Text and photos by Kap Maceda Aguila
GENERALLY, vehicles built for off-road driving are hardly known for subtlety, or even creature comforts. The ability to take on the most difficult of terrains often overrides the interest in providing finesse and refinement because, well, it just doesn’t look the part.
If we are to believe Jeep’s assessment of its new-generation Wrangler — unveiled in the Philippines on March 6 — then the newest generation of the iconic 4×4 has pulled off the unlikely dichotomy of true off-road driving capability and everyday drivability.
It’s so drivable, in fact, that anyone (with a license, of course) can just hop in and take the wheel for a comfortable drive. “Globally, we sell the Jeep brand as an outback vehicle to a niche market who wants to bring the car out of the city, to the outback and stuff,” said Fiat Chrysler Asia Pacific country manager Isaac Yeo, in an exclusive interview with BusinessWorld. “[But] when we look at the ladies, a lot of times they don’t want to do that — especially in the Philippines. The car might not be comfortable, it might not have a backup camera.”
So, the American car maker, cognizant of filling in the gaps in the Wrangler’s appeal to female drivers (and even the men who do a lot of everyday commuting outside of the boondocks), refined the model’s broader-spectrum appeal. “If you look today at the all-new Jeep Wrangler, the car is lightweight, the 2.0-liter engine has high horsepower and high torque, and the best thing is that the steering column for this car is more drivable and is very easy to maneuver compared to the previous generation,” added Mr. Yeo.
Of course, the SUV still has the iconic look that has distinguished it throughout the decades since debuting in war-torn 1941. It begins with the familiar seven-slot grille and round headlamps, which Jeep designers complemented with “[an] angular roofline, muscular fenders, and high stance while keeping its traditional design cues.” The exterior boasts a wide and lower beltline, and bigger windows for increased visibility. On the rear fascia are square LED tail lamps which have been “slightly offset” in position to accommodate blind-spot monitoring.
“The Jeep brand is well-recognized around the world and there is no vehicle that represents the essence of Jeep the same way the Wrangler does. Its comeback is also timely for us as we mark our 15th anniversary with the brand as its official importer and distributor in the Philippines,” said Auto Nation Group chief operating officer Francis Jonathan C. Ang in a speech.
An interesting part in the local launch held at the newly renovated Jeep showroom on EDSA was a demonstration of the ease with which one can enjoy open-air driving. A team dismantled the lightweight aluminum parts, such as the swing gate, doors and roof in about 10 minutes. Each Wrangler will come with the tools needed to remove the parts. The windshield was also easily folded down while retaining the rearview mirror in place.
Again, this natural inclination for the great outdoors and rough play is now tempered with docility and polish. In a statement, Jeep posited that the “Wrangler’s interior combines authentic styling, versatility, comfort, and intuitive feature use.”
Signature Jeep looks are combined with soft-touch, high-quality materials, as well as technological accoutrements such as a configurable instrument cluster displaying media, tire pressure and speed, among others; a new media center with charging and connectivity ports; climate and volume control knobs; and an engine stop/start control. In the center console is a proprietary Uconnect system with five-inch screen display boasting a customizable drag-and-drop feature. The driver can control audio, voice and speed functions via buttons on the wheel.
Powering the all-new Wrangler is a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline four-cylinder diesel engine, said to be fuel-efficient. The driver can access 284hp and up to 400Nm through an eight-speed automatic transmission. A 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 engine-motivated Wrangler is expected to be brought into the country in the near future. Rough play is still encouraged; you can even hose down the interior should it get muddy or dirty (just don’t forget to remove the carpeting).
The new Wrangler is now available for pre-orders and reservations at all Jeep dealerships nationwide (EDSA Greenhills, Alabang, Clark Pampanga, and Cebu) for P3.59 million (Unlimited Sport) and P3.39 million (Sport).
Mr. Yeo also wants people to know that the back seats offer “extra leg room,” and that the Wrangler can also be a true family car as well. “The lady can have her husband drive, and she can be sure the kids will be comfortable in the second row,” he averred with a smile. And, yes, there’s a backup camera — with dynamic gridlines, to boot — as well as “more than 75 available active and passive safety and security features [such as] rear cross path detection… electronic stability control, and multiple air bags.”
Again, the big picture is to present a complete package of safety and ease to complement the already famous ability. “The strategy is to make it appeal to customers that have never driven a Wrangler before. In the Philippines, the average age of Filipinos is 25 years. The next generation would want a car that is comfortable as a daily driver. We don’t need to sell the Jeep as an outback car. Anyone can jump in the car and drive it.”
Just make sure it’s your Jeep, of course.