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First Drive: Jeep Wrangler Sahara

The story:
Jeep’s signature model, the Wrangler, has received a top-to-bottom overhaul for 2018. A low volume model with little direct competition until Land Rover’s new Defender arrives, it now boasts a more refined temperament yet remains accomplished off the road.
Key rival:Mercedes-Benz G-Class
Jeep Wrangler Sahara 4dr 2.2 diesel
Price:£45,000 est
On sale:September 2018

The Jeep Wrangler has always been an unconventional choice. It’s a rugged, rough and ready option for those seeking go-anywhere capability but aren’t fans of the now-departed Land Rover Defender. Its appeal has also grown among those seeking a distinctive-looking lifestyle vehicle. And in its latest incarnation, the Wrangler better combines these two extreme positions.

Jeep Wrangler - 2018 - Image 6Available in two and four-door guises plus three roof options, the all-wheel drive Wrangler’s main appeal is in 2.2-litre diesel form, complete with an eight-speed auto, low-range transmission and locking differentials. A 2.0-litre petrol unit follows later, with a PHEV powertrain in 2020.

The Wrangler’s off-road-focused Rubicon spec is joined by a more luxurious Sahara option, positioned to secure broad appeal, plus the entry-level Sport.

Overall cabin quality is much improved, as is the focus on regular car equipment; improved navigation, mobile phone connectivity, and active and passive safety features are all welcome inclusions.

Jeep Wrangler - 2018 - Image 15

As for practical considerations, these run to being able to remove doors, the roof and fold the windscreen forward, while cabin space is good in four-door guise but predictably less accommodating for rear seat occupants in two-door trim.

Still, boot space for the four-door runs to 533 litres with the seats up and 1044 litres with the seats down.

On road the Wrangler is much improved, with refinement, steering accuracy and ride comfort the main highlights. The 2.2 diesel’s 197bhp and ample torque prove useful around town and performance is brisk and stable at motorway speeds. Forward visibility is also good, but less so at the rear, and you’ll need to take extra care when reversing.

Jeep Wrangler - 2018 - Image 11Predictably, the Wrangler excels off-road, with even the road-biased Sahara model proving impressive at dealing with challenging terrain, thanks in part to the car’s easy-to-operate low-range transmission and locking differentials. Rubicon spec adds a more focused set-up, yet the on-road compromise is minimal in terms of driveability.

Don’t expect wallet-friendly economy or tax-friendly emissions here, especially the former during regular off-road excursions, although to be too critical is to misunderstand the Wrangler’s role in life.

iain dooley

The verdict

With the mid-spec Wrangler Sahara estimated around £45,000, Jeep’s rugged 4x4 will be a niche choice. However as a working vehicle it’s pleasingly refined.