It’s a bit of a love story with Tradition meeting tech in an all-conquering off-roader that happily doubles as a fun daily driver.
With roots that date back to the original World War II–era military vehicle— the Wrangler is what has defined the Jeep brand for the last 30 years or so now, and while you’d be forgiven for thinking it looks almost the same as the previous generation JK model, the new JL Wrangler is more luxurious and filled with technology than ever before, and yes, it still has the same incredible off-road capabilities that earned it worthy of being the vehicle of choice to support the army troops.
Meet the 2020 Jeep Wrangler JL Overland. Straight off the top, Jeep has done a fantastic job in evolution rather than revolution. If you made a Wrangler not look like, well, a Wrangler – you’d probably have some hardcore followers and brand enthusiasts ready to burn down your manufacturing plant.
My brother had a JK Unlimited back in 2014, and if we’re being honest (aside from it’s off-road capabilities straight off the showroom floor) it didn’t have much going for it. I found it a bit vanilla (not just because it was white) it was ordinary to drive, the gearbox was lazy and made me really dislike the 3.6 V6 that was in it. You wouldn’t see me hand over my cash for one, personally. However, my tune was a little different in the new JL.
The new JL Wrangler is more intelligent, better styled, and has a far more sophisticated interior than the model it replaces. Not to mention it’s absolutely brimming with technology.
Power comes courtesy of the familiar 3.6-litre V6 Pentastar engine that develops 209kW and 347Nm, however this time it’s mated to an eight-speed automatic (instead of a five-speed like the JK) and it is, in a word, sublime.
The eight-speed auto has also helped improve fuel economy drastically compared to the outgoing model, with the official rating for the equivalent spec JK model with a combined cycle of 11.3 litres per 100km, the new JL comes in at 9.6 litres per 100km, and it will happily run on 91 RON to keep running costs down even further.
The throttle can take a bit of getting used to, it’s fairly sensitive so even the lightest touch on the accelerator feels like it’s in launch control. I thought this might become an issue especially when taking the Wrangler off-road, but like I said, it takes a bit of getting used to, and you can eventually learn to edge and creep forward, instead of straight up drag racing everywhere. The power delivery itself is very smooth and almost effortless once you’re out on the open road.
On the road, and more so at highway speeds, the steering does tend to feel a bit on the vague side, needing constant adjustment to keep it centre in your lane – but that’s more so a trait of Live Axle vehicles in general, not solely pointed at the Wrangler as a specific vehicle fault.
Once inside the cabin, it’s clear as crystal that Jeep has spent a considerable amount of time refining and updating the cabin to bring the Wrangler into the 21st Century. The 8.4-inch uConnect touchscreen media interface is large, crisp and best of all – very easy to navigate and use, and it’s absolutely loaded with helpful information. It’s also compatible with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, and in Overland guise comes with a phenomenal nine-speaker Alpine sound system, as well as Satellite Navigation and a very clear reverse camera.
There is also a 7-inch TFT digital screen between the speedometer and tachometer that Jeep says has “over 100 different display configurations” – including your regular trip data, tyre pressure monitoring, digital speedo and for when you’re not on the bitumen, real time off-road information.
Seating is reasonably comfortable, although it must be said this probably isn’t the best vehicle for a starting family – getting two little ones into the baby seats in the back can be a bit of a strain – for this reason you’d probably want the 5 door version. There also isn’t a whole lot of lateral support in the front seats, but then again this isn’t the sort of vehicle you’re going to be taking on spirited driving through tight and twisty mountain roads. Apart from that, you’ll be fairly comfortable, wherever your drive may take you, and however long it takes to get there. Drivers will probably be annoyed at the lack of footrest – there’s hardly any room to put your foot left of the brake pedal – it is annoying, but something you can probably learn to live with – we almost forgot about the issue into day 5 of driving the Wrangler.
