The original Rambo movie, First Blood, filmed on location in Hope and elsewhere in British Columbia, bears up well on rewatching. Itʼs stark, actually has something of a plot and shines a light on the experience of Vietnam veterans. But staying true to oneʼs roots is tricky. Later films in the franchise descended into cartoonish violence; Rambo kills one person in First Blood and 254 people in 2008ʼs Rambo.
Likewise, most modern Jeeps are big-budget spectacles next to the original Second World War model, which was a tough but rudimentary donkey on wheels. Further, using a burly Jeep as a family vehicle seems like overkill. However, that does seem to be what a staggering number of Canadians are doing.
Last year, some 23,185 Wranglers found homes in Canadian driveways, the bulk of them being the four-door Unlimited models. The Wrangler easily outsold conventional family crossovers such as the Ford Edge, the Hyundai Santa Fe and the Subaru Forester.
The initial appeal is immediately evident. Anyone who grew up playing with chunky Tonka toys will fall in love with the Wranglerʼs boxy shape, big wheels and exposed door hinges. It looks simple – a childʼs drawing of a truck – and kids immediately love it. The Wranglerʼs toy-like appeal extends to its removable doors and top and folding windshield. While itʼs fairly easy to pull your Jeep to pieces like blocks of Lego, itʼs not actually the sort of thing youʼll want to do regularly. This model came with a $3,995 power-retractable canvas roof, which seems expensive, but provided open-air Jeep motoring at the touch of the button. Bouncing along a forest service road beneath the evergreen canopy, it seemed well worth the price tag.
Of course, adding a canvas roof to your Wrangler is going to increase interior noise. But this is a Jeep; it already feels loud inside, given its relative lack of aerodynamics. The tires hum, the wind whips around the windshield, and the clattery diesel V6 engine sounds positively agricultural.
In short, it feels like a real Jeep. The Wranglerʼs architecture may be modernized, but itʼs still the same basic blueprint as the army surplus original. Driving a Wrangler doesnʼt isolate you from the road but allows you to experience it. Youʼll never find yourself accidentally drifting over the speed limit in a Wrangler.
Itʼs not uncomfortable, either. With an upright seating position and clear sightlines, the Jeep is easy to drive in traffic and feels completely unperturbed on even the roughest gravel roads. The turbocharged diesel engine has huge reserves of torque, and the Wrangler has little trouble getting up to speed and passing semi-trailers. The diesel engine is only available with an automatic transmission, and the two work together seamlessly.
This model is the Sahara, a mid-grade trim, with the more rugged Rubicon sitting above it in pricing and off-road capability. Only the most committed off-roaders need to consider the Rubicon model, as the basic Wrangler is highly capable.
In fact, even on some rougher forest roads, driving the Wrangler does feel a bit like dressing up as John Rambo just to go for a stroll on a local hiking trail. Even particularly outdoorsy families probably wonʼt have to navigate the kind of terrain that the Wranglerʼs built to handle.
But at the same time, using a Wrangler as a family vehicle that doubles as an off-roader on the weekends makes a lot more sense than spending money on a performance-focused crossover and being constantly frustrated in traffic. The Wrangler feels genuinely fun to drive at normal speeds, has the friendly charisma of a large dog and would likely have you planning more challenging excursions to really test it out.
The only real problem here is the Wranglerʼs price tag, which is particularly eye-watering in this weekʼs tester. A basic two-door Wrangler is an affordable machine, but four-door versions can quickly get expensive. Still, resale values for Jeeps are high, and if you donʼt check every option box, a Wrangler Unlimited is no more expensive than something like a Honda Pilot. Ford has clearly been watching the success of the Wrangler and is eager to see the same sales figures rolling in when their Bronco arrives. For now, the Jeep drew first blood and still offers an unmatched driving experience.
2020 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited
- Base price/as tested: $44,095/$69,200
- Engine: 3.0-litre six-cylinder diesel
- Transmission/drive: automatic transmission/four-wheel-drive
- Fuel economy (litres/100 kilometres): 10.6 city/8.1 highway
- Alternatives: Toyota 4Runner, Ford Bronco
Integrating the lights into the front fenders is a clever styling move, but the Wrangler is still basically the same shape itʼs always been. Itʼs a box on top of another box, with some wheels and round headlights. Simple and effective.
Rugged in outward appearance, the Wranglerʼs insides are quite sensibly laid out. There are all sorts of hidden nods to Jeep heritage scattered through the cabin, and the switches and knobs are chunky and functional.
At $7,395, the diesel engine is an expensive option for the Wrangler. It does cut fuel consumption by 2.4 litres per 100 kilometres over the standard V6, and the low-end torque is addictive. However, anyone interested in a Wrangler with a powertrain upgrade might want to wait for the upcoming 4xe plug-in hybrid model – a Jeep that can still go anywhere, but with a smaller carbon footprint.
The Wrangler comes with Fiat Chrysler’s Uconnect infotainment system, which remains one of the best available. Itʼs clear, functional, simple to use and attractive.
The Wrangler Unlimited has 878 litres of space behind its rear seats, which is useful but somewhat less than some conventional crossovers.
Slightly over-the-top for everyday use, the Wrangler nonetheless offers all the action-adventure you can handle.
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