When the life of each model Jeep Wrangler averages around 10 years, you can guarantee that the arrival of a new model, in this case the JL, will be met with nervous apprehension by Jeep devotees. Their key concerns are; will it be truly off road capable, will it be rugged, and will its design be in keeping with the original Jeep Wrangler ethos? In order to allay those fears, Jeep invited us to an outdoor adventure and off-road trail park in Austria, where a fleet of Middle East specification Wranglers were made available to tackle the trails for two days. And the verdict? Jeep fans have nothing to worry about, the JL is every inch a Wrangler.

Available in Sport (entry level), Sahara (fully equipped) and Rubicon (extreme off road) versions and in both short (two door) and long (four door) wheelbase models, what sets the Wrangler apart from the glut of school run crossovers and car park challenge SUVs, is its transmission and suspension. Jeep has equipped even the entry level Sport and more refined Sahara models with its ‘Selec-Trac’ transmission, featuring two wheel drive for regular tarmac driving, four wheel drive (High range) Auto for off road driving during which torque distribution is managed entirely by the vehicle’s ECU, and four wheel drive (High range) Part Time, in which torque is always split evenly between the front and rear axles. It’s a simple matter to engage four wheel drive at speeds of up to 72kph, so if you suddenly find yourself struggling for grip on a gatch track or previously firm sand, this ability to instantly reach for extra traction is a comforting feature. Add to this a transfer box offering a low ratio of 2.72:1 and an electronic locking rear differential, and the Wrangler is set for all but the most extreme off road challenges. Heavy Duty Dana axles complete the transmission, coil sprung all round.

The Wrangler’s motive power is the same 3.6-litre Pentastar V6 engine as found in the previous JK model Wrangler and the Grand Cherokee, uprated to deliver 285 horses at 6,400 rpm and 347Nm of torque at 4,100 rpm. Mated to a new ZF eight-speed automatic transmission (sadly no manual transmission will be offered in the Middle East just yet) it has been optimised to provide the low end torque so sought after by off roaders.

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Set in the Murtal region of Austria, the test route devised by Jeep was a challenging, if not extreme off roading course comprising of steep rutted and rocky climbs, muddy trails through wooded areas and equally steep descents on gravel tracks and mud. Fortunately the new Wrangler is fitted as standard with bash guards to protect the fuel tank, transfer case and gearbox, plus solidly mounted front and rear tow points — ideal for desert use but, I’m pleased to say, not required during my drive in Austria. The ability to lock the rear differential during the steep muddy ascents proved valuable, and though the fully automatic functionality of the Four High Auto selection proved effective, personally I enjoyed making use of the manual selector function to ensure I maintained momentum through the muddy trails and to control my speed on the long descents. But the fact is that in Four High Auto, the Wrangler tackled everything bar the deepest, sloppiest mud paths with ease and any new owner could go off roading with confidence whilst allowing the vehicle to make the decisions.

Enamoured as I was with the Wrangler Sport’s capabilities, I knew that the Rubicon model, named after the famed Rubicon Trail in the Sierra Nevada, with its additional front differential lock, stronger Dana 44 axles, Rock Trac transmission and lower ratio transfer case (4.0:1) and axles (4.1) would be an absolute blast to drive off road and so it proved. Compared to the old model, the new Wrangler is 91kgs lighter, and coupled with the uprated engine power and optimised axle ratios, the Rubicon scampered eagerly up the mountain slopes, which bodes well for enthusiastic dune drivers. The front axle sway bar can be unlocked electronically — no need to go sliding in the mud under the car with spanner in hand to unbolt it — to allow for greater front axle articulation; perfect for rock crawling but also of benefit to those tackling wildly undulating sand and wadi drives. Although I didn’t have a chance to put it to the test, the Jeep also has a wading depth of 76cms.

The Rubicon proved to be a real ‘point and shoot’ machine, literally driving wherever I pointed it off road without a moment’s hesitation, always inspiring confidence that it would make easy progress, no matter the depth of the ruts, angle of the slope, or caramel like viscosity of the mud. It was, quite simply, enormous fun to drive and eminently capable, ie, precisely what a Jeep should be. To add to the fun levels, Jeep offers a number of choices of roof types for the Wrangler, capable to varying degrees of delivering a true wind in the hair experience. The new design of the soft top helps to reduce wind noise and enables easier access to the partial and fully open positions. Then there’s a hard top with full length electric fabric sunroof, or the Freedom top with lightweight, quick release panels; open air Jeeping has never been easier. Should you feel the need, you can even remove the doors of the new Wrangler — their lighter weight (compared to the outgoing JK model) and integrated grab handle make them easier to detach, but please check the legality of doing so!

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Whilst it would be nice to have a Jeep parked in the driveway for use only on high days and holidays, the fact it that most owners will be using them as their daily drive as well their weekend warrior. To that end, Jeep have brought the interior design and functionality in line with modern expectations, with push button starting, media charging and connectivity ports, seats with adjustable bolster and lumbar support, whilst longer arm rests and soft touch driver and front passenger door trim panels improve comfort levels. There’s a lot more leg room in the rear seats (up to 100mm in the 4 door model) and the seats themselves offer more padding and recline to a more comfortable position than in the JK model.

It is, first and foremost, a vehicle bought by enthusiasts determined to have fun and to do so wherever they please...

Standard on the Rubicon and Sahara models, the seven inch information display can be configured to display information in more than 100 ways. The infotainment screen is 7.0in as standard, or 8.4in optional on the Sahara and Rubicon and cleverly, Jeep provide a rubber cover for the screen so if you are hosing out the vehicle interior, you can do so without facing an expensive repair bill. “U-connect” allows integration with Apple and Android phones, there’s two USB ports in the front and for the back seat passengers and an optional 230-volt AC outlet means owners can run even heavier duty appliances. Jeep has also improved the Wrangler’s safety specifications, with vehicles now featuring electronic stability control (ESC) with Electronic Roll Mitigation and four standard airbags, Blind-Spot Monitoring and Rear Cross Path detection, rear park assist, and rear backup camera.

The Wrangler’s only real shortcomings are exposed on tarmac, where having a soft, pliant suspension optimised for off road performance leads to rather ‘loose’ on road handling, requiring regular steering input to maintain road position, and levels of body roll, particularly on the two door model, perhaps greater than similar sized SUVs. But Wrangler owners in the Gulf are inclined to bolt large lift kits and wider tyres onto their vehicles anyway, so the final handling characteristics are as varied as the modifications they make!

Anyhow, tarmac handling factors tend not to worry keen off roaders, since the purpose of the Wrangler is as clear now as it was in the post war years when it first gained popularity. It is, first and foremost, a vehicle bought by enthusiasts determined to have fun and to do so wherever they please, not necessarily on the beaten track taken by so many others. In that respect it completely meets or exceeds expectations, and with prices as low in the Middle East as any market in the world, starting from just Dh132, 000 including VAT for the Sport model, I can see the new Wrangler selling exceptionally well in the region.