If you did need to get two adults in the back however, there’s a surprising amount of leg and headroom, and the comfort doesn’t end there. You’ll also find two rear facing air vents, two cup holders, four USB charging points and a 230v outlet. It’s surprisingly spacious, but with that comes a bit of a trade off – with the second row seats in the upright position, you are limited to a measly 197 litres of boot space. Fold them up however, and you have a much more usable 587 litres.
Plus, in traditional Jeep fashion, if you do need more headroom, you can remove the roof. Nothing else in the segment, or market for that matter, offers a car with this amount of personality – you’re not just buying a car when you buy one of these, you’re buying a lifestyle.
Jeep has also made some vast improvements in terms of safety with the new Wrangler. There is now Autonomous Emergency Braking, Blind Spot Monitoring, front and rear parking sensors as well as rear cross traffic alert available. Sadly though, it must be mentioned in the interest of public safety, the JL Wrangler has only scored three stars on the ANCAP/NCAP crash tests. It’s an upgrade from the pre-update Wrangler that only got one, but still a negative point against the Wrangler. But let’s be honest, it’s like that family member that makes a drunken mess of themselves at every family gathering, it’s a serious issue – but you love them anyway.
Off-road is where the Wrangler really and truly shines, and will put most other “off the showroom floor” four wheel drives to shame. Thanks mostly to it’s live-axle coil sprung suspension set up at the front and rear, you get outstanding amounts of wheel travel and articulation. It also makes the Wrangler seriously comfortable once you get off the black top. There is 34.8 degrees of approach angle and 29.2 degrees for departure, with 260mm of ground clearance to help tackle some serious off-road duty. Combine this with a proper high and low-range transfer case – this is without a doubt, one of the most capable 4WD vehicles straight off the showroom floor that you can buy today.
Servicing intervals come in at every 12,000km or 12 months, whichever comes first, with the first five visits to the dealerships capped at $299 per service. That means you’re only up for a servicing cost of around $1495 for the first five years (or 60,000km). The Wrangler is also covered by Jeeps five-year factory warranty (or 100,000km – whichever comes first).
Overall, during our week of testing with the Jeep Wrangler Overland, the more we drove it, the more we loved it. It’s a car that will take you anywhere you want to go, even when the going gets tough. It’s fun to drive, it’s fun to look at, it’s loaded with features and technology, and hidden little easter eggs to remind you that you’re driving a Jeep, and you can finally tell your friends “I bought a Jeep!”
Quick Spec Highlights:
Engine: 3.6-litre V6 petrol
Output: 209kW@6400rpm / 347Nm@4100rpm
Transmission: Eight-speed auto
Drive type: Part-time RWD/4WD
ANCAP: One star
Tare weight: 1762kg
Official Combined fuel economy: 9.6L/100km
Fuel capacity/Type: 66L/91 RON
Priced from: $59,450
There is a lot to love about the new Jeep Wrangler Overland, but there is also a fair bit of comprimising to make as well. One thing is for sure, the JL is a significant improvement when it comes to the interior, overall refinement and infotainment over its’ predecessor. This is a not a car you buy, simply to replace your ageing vehicle that gets you from A-B. This is a car you buy, because you want that adventure ready lifestyle, to pack up on a Friday afternoon and head to a campsite, ready to tackle the great outdoors and whatever tracks they throw at you on the weekend. You’ll just need to weigh up that idea in relation to it’s safety rating point of view. But if you can look past that, you’d have an absolute cracker of a car.
What we liked:
The looks and the technology – huge improvement from the JK
Unrivalled off-road ability, straight out of the box.
Comfortable and well equipped interior, very spacious in the second row.
The “Cool” and “Fun” factor is un-matched by anything else in the segment.
What we didn’t like:
In todays day and age, the ANCAP Safety rating could be better.
Boot space with all four seats up is almost non-existent.
Live Axle suspension set up makes it great for off-road, but a bit floaty on road at highway speeds.