate mounted spare wheel exudes coolness and the two piece split tailgate is easy to use once the tyre mount swings out. On the whole, when compared to the likes of a typical modern SUV, the Jeep Wrangler might not be the prettiest but it is certainly captivates the hearts of everyone that passes you by (especially if it is in a bright shade or red or yellow).
Simplicity continues when you step inside too. The Wrangler Unlimited is designed in a way to be useful and practical instead of being overloaded by a bunch of un-necessary electronics. There is no real creature comfort like electronically adjustable seats and a climate control setup in here, just a set of knobs to control the AC/heater controls and some steering mounted controls for your phone and audio. You do get a touchscreen infortainmen system but even that is really out of date, cumbersome to use and warrants an immediate upgrade! What you do get is an interior that is suited to take on a whole host of extreme terrain with seats that can be washed down with a hose and an all-round rollcage that conceals itself quite well.
If you are the kind of person who loves the feeling of mechanically operating things and hearing a distinct clunk of things slotting in to each other with a 100% conviction, the Wrangler is the perfect SUV for you. Placed right in the centre of the central console are two prominent levers. Naturally, one of them is the gear selector but the other one is what shifts the Wrangler into four-wheel-drive. Like all mechanical four-wheel-drives, you have the option of 'four-high' for moderately difficult off-roading or 'four low' for when the going really gets tough. Shifting into four low really puts the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited into a class of its own and a few SUVs in the world have the same off-road capabilities.
The engine that propels the Wrangler is a 2.8-litre, four cylinder motor that makes 200bhp of peak power and 460Nm of torque. But don't expect any blistering performance from the Wrangler on tarmac since it weighs in at a hefty 2200kg. But it isn't as slow as a family hatchback either. Triple digit speeds come up briskly but you do get the feeling that it isn't comfortable doing (especially on the tyres that come on the car) as the front end does tend to get a little lighter as you get faster and faster. The gearbox too tends to be a little slow when it comes to all-out acceleration but works extremely well when rock crawling or powering away through mud and slush.
In fact, we took the Wrangler Unlimited through a variety of different terrains in both dry and wet weather and it simply pottered through like it was having a nice Sunday morning stroll. Yes, the purists might argue that the lack of a manual gearbox might makes things too easy but there is a flipside - the vehicle will get more novices into the off-road sports which in turn will be good for the enthusiast community as a whole.
The Jeep does have another masterstroke up its sleeve - ride quality. In fact, most American cars have a far superior ride comfort level than their European counterparts and the Jeep is pretty much aligned to that philosophy. It does however sacrifice on-road handling (again, a lot to do with the stock tyres), but then we would personally forego finesse on the road in exchange for off-road capabilities. We tried really hard to cock up a wheel for the sake of pictures but the articulation angles between the front and rear axle was truly astonishing. And coming back to what we have said before, it just feels so easy in the Wrangler!
If you take car-buying decisions with your head after doing a month full of research, you will not buy the Wrangler. But if you are the kind of person who buys cars with a degree of emotion, the Wrangler is right up there in terms of soul with the likes of Italian sportscars. It doesn't drive all too well on tarmac and it doesn't handle really well either, but the Wrangler Unlimited does have a sense of 'I can go anywhere and do anything' that almost no other SUV does and it can still be one of the coolest boulevard cruisers that you can have. And of course, with the iconic looks thrown into the mix and the endless possibilities to do a whole bunch of aftermarket modifications and improvements to the car, the Wrangler will definitely find a niche but guaranteed audience in India.