Car reviews - Jeep - Wrangler - Freedom Special Edition
Arguably the most capable stock off-road vehicle available, one of the few remaining SWB 4x4s, funky removable hard-top, easy to park, comfy seats
Room for improvement
Terrible on-road handling, poor fuel economy, noisy cabin, dated interior, almost no boot space with rear seats up, SWB hampers ride comfort
The Freedom Edition sees Jeep’s third-generation JK Wrangler off in style
19 Oct 2018
WITH the arrival of the all-new JL model early next year, it is time to say farewell to the Jeep JK Wrangler that has been on sale in Australia since 2007.
To commemorate the end of the current third-generation Wrangler’s life cycle, Jeep has released two special variants, one of which is called the Freedom Edition.
It adds a number of small enhancements over the regular Wrangler, while staying true to its tough, capable utilitarian roots.
The Freedom Edition does a great job of encapsulating the Wrangler’s essence of a car that is inherently flawed on the tarmac but just about unbeatable off it.
Price and equipment
The Wrangler Freedom Edition checks in at $43,990 plus on-roads for the two-door version, $3000 more than the Sport trim on which it is based.
To justify the increase, Jeep has added Freedom star decals on the bonnet and rear quarter panels, granite crystal painted grille, body-colour fender flares, black grille throats and headlamp rings, rock rails and 18-inch granite crystal alloy wheels.
On the inside, it adds black McKinley leather/vinyl/cloth interior trims with silver accents and stitched Jeep logo, vinyl front door armrests and centre console lid, iron grey painted interior accents, all-weather slush mats, satin chrome painted steering wheel bezels and ‘Oscar Mike’ logos inside and out – military speak for ‘On the Move’.
The extra kit joins standard specification including cruise control, USB and auxiliary ports, six-stacker CD player, seven-speaker Alpine stereo, Bluetooth phone pairing, climate control A/C, halogen headlights, heated power door mirrors, power windows, tyre pressure monitor, removable hard-top and doors, remote central locking and a full-size spare wheel mounted on the tailgate.
One obvious omission in specification is a touchscreen display, which is standard on almost every new passenger car sold today.
The Wrangler struggles for specification concerning safety and interior luxury, however everyone knows that those factors are not why people buy Wranglers.
Matching the vehicle’s reputation as a basic, utilitarian vehicle, the Wrangler’s interior is spartan and old-school, which seems fitting.
The current Wrangler has existed in essentially the same form since 2007, and it shows with a dashboard that looks like it has been kept the same since then.
As mentioned, there is no touchscreen system, and abundant hard black plastics and switchgear give the impression of a car made to take some punishment.
Bluetooth phone pairing and voice control is available, however the system is frustratingly difficult to figure out, and as such we could not work out how to pair a phone.
Due to the doors being removable, the power window and mirror buttons are on the dashboard, one of the Wrangler’s many unusual quirks.
The instrument cluster is similarly basic, with an analogue speedometer and tachometer, and dot-matrix readouts. The only relatively modern technological feature of the Wrangler is an Alpine stereo system.
Transmission tunnel storage could be better, with two deep cupholders (no good for takeaway coffees), a tiny flat storage area and a mesh pocket on the dashboard. Additional storage space is available on top of the dashboard, while the deep, two-level centre storage compartment features USB and 12V ports inside.
Headroom is ample for front-row occupants, however shoulder-room is less generous with the doors set close to the seats, which are particularly difficult to close properly. One major annoyance is the trim above the foot pedals, which are positioned in a way that makes it easy to get your feet stuck when operating the vehicle – a potentially dangerous flaw.
The leather-wrapped steering wheel sits well in the hands, but frustratingly has no reach adjustment.
One of our favourite parts of the Wrangler’s interior is the soft, comfortable leather seats, which provide a welcome feel of comfort and luxury in an otherwise spartan interior. Additionally, elbow rests on both sides of the seats sit at a perfect height and allow for comfortable long-distance touring.
Being able to remove both the doors and roof is cool and unique feature, and is great for summer. Having a removable roof has its drawbacks however, as it creates far more wind noise on the highway. The removable doors also require much greater effort to shut.
Like the front, the two rear seats offer ample headroom, however legroom is inadequate for adult passengers.
With the rear seats raised, boot space is almost non-existent, and made even worse by the Alpine subwoofer in the floor. The soft-top, which is stowed in the rear of the vehicle, also compromises space.
Engine and transmission
Powering the Wrangler Freedom Edition is Jeep’s trusty 3.6-litre Pentastar V6, outputting 209kW at 6350rpm and 347Nm at 4300rpm, driving all four wheels via a five-speed automatic transmission.
The 3.6-litre bent-six first joined the Wrangler line-up in 2012, and is one of two engine options on the Wrangler, the other being a 147kW/460Nm 2.8-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder unit.
Performance from the V6 is solid, working well around town with smooth acceleration and the potential to really get moving when required. The Pentastar has a quiet and calm driving character, with no rattles or shudders to speak of.
The five-speed auto is a little clunky but otherwise works well. It does feel a bit slow with its shifting but generally does its job admirably.
While diesel engines suit low-range driving with peak torque available across a low and wide rev band, the Wrangler does a good job of maximising engine outputs at low speeds, and at no point did we feel torque was lacking at low rpm.
Our main issue with the Pentastar is its fuel consumption, which over a week of varied driving returned a combined fuel economy figure of 13.3 litres per 100km, a particularly thirsty number.
