Jeep Wrangler Sahara: First Drive

If you have a penchant for adventure on wheels and think about going to places where few would dare to wander we have just the right set of wheels for you. Presenting the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara!


Jeep Wrangler Sahara action shot



A lot of purists were waiting for this one. In fact a very dear friend of mine had been pestering me on a weekly basis about the arrival of the iconic Jeep products. So when I told him that I had managed to get my hands on a Wrangler, it was pretty much like a wet dream coming true for the guy. Now Jeep has a barrage of models which it has brought to India. While the 2-door Wrangler Sport boasts a massive 3.6 litre Pentastar V6, the one we have here is the more apt for our market, Wrangler Unlimited Sahara. While a big V6 engine and small insides are a big no-no, a long wheelbase, lots of legroom and diesel mated to an automatic transmission sounds just right. So how does the big Jeep go about its business here in Indian conditions? Let’s find out…


Iconic Design

The Germans aren’t uniquely capable of tastefully refining an iconic shape redesign after redesign, decade after decade. The current Wrangler isn’t a cartoonish “retro” reinterpretation of a classic vehicle from the distant past. Like a Porsche 911, it’s a special purpose iconic vehicle that has undergone an uninterrupted evolution over the years. Unchanged since the 2007 redesign, the exterior retains an unmistakable resemblance to the original Jeep. Form relentlessly follows function. The Sahara’s chunky five-spoke 17-inch alloys, look fantastic even though it’s a very simple design. Unlike with some supposed off-road vehicles, you’ll find no mere rim protectors here.



Jeep Wrangler Sahara static shot



There’s no “DUB Edition.” Given the 2007’s increased width, the four-door actually has better proportions than the two-door.  While on the whole it might not be as attractive as a Freelander or a Q3, it’s the details that set the Wrangler apart. There are the classically rugged hood latches, high impact fender flares and rugged bumpers that enhance the formidable look while the Wrangler's round halogen headlamps still hold true to its original design, flanking its equally iconic seven-slot grille for that genuine Jeep brand expression. Now this might seem like a hardtop, but unscrew a few allen screws, yank out all four doors (will take a little effort though) and you have the perfect Dune buggy. Even the windshield can folded and rested on the bonnet like a typical jeep. Versatility at its best. All said and done, the Jeep might not be a beauty, but no one with any appreciation for design (as opposed to “styling”) can fail to find it attractive.  



Jeep Wrangler Sahara interior shot



Purposeful insides


Once you manage to climb aboard, you settle yourself into a nice large cozy seat. With the massive protruding front bumper and the extremely fared wheel arches coupled with the Wranglers very generous dimensions, one has to be very careful about placing the car in tight traffic conditions. The front seats have a ratcheting mechanism that can raise the seat almost 50.8 mm, giving you the flexibility to find the perfect seating position and in case you are anything below 5 feet 8 inches, this will pretty much be the most important feature for you. Thanks to the long wheelbase, there is ample legroom at the rear and a wide girth means seating three at the back is quite a comfortable affair but