The sun picked a nice spot in the sky to shoot its fearsome rays down on us. It's a hot Texan day at the Inks Ranch, a day that demands you sit indoors with a cool beer and bare minimum clothing. It's most certainly not a day for being out in the sun and on any other place on the planet I would have had a raging headache in this heat. Not today. My head feels clear and physically my body could not be enjoying an off-road adventure in the heat this much. This clarity though has little to do with me being physically fit enough for the task at hand and more to do with driving the Wrangler. This is, without a doubt, one of the finest off-road vehicles I have ever driven, and I have driven more 4x4s than you could name. It entirely fulfils both parts of the off-road equation, its ability to go everywhere should be equal to the comfort and stress free experience it provides in stressful terrain. It's no wonder the Wrangler has earned the reputation of being one of the finest off-road vehicles in the world.
Driving the Wrangler was one of the primary incentives for travelling to the United States for the first time in my life. The 22 hour journey to the land of the brave otherwise held little attraction to me. Fortunately this trip to the new world turned out to be truly memorable. I drove across soft sandy river beds, climbed up rocky hills, descended into gorges and did everything you'd see in those startling YouTube videos without even breaking out a crease on my shirt, all thanks to the Wrangler.
The Wrangler is the equivalent of the Swiss army knife; it's a tool that will get any job done. It looks fit for the purpose of going off-road, has a diverse range of engines, is comfortable while doing its best mountain goat imitation and the build and fit finish would shame the Thar into jumping off the nearest cliff. Of course it's not going to be cheap and at an expected price of around Rs18-20 lakh for the basic two door version, going all the way up to around Rs 22 lakh for the 4-door version called the Unlimited, the Wrangler isn't something that will appeal to the masses.
For India there are two engine options that are being explored, a 3.6-litre petrol and a 2.8-litre diesel. The petrol is a 24-valve V6, dubbed the Pentastar, with variable valve timing and it's mated to a 6-speed manual transmission available exclusively with the 2-door Wrangler. Output is a generous 288PS with 352Nm of torque. Its generous but everything I have read about this engine so far points out to its economy and cost of ownership which is quite high.
The other engine and which has, compared to the petrol received far more accolades the world over is the diesel. It's a 2.8-litre in-line 4-cylinder turbo diesel and it makes a massive 460Nm of max torque. Drivability is impressive, this was the engine on my Wrangler that I drove through the Inks ranch and despite the slow crawl I never experienced any turbo lag. This engine is clubbed to a 5-speed automatic and that's the only option shortlisted for India presently.
Both petrol and diesel Wranglers get some fantastic off-road equipment such as electronically lockable differentials front and rear as well as a 44.1:1 low ratio crawl gear. That clubbed with the fantastic ground clearance and a solid axle with a stiff and strong body on frame chassis makes it quite unique in serious off-road conditions. Of course you will need the tyres to make good use of all that equipment. The steering is light and in off-road conditions all you need is a single hand to manoeuvre it precisely past the obstacles. Suspension articulation is hugely impressive, across the most uneven surfaces the suspension will always make sure optimum tyre contact with the surface is maintained to ensure a high level of traction.
All of this off-road equipment comes at a cost; the Wrangler isn't all that impressive when it leaves the dirt behind. The Wrangler ticks every box in an off-road enthusiast's wish list, and it just about comes across as comfortable on tarmac.
What also impresses is the build, this 4x4 is solid all over. There are no rough or dull edges and the funkiness of the entire package gives you a lot to smile about. The design is still traditional yet there are some contemporary and almost bespoke touches that I found quite interesting. This 4x4 has an attitude that says "bring it on", that will be its biggest appeal when it comes down to India. Posers, please do not apply and tarnish that image.
Part of the Jeep strategy for India is to offer the Wrangler alongside the Grand Cherokee. It would be a strong program if only Jeep would assemble the Wrangler in India. That will allow the price to get more competitive even though I don't see it reaching it out to a large population. The Wrangler is a very niche product but I do know there will be several enthusiasts in the north and south of India willing to pay whatever it costs. So it's eminently possible to achieve the goals given Fiat's immense manufacturing facilities existing at Ranjangaon, Pune and the large network they are aggressively building. It's only left to see if Jeep follows through on the CKD option rather than go the CBU route. There is a latent fan base waiting in the wings to see how Fiat plays their cards on this one. Dealt the right hand the Wrangler has the potential to get the jackpot.