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Wrangler: The Jeep that rock-hopped its way to cult status
A crag-climbing idol, the 2019 Jeep Wrangler may have more capability, refinement and technology, but its character is still as bold as its looks
External door hinges. Clear signs that the 2019 Jeep Wrangler respectfully nods to its boulder-bashing predecessors. There’s a foldable windscreen, too, and the aluminium doors and lightweight modular roof are removable. No ordinary car the Wrangler, but then it’s been an out of the ordinary, rough and tumble cult car for over three decades.
Proof of the Wrangler’s off-road deity status can be seen from the 65 pages of Internet Movie Car Database entries and its starring roles in films such as Jurassic Park and Terminator Salvation. Borne from the Willys and CJ-7 before it, the tried and trusted Wrangler recipe includes a separate body and frame, rigid live axles, as well as those distinctive flared wings. With oily bits and an interior derived from the contemporary Cherokee XJ, the original 1987 first-generation Wrangler YJ was more refined than the CJ, but still a no-fuss, go-anywhere machine.
Part-time four-wheel drive ensured the Wrangler could literally climb every mountain and ford every stream. The 1997 TJ added even more refinement and practicality, ditching the leaf springs for coils and introducing the first five-door version. More luxury arrived with the JK of 2007, when almost everything was electrically-powered, and the addition of hi-tech navigation systems meant adventurers could properly plot a course, rather than stick a finger in the air and hope for the best.
Adventuring into the wilderness has long served the Wrangler’s image, and cemented its reputation as a quite literal go-anywhere machine. In 2007, one scaled 6,646 metres up Chile’s Ojos del Salado, the highest volcano on Earth, but to be honest, that’s way more rugged ability than Hazzard County’s Jessica Simpson-played Daisy Duke (yes, she of the trademark short-shorts named after her) would need from her Wrangler Rubicon. Angelina Jolie’s Lara Croft on the other hand, well, she might just welcome it. (Just for clarity, fact fans, the original Daisy Duke played by Catherine Bach drove a 1980 Jeep CJ-7 Golden Eagle named ‘Dixie’.)
The ability to rock-hop is something the 2019 Wrangler is still supremely good at. Maximum ground clearance is 252mm, and there’s a 36.4-degree approach angle, front and rear axle lockers, a two-speed transfer case with full-time 4WD as well as hill descent control. Electric control now extends to the front anti-roll (sway) bar, too, if more wheel travel is needed. We only crawled up a steep grass hill, but it’s nice to know Jeep’s heritage hasn’t been lost.
And while the new-fangled navigation system is still there, technology for the 2010s extends to over 65 active and passive safety systems. There’s a blind spot monitor as well as a rearview camera to help you spot long-necked dinosaurs and an electronic roll mitigation system should you find yourself about to go upside down in the midst of trying to terminate Skynet.
Throughout the Wrangler’s three-decade reign at the top of the 4×4 heap, fun has been a constant companion. We’re pleased to report that, roof off, open to the elements, the latest version induces the giggles, too. Yes, it’s true that a hoseable interior might be at odds with the hi-tech trinkets, but the spirit of freedom the Wrangler part-pioneered is present and correct. Even if that enthusiasm now costs in the region of £45,000.
However, heritage has quite a pull, and the Wrangler’s all-American attitude is resonating with fans. Jeep actually wrangled more sales than Land Rover in Europe last year, and the Wrangler’s popularity is clearly helped by its purposefully ‘aged’ appearance. Another way to look at it is that it plays its retro card very heavily, immediately putting it in the cool rather than characterless camp. Which is where the new, still-to-arrive Land Rover Defender may sit, too.
One the most popular 4x4s on-screen and off, should you find yourself evading roaring T-Rexes, trekking across a post-apocalyptic landscape, recovering ancient artefacts from underground vaults, or just turning up at your local wine bar, the Jeep Wrangler is the coolest vehicle to do it in. Whether you’re wearing Daisy Dukes or not.
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