Having driven through a World War and after several decades of legendary supporting roles in countless Hollywood blockbusters, this four-wheel-drive continues to be on most men’s “must-drive” bucket list.
Growing up with black-and-white combat movie flicks and later being madly consumed by the heroics of MacGyver, I cannot be faulted for my never-ending grin when I received confirmation of a weekend fling with a Jeep four-wheel drive ride.
Over the last two decades, mostly during my journalism career, I had driven sport cars to the limit, enjoyed the finest luxury vehicles, and got myself lost – twice – in the jungles of Borneo with only a mud-covered four-wheel drive and packets of instant noodles for company. But none of these experiences involved a Jeep Wrangler; the palm-sized diecast plastic army-green military vehicle I slept with throughout my early years, which I vowed I will one day get my hands on the real thing.
For all those dreamers out there, let’s first get any false hopes out of the way. The Jeep Wrangler is not designed to be modish nor built for a relaxed city drive. Seated on top of old-school solid axles at both ends together with heavy-duty monotube shock absorbers, the retro-styled vehicle comes out rather bumpy with a steering seemingly detached from the road with its share of body roll during sharp turns. And particularly during this year-end monsoon season, the cabin inside can be rather noisy during a downpour.
Its features and fittings, particularly the four-door Wrangler Unlimited Sahara variant which I had, is seemingly unadorned when compared to the current generation of 4WDs that are mostly created to allow city dwellers to theatrically project their adventurous side. There is no fin-shaped antenna, keyless entry and push-button start, rearview camera or 10-way seat adjustments to show off to your friends.
Yet for those like me, it is exactly these types of throwback sensations that make this trail-ready ride great. The real fun starts when you bring this rugged off-roader into nature for a wet and wild weekend. Supported by an extended wheelbase of four 18-inch polished satin carbon wheels accompanied by antilock disc brakes, traction and stability control, the Wrangler Unlimited is driven by an imposing 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 engine that serves up 284 hp and delivers up to 347 Nm of torque.
Jeep’s Command Trac 4WD system splits torque 50/50 to the front and rear axles for off-roading or conditions where more traction is required, while the main case joint is clamped by 18 bolts for added structural stiffness. Combined with its electronic roll mitigation and electronic stability control, the 4WD allows the driver to be in complete control during the most demanding conditions.
The Wrangler Unlimited’s raised chassis has the capability to safely manage in up to 508 mm of water, offers up to 25 cm of ground clearance, has a 42.2-degree approach angle and a 32.1-degree departure angle, along with a 25.8-degree breakover angle.
Managed by a five-speed automatic transmission which takes it from zero to 100 km/h in approximately 8.8 seconds – commendable considering its bulk and box like shape – this variant is capable of towing up 2,000 kg when properly equipped.
First introduced back in 1941 during World War II, the early Jeep featured a gearshift on the steering column, two circular instrument clusters on the dashboard and a hand brake on the left side. Today, these artless pieces have been replaced with automatic headlamps, steering wheel controls, height-adjustable driver seat, heated power mirrors, cruise control, power windows, auto-dimming rearview mirror and under-hood insulation. But gladly, the iconic seven-slot grille remains.
There are numerous features that will please the sheltered city folks’ palate. While the Alpine premium audio systems with nine speakers – four 6.5-inch speakers, two weather-resistant tweeters and an all-weather subwoofer – is easily the main attraction, there are also the CD/DVD /MP3 player, leather upholstery, heated front seats leather-wrapped steering wheel, Bluetooth, hard disk drive, a USB port, voice controls, front airbags and hill start assist to tinker with. The Wrangler Unlimited Sahara also comes in 10 options of colours for discerning owners to choose from.
I particularly found the centre console’s lockable dual-stage storage facility very handy, especially when we had to keep our phones, wallets and keys secured when the family’s out for a quick dip at the waterfall. Out from the wet and straight onto a pair of heated front seats, what more can one ask for?
The most fun I had, to my sun fearing wife’s detriment, was undoubtedly the easily removable three-piece hard top. As I cannot recall any other vehicle that allows the driver to effortlessly remove not only the roof but the doors too, driving around looking cool like in MacGyver with no anxiety over the sudden rainfall makes it all worthwhile as the simple snaps made locking and unlocking the roof pieces fast and simple.
Much to my surprise, the fully-imported Wrangler Unlimited was clearly not found lacking in cabin space. Even with two long-legged adults in front, the back row comfortably seats three, including a child safety seat, while offering over 70.6 cubic feet of ample storage with the 60/40 split rear bench seat folded in.
At the end of the brief but truly enjoyable weekend affair with the RM328,899 (on-the-road without insurance) Wrangler Unlimited Sahara, I am glad to have fulfilled a boyhood dream of getting behind the wheels of a Jeep Wrangler and marking off another item from my bucket list.
Roll on, not roll over
Electronic stability control senses when you begin to over- or under-steer and applies individual brakes and controls your throttle as needed to help put you back on track. Electronic roll mitigation determines when a rollover may occur and applies braking force to help reduce the likelihood of such an accident.
Additionally, Wrangler Unlimited offers all-speed traction control with special calibrations for driving in 4LO, a brake assist system and a four-wheel disc antilock brake system for improving vehicle control and decreasing stopping distances on both dry and slippery surfaces.