Wrangler Overland almost fits into the crossover category with its collection of creature comforts
It wasn't too long ago that if you wanted luxury in a Wrangler, you had to bring your own in to New Zealand.
The Fiat Chrysler Group behemoth has addressed this, but not to make the traditional Wrangler driver feel more comfortable. That's not really Wrangler, to the purists. If you don't feel like you're on a slow boat to sea sickness when you're on the open road, it's no Wrangler. If the wind noise isn't boring a hole through your brain it certainly isn't. So what if it's got heated leather seats?
Purists have already stopped reading by now - they're ranting about the great Jeep Wrangler. They're lauding its ability to climb mountains, ford streams and occasionally go on a shopping trip - for bricks, hammers and beef jerky. This is a given. Jeep has thousands of fan sites, and while some may prefer the serious luxury afforded by the likes of the Grand Cherokee, or the easy-round-town softroader style of the upcoming Cherokee, the core Jeepophile likes mud, rocks and being very, very staunch indeed. Like a pro footy player would be without the hair product, manscaping and $40 undies.
Keeping things in perspective, the Wrangler Unlimited Overland is not exactly dripping in high-falutin' features. It has a three-piece hard roof as standard, and four doors. Rain stays on the outside. There are the heated seats, but they're only in the front - up to three rear-seat passengers can experience Wrangler how it used to be. There's a reversing camera and shiny 18-inch wheels, and there's a touchscreen infotainment system that talks to cellphones and features a solid navigation set-up. Obviously, "real" Jeep owners might use the position of the sun to find their way, or maybe a map if they're getting a bit soft.
But in the real world, these are the sort of features that sell vehicles, and with Jeep the ace up the Fiat Chrysler sleeve due to its huge brand cache in the fast-growing SUV marketplace, it makes sense to add some modern goodies to the gung-ho rockhopper.
Priced at $64,990, this is around $11,000 more than the entry-level Wrangler Sport that rumbles into most of our heads at the word "Jeep". But while the Sport is focused towards being useful away from the city, the mix of features makes the Unlimited Overland more urbane. This doesn't mean that it's a refined 4x4 with impeccable manners around town - it's a long way from that - but it does make the rugged underpinnings a bit more bearable.
Off the beaten track it'll do almost anything you ask of it - hence the fact that Chrysler's dedicated Wrangler production line is always playing catchup to the massive demand around the world. There are two 4x4s that can lay claim to icon status - the Wrangler, and the Land Rover Defender which ends production next year.
The Overland fits in between the Sport and the Cherokee - it's undoubtedly more Panguru than Pauanui, with a skill set that reaches past latte-fetching and school runs. It's targeted at those who like to see a bit of action in the weekend, be it crashing through the bush, towing toys or seeking out hard-to-reach gems around the country. "I'm up for some adventure," it says to the world, "but I can't live without climate-controlled air-con."
In the wops, the Overland's chops are pretty impressive, but stop short of the Unlimited Rubicon, or the Sport's Rock-Trac transfer case, sway bar disconnect and Tru-Lok diffs at each end and underbody plating to save components when things get hairy. But the Command-Trac 4x4 set-up is definitely able in harsher environments than most of the so-called off-roaders out there - with on-the-fly shifting from low to high ratios. It's fitted with Quadra-Coil suspension - five link solid axles and mono tube gas shocks that can handle a whole lot more than a steep ramp at the shopping centre. Approach and departure angles are 35 and 28 degrees respectively, with an 18-degree breakover, courtesy of the 220mm of ground clearance.
Around the big smoke it spent most of the time in rear-wheel drive, mainly because the turning circle is massive, and it simply was easier to drive. This also helped to trim the relatively hefty fuel consumption, which sat between 13L/100km and 15L/100km. There wasn't much in the way of open-road work, which makes the factory claim of 11.4L/100km combined perfectly feasible.
The 3.6-litre Pentastar V6 engine is known for its efficiency, but there's a big gap between a sensible sedan and a two-tonne-plus beast that can easily drive over one.
The V6 petrol - the only Overland option - still punches out 209kW and a shade under 350Nm. Jeep reckons it's good for 8.9 seconds to 100km/h, and that it will max out at 180km/h - the only folk brave enough to try that are more likely to be driving a Sport. The fairly modern engine certainly makes the Overland a bit less agricultural than its predecessors, and adding ESC, All-Speed Traction Control, Electronic Roll Mitigation and brake lock diffs further this effort.
If it wasn't such a heavy vehicle around tight urban streets it'd be almost qualified to fit into the crossover category with its collection of creature comforts. While the phrase "no compromise SUV" is overused and fundamentally wrong, the Wrangler doesn't compromise too much when it's getting its feet grubby, but remains a monster around town.
It's still hugely fun to drive, and once you're familiar with its tendency to dive under brakes and wander around on some road surfaces, you get a strong sense of purpose. It does, however, inspire you to drive straight past the office and head for the hills. Quite comfortably.