If ever there was a baptism by fire in the automotive world, it is the Willys Overland MB Jeep that can stake a claim to that. Jointly developed and built by Willys, Bantam and Ford, the Jeep has been through situations that no other vehicle in history would have. From off-road reconnaissance and carrying weapons and troops to lugging heavy artillery and doubling up as ambulances during the Second World War, it has seen it all, and has lived long enough to tell the tale to many generations. While the subsequent commercial models have had a much less intense life than their forebear, they all lived up to the incredible legacy of go-anywhere skills. And the boxy, minimalist design has stood the test of time and resisted modern-day wind tunnel compulsions.

So it didn’t come as a surprise that the latest JL-generation Jeep Wrangler’s styling is evolutionary. FCA knows better than anyone that messing with a winning formula is suicidal. Every iconic element from the round headlights and the seven-slot grille to the trapezoidal wheel arches and the visible door hinges is retained and untouched. However, within the constraints of a rigid design brief, they have managed to infuse some semblance of modernity with the help of LEDs and a few minor tweaks here and there. But unless you are a Jeep aficionado, spotting the differences between the JK and the JL isn’t a single glance task.

 

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Photos: Stefan Lindeque

Designers have stuck to tradition with the interior as well, with a clean, upright centre stack that harks back to olden days, but gets a dash of contemporariness thanks to a large LED display screen. It’s up to date with connectivity and comfort features and the knobs and controls including a weather sealed push start button are all laid out ergonomically. The centre console houses the gear shift lever, transfer case handle and parking brake. There are two cupholders on the centre console, one of which is occupied by the ash tray, and the doors have mesh pockets. Not the most generous of storage spaces but the glove box and the compartment beneath the centre armrest can be locked for added safety when the top is down. The cabin is washable so that you don’t have to worry about all the sand and mud that your escapades dump in there.

While Jeep says road manners of the new Wrangler has improved compared to the previous generation, it’s still far from refined, especially in the Rubicon with its all-terrain tyres. Ride is wobbly, tyre roll and wind noise are noticeable, and the steering the electrohydraulic steering is light and vague. But such criticisms leveled against a Jeep Rubicon is akin to complaining a Mercedes-Benz S-Class doesn’t do well off-road. Take it off tarmac, and the Rubicon becomes one with the terrain like a duck takes to water. While the Sport and Sahara trim levels get the Selec-Trac four wheel drive system, the Rubicon gets the Rock-Trac as standard. Selec-Trac is a full-time two-speed transfer case for continuous monitoring and management of the torque sent to front and rear wheels. The Rubicon’s system provides additional off-road ability featuring a two-speed transfer case with 4.0:1 low-range gear ratio and front and rear heavy-duty Dana 44 axles and Tru-Lok electric front- and rear-axle lockers to tackle the extreme terrains. Additional articulation and suspension travel is provided by an electronic system that lets drivers to disconnect the front sway bar to deliver additional wheel travel to negotiate tough trails. The Trac-Lok limited-slip rear differential provides extra torque and grip in low-traction situations such as driving over sand and gravel. The higher approach, departure and breakover angles compared to the previous model adds to its already remarkable all-terrain capabilities.

 

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Photos: Stefan Lindeque

The 3.6-litre Pentastar V6 under the Rubicon’s bonnet is good for 285hp at 6,400rpm and 347Nm of torque at 4,100 rpm and is mated to a new eight-speed automatic transmission in our market. Although peak torque doesn’t arrive until 4,800rpm, the V6 is good enough most situations you’ll find yourself in an off-road expedition. Jeep has also brought the new Wrangler up to date with features like Blind-Spot Monitoring, Rear Cross Path detection, rear park assist, rear backup camera with dynamic grid lines, electronic stability control with Electronic Roll Mitigation and four standard airbags.

Despite all the improvements made to the JL, the Wrangler Rubicon cannot be recommended to someone who is looking to buy a Jeep as a statement. For everyday usability, the base model will be a better choice, still being able to handle the occasional cross-country jaunts with aplomb. But if you belong to the majority customer base that buys a Jeep for its off-road prowess, you know you don’t need a recommendation to choose a Rubicon.