It is disappointing in a country like Australia where long-range overlanding is a popular pastime, and with a 70-litre fuel tank there is only so far the petrol Wrangler can go before needing to be refuelled. Added to the fact that many 4x4 enthusiasts purchase gear like larger tyres and heavy barwork, and that figure is set to only increase.
The new-generation JL Wrangler is rumoured to be offered with the 184kW/570Nm 3.0-litre turbo-diesel engine found in the Grand Cherokee, which we think would be a perfect fit for Australian customers. Fuel consumption would likely be lower than the Pentastar, it has oodles of low-down torque, and it would make the Wrangler a much more credible option for long-distance towing.
Overall we like the Pentastar for its smooth and easy driving characteristics, however its prodigious thirst is a turn-off. We hope for the sake of Aussie Jeep fans that the turbo-diesel V6 is shoehorned under the bonnet of the all-new JL Wrangler.
Ride and handling
There seems to be a common theme that the more capable a car is off-road, the more hopeless it is to drive on the tarmac. The Wrangler is a textbook example of this theory.
On the road, it has some of the poorest driving characteristics we have experienced in any test car. Handling is horribly vague with a huge turning ratio, vague feedback and non-linear input, while body roll around corners is excessive with its soft suspension calibration and rigid live axles.
On-road ride comfort is actually commendable thanks to the Wrangler’s supple suspension and large tyres, but its short wheelbase means the ride can sometimes be a tad bumpy and unsettled.
One distinct advantage the two-door Wrangler has over its competitors is its ease of parking around town. Reverse parking is much easier than in other off-roaders like dual-cab utes or Toyota LandCruisers, even though the Wrangler is not equipped with parking sensors or reversing camera.
As poor as the Wrangler drives on-road, that is not what it was made for. Transitioning off the tarmac transforms the performance of the little Jeep, and makes it feel as though it is truly at home with mud underfoot and rutted hills ahead.
Put simply, the Wrangler is immense off-road. Its ability to tackle genuinely difficult tracks with zero aftermarket modifications is staggering, and puts it in the running for the title of most capable stock off-roader on the market.
Our off-road test took us to steep, rutted tracks with hard clay soil that had been made slick and slippery with a light smattering of rain. With highway-terrain tyres and Jeep’s traction control system our only aids, we were worried the Wrangler may not be able to cut it in the tough conditions. We were wrong.
Its excellent approach, departure and rampover angles, combined with rock rails and relatively large 245/75 tyres help it over steep steps and deep ruts, and despite not being equipped with front or rear differential lockers, the Wrangler’s Command-Trac terrain response system does an incredible job of delivering torque to the wheels that require it most.
One off-road section saw us trying to hop up a slippery, off-camber step that would cause most cars to turn around, defeated. After a couple of attempts that left the Wrangler scrabbling for traction, a bit more momentum saw it climb up the step like it was nothing.
The Wrangler is just as capable in sloppy mud – a long, boggy section littered with tyre tracks was traversed as if it were floating on air, with the Command-Trac system ensuring forward momentum is always achievable.
From our time off-road in the Wrangler, we think it has a genuine claim as the most off-road-capable stock vehicle on the market, potentially a big money-saver when compared to other popular 4x4 options that require significant modifications before they are ready to tackle the kind of tracks the Wrangler can traverse.
Safety and servicing
The Wrangler range was safety tested by the Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) back in 2012, scoring a four-star rating with an overall score of 27.51 out of 37.
Given its relatively old roots, the Wrangler is fairly light on for safety features, but includes multistage front airbags, ESC, hill descent control, vehicle stability control, rollover stability and trailer sway control.
As part of Jeep’s ‘There & Back’ guarantee, all new Jeep vehicles come with a five-year/100,000km factory warranty, as well as five years of roadside assistance that can extend to the duration of the vehicle’s life, provided the owner services their vehicle through Jeep dealerships.
Five capped price services are provided over intervals of 12 months or 12,000km, whichever comes first. Capped price servicing ranges in cost between $395 and $525, and averages out at $455 per service.
The Jeep Wrangler is truly a vehicle of contrast. On-road, it is one of the worst new vehicles we have gotten behind the wheel of, with horrible driving dynamics, poor convenience features and mediocre fuel economy.
Take it off the beaten track, however, and it transforms into one of the most capable and high-performing vehicles on the market. Its ability to get through tricky situations as a stock model means it rivals the likes of the Toyota LandCruiser 70 Series GXL and Mercedes-Benz G300CDI Professional as the best pure off-roader available today.
While inherently flawed, the Wrangler still stays true to its ancestor, the Willys Jeep, as a no-nonsense, rough-and-ready off-roader able to get to the furthest reaches of the land. It is also one of the few remaining short wheelbase four-wheel drives left, with the likes of the Toyota FJ Cruiser and Land Rover Defender 90 consigned to the history books – for now.
While we hope the new JL Wrangler will iron out some of the stone-age comfort and convenience kit on the current model, we also pray it retains every bit of the JK’s immense 4x4 capability.
Suzuki Jimny automatic from $24,990
Suzuki’s pint-sized 4x4 is set be replaced in Q1 next year having been on sale for the better part of two decades. Powered by a little 62kW/110Nm 1.3-litre petrol unit, the Jimny comes with solid axles, low-range gearing and the choice of manual and automatic transmissions – features set to carry over to the new version.
Toyota LandCruiser 76 Series Workmate from $63,740 plus on-roads
Toyota’s rugged 70 Series wagon steps up the size and price over the Jeep, but retains the rugged build quality and spartan interior. Offered only with a five-speed manual, the 76 Series offers great towing and workhorse-like ability with its 4.5-litre turbo-diesel V8.
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