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Car reviews - Jeep - Wrangler - Sport 3-dr wagon

Our Opinion

We like
Heritage, engine, off-road ability
Room for improvement
Rear seats, luggage space, wind noise

Jeep logo14 Feb 2001

CHRYSLER launched the grand-daddy of sports utility vehicles (SUV) in Australia, the Jeep Wrangler, in October 1996, just weeks after it underwent a major model change in America.

Though looking similar in silhouette to its pioneering 1940s-design predecessors, the latest Wrangler benefits from substantial revisions aimed at helping it compete with new-age pseudo off-roaders like the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V.

To improve ride, handling and comfort, Jeep junked the old model's horse-and-cart era leaf-spring suspension for the Grand Cherokee's Quadra all-coil setup.

The structurally stronger Wrangler thus benefits both on and off-road.

On-road the ride is good but a bumpy corner can unsettle the Wrangler's progress, partly an upshot of the short wheelbase. Overall, the ride and handling is good.

Wrangler's performance is above average. Unlike its four-cylinder rivals, the Jeep benefits from a gutsy 4.0-litre, six-cylinder engine used in other model Jeeps.

Wrangler develops a useful 130kW at 4600rpm and 290Nm of torque at an unstressed 2800rpm. That lazy torque means the three-speed only automatic transmission is adequate. A long-legged, five-speed manual is also available.

Wrangler has part-time four-wheel drive and a low-range option for off-road use.

Fuel economy suffers against four-cylinder Japanese SUVs, partly due to a barn-like drag coefficient of 0.55 (the Ford Falcon's drag coefficient is 0.295).

The ensuing wind noise drowns out tyre and mechanical roar, especially in the soft-top version.

The steering is reasonably accurate in the straight-ahead position and the turn-in is relatively quick.

The World War II era exterior contrasts vividly with the modern if sparsely equipped interior. The dash is a one-piece soft-edged unit with dual airbags and cupholders.

The doors originally did not have any stays, freely flying open into other cars or slamming into your legs, but they are now restrained by vinyl straps.

The front seats are comfortable but the cramped, foldable back seat is average.

Boot space is almost non-existent.

Owners of both the soft and hard tops can enjoy open-top motoring although removing the roof does take time. Total el-fresco motoring comes when the windscreen is also folded down.

The Wrangler is a little unrefined and even crude when compared to some of the Japanese four-wheel-drives that compete on price if not style. But therein lies its all-American cowboy appeal. As one bumper-sticker proclaims, "My Jeep Eats RAVS".

And unlike the Japanese conveyances mentioned earlier, the Wrangler is capable of going somewhat deeper into the bush than merely coping with the odd dirt road or a spot of sand.

- Automotive NetWorks 26/05/1999

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