The Jeep Wrangler might very well be the defining ‘go-anywhere’ vehicle.

As you’d expect, the hardware that imparts its legendary off-road ability does make for a few compromises on the road – and, though they might be slightly less noticeable than on previous versions of the car, they are nonetheless still present and noticeable enough that they might put off anyone who imagines that this car might look like a wilderness man but somehow handle like an Audi Q5.

Richard Lane

Road tester
Having driven the Rubicon Trail itself, I can tell you serious off-road hobbyists will want the switchable locking diffs you get on the Wrangler Rubicon. It’s also the most overblown model in the range visually, and that’s a big part of the Wrangler appeal

At 3.3 turns lock to lock, the recirculating ball steering rack feels remarkably slow when manoeuvring. Changing direction at speed takes a fair amount of forethought and a degree of manual exertion, too, on a steering system that demands you put effort in to turn into a bend and guide the car straight again.

This slower steering set-up might suggest the Wrangler should feel like a reasonably stable car at speed, and it does most of the time – although its sheer size and slab-sided, boxy shape make it vulnerable to wind buffeting at motorway speed. Between one thing and another, then, keeping the Wrangler tracking straight and true on the road is a process requiring plenty of concentration and regular line correction; or, to put it another way, this is a car you can never really get much respite from driving when at the wheel.

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

Through bends, the Wrangler’s handling manners are entirely predictable: it’s a large car that feels its height and weight; pitches in with plenty of body roll; and has limited front-end grip with which to prevent its bluff nose from wandering progressively into understeer if you hurry it along.

But nearly all of these criticisms are the result of mechanical specification and tuning that lends the Jeep its unflappable off-road ability. The boxy shape provides great visibility; the slow steering means you won’t injure your wrists when clambering over boulders and can make finer course adjustments easily; and those Bridgestone Dueler H/T tyres, while not full-fat off-roading rubber, will get you further from the Tarmac than the standard tyres you’d find on the likes of a normal medium-sized SUV.

Even if you don’t buy the Wrangler in go-absolutely-anywhere trim, it’s a remarkably capable off-roader. In any guise, it beats a Mercedes G-Class and a Toyota Land Cruiser for maximum wading depth and ground clearance, and across the board on clearance angles. A Land Rover Discovery will ford through deeper water and has more ground clearance, but even that can’t match the Jeep’s approach and departure angles.

We didn’t get to test the car at its most rugged (only Rubicon trim gets BF Goodrich Mud-Terrain knobbly tyres, the ultra-low-range ’box, heavy-duty axles, locking front/rear diffs and disconnecting front anti-roll bar), yet were seriously impressed with its capacity to climb steep slopes, crawl over rocks and find traction on slippery surfaces. An accelerator and torque converter automatic ’box brilliantly tuned for ultra-low-speed control, and some effective traction control electronics, make it go places you’d swear a car simply couldn’t.

COMFORT AND ISOLATION

The Wrangler rides with a kind of comfort and civility that, while a way from matching what you’ll find in a more typical mid-sized 4x4, could easily see it pass muster as an everyday-use family vehicle.

The suspension cushions bigger lumps and bumps in reasonably well-damped fashion, and while rebound is less cleverly controlled, the car still doesn’t jounce or float too significantly over crests.

Patchier surfaces inevitably shine a spotlight on the propensity of the chassis for animation, but while the busyness and distant lumpiness of the movements of the axles are persistent presences within the car’s driving experience, they never really become overbearing or dominating factors.

Where the Wrangler is at it unhappiest, however, is on particularly uneven stretches of country B-road, where non-uniform undulations and inputs that work one side of its axles more than the other bring the worst out of its ride. Here, head-toss is particularly prevalent, though still well short of motion sickness-inducing severity. Elsewhere, the 2.2-litre diesel engine has a tendency to make its voice heard when working hard, while road roar and wind noise are a near constant aural accompaniment to a long-distance cruise.

The latter is the more noticeable, though, largely due to the lack of any substantial sound deadening in the removable roof panels and cabin sealing, which, in general, must necessarily be less effective than in the average SUV.

Our decibel meter measured cabin noise at 70dB at a 70mph cruise. By comparison, the Land Rover Discovery TDV6 tested in 2017 returned a reading of 67dB, while the now discontinued Defender (arguably the Wrangler’s closest conceptual rival) recorded 73dB.

Save money on your car insurance

Compare quotesCompare insurance quotes

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week