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Jeep Wrangler Unlimited 3.8 Rubicon manual Freedom Top

Date: 13 September 2006

Category: 4x4
Prices: £17,000-£20,000
Key rival: Land Rover Defender

It's a motoring icon, but the Jeep Wrangler had, in the past decade, begun to feel very dated. The quality of the ride and handling were woeful when compared to the new breed of 4x4s such as Toyota's RAV4 and the Honda CR-V. The newcomers' practicality had made it obsolete to all but a dedicated band of followers.

The all-new version goes on sale in the spring and looks virtually identical. But that's where the similarity ends. It's been redesigned from the ground up with a brief to improve the on-road dynamics and refinement while keeping that legendary off-road ability.

Slide behind the wheel and the changes are obvious. For starters there's a proper cabin that feels designed rather than cobbled together from spare parts. The metal weld marks once visible in the footwell are replaced by upholstery, and there are electric windows and speed-activated central locking for the first time. It's not overflowing with kit though - there's no internal adjustment for the door mirrors; you've got to reach outside and push the glass. But all the key Wrangler features, such as the low-range gearbox, fold-flat windscreen and removable doors, are still present.


Fire up the 3.8-litre V6 petrol engine and it's clear the soundproofing has been improved. It's far quieter in the cabin and there's less wind noise at speed. The ride and handling are a dramatic improvement, too - it doesn't wobble like a bouncy castle every time you change gear or turn a corner any more.

Room in the rear is better than it used to be, but it's still pretty cramped in the two-door car. However, the new Unlimited four-door version has masses of leg, shoulder and headroom for passengers of all sizes, and a minimum of 1313 litres of boot space.

The old overcomplicated folding soft-top has been simplified, while the hard-top version (the Freedom Top) is now a three-piece modular plastic lid that comes off in sections depending on how much fresh air you want.

Off-road the new car is almost peerless. We drove up and down rocky 40-degree ravines and it performed faultlessly, although dynamically it isn't as good on the tarmac as the class-leaders. But that's missing the point - the Wrangler can go where virtually no other vehicle can, and if you want that capability for less than £20k, the engineering has to be a compromise. However, it does now feel like a proper 4x4 with road manners that are perfectly acceptable and miles better than they used to be.