Tested: 2020 Wrangler Sahara is a huge step up for Jeep
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JOHANNESBURG - The Jeep Wrangler is one of those iconic cars that people just know (and love or hate) by looking at it. Like a G-Wagon, or the Defender or the Land Cruiser Pick-Up, it's kind of infamous really. In off-road circles, the Wrangler is known for its climbing and crawling abilities, but on the road it's never really been an ideal daily.
I spent a week in the latest 2-door model before the lockdown and came away extremely impressed at how much the vehicle has been improved. It's now more easy to use as a daily driver in my opinion, thanks to a more car-like interior. You still get a nice compact, vertical execution of the dashboard, but it's all nicely trimmed and well put together with very little in the way of rattles and creaks.
Outside, you have to pay careful attention to see the new styling cues from the old Wrangler, but once you see it, as they say, you can't unsee it.
So, let's tuck into the 2020 Jeep Wrangler's gizzards to see what makes it one of the best vehicles to get out there and drive again at the end of our 21-day lockdown.
WHAT'S NEW IN THE 2020 JEEP WRANGLER
One of the key new features of the latest Jeep Wrangler is its Command-Trac 4x4 System. It features a completely new full-time mode that will automatically switch from 2WD to 4WD when conditions dictate. It does this through wheel speed and traction control sensors, a system called Selec-Trac, which makes driving in uneven terrains and inclement weather safer and smoother than any other Wrangler that's come before it.
Naturally, the Command-Trac 4x4 system also features a selectable part-time system delivering a 50:50 split of torque to the front and rear axles for off-road traction.
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Jeep has fitted all South African bound Wranglers with the eight-speed automatic transmission as standard, and you can only have it with the tried-and-tested 3.6 V6 Pentastar V6 engine. This petrol guzzler makes 209kW of power and 347Nm of torque. It's sounds nice and punchy but to be honest, it's not tuned for high-performance stuff, and that's perfectly fine because the Wrangler is not built for speed.
On the outside, the car looks slightly more modern than the outgoing model thanks to a few more curves and kinks around the front and rear. You still get that huge, protruding front bumper, and our Sahara test car came with LED lights all around. The LED headlamps were a particular improvement, making the Wrangler much safer to drive at night and in bad weather. You can option the Wrangler out with all sorts of accessories through the Mopar division depending on your adventuring spirit.
On the inside, I liked the comfortable new seats. The new dashboard also gave it a lovely premium feel, which it should, considering this vehicle isn't the cheapest in terms of price range these days.
Of particular interest will be the enhanced, weatherproof audio system and infotainment platform. Because you can remove the doors, roof, and windscreen of this car, Jeep has ensured that your audio system won't be damaged by water if you're caught in a rainstorm. It's the same for the interior trims and the seats and electronics, all offering a decent level of water protection.
FROM THE DRIVER'S SEAT
One of my biggest gripes with the previous generation Wrangler was its manners on the tarmac. It felt too top-heavy, with a steering system that required far too many turns. The ride too, in the previous generation, was not honed for the city at all, thunking and crashing through even the smallest of crevices in the tar. It was also too cramped inside and the specs were just not there in terms of the prices Jeep was asking.
Moving into the new car, you get this immediate sense that care was taken to improve the driving experience in urban settings, without detracting from its off-road capability. The latest 2-door rode exceptionally well for a body on frame vehicle, and while it does still have a bit of top-heaviness to its feel, it's way more polished than before. The ride is comfortable for the daily grind and there's enough technology in the cabin to keep you connected.
I took the Sahara off-roading on a twisting dirt section near the R511 on the way to Hartbeespoort Dam and came away impressed at its cruising ability and control in the loose sand. It gave me a good sense of confidence as a driver and seemed ideal for this sort of rough and tumble road.
It also ate up some nasty sections in the dirt where rain had washed away most of what was once a narrow road, to begin with. I pretty much left the Wrangler to shuffle the power and gently accelerated and steered. No-fuss, no drama. It simply chewed through the dirt and kept on going.
I'm not a fan of the rather upright driving position, but that's what these sort of vehicles offer, and it works if you're not going to do long coast to coast trips in the vehicle.
It averaged 15l/100km on the test, which is thirsty, but then I drove in manual mode on many occasions to allow the revs to build to hear the bellow of the V6. It's a decent-sounding powerplant, with enough power on tap and it will work well off-road.
There are modern turbo engines available overseas, but we only get this one unit and it suits the Wrangler nicely.
SHOULD YOU BUY IT?
If you don't have kids and you enjoy exploring South Africa's lesser-known regions, this might be the ideal car for you. It's a huge step up from the previous generation vehicle and it's boasting all the right trimmings for the asking price.
You can take the doors, roof, and windscreen off if you really want to experience the elements and this might be the perfect thing if you park the Wrangler at your holiday home, or take it on holiday and want to have a slightly more open-air driving experience. I wouldn't recommend taking the panels off for any highway jaunts, but it will be fun to experience a few trails in the "Superleggera" mode.
If I had the bucks and I spent a lot of my time hiking or mountain biking, this is the vehicle that I'd be heading out to test drive after the lockdown. It will take you places few other vehicles can go and if you want something even more hardcore, you can opt for the beefier Rubicon version.
All new Wranglers come with a three-year/100 000km mechanical warranty, a three-year/100 000km maintenance plan and a three-year/unlimited mileage roadside assistance package.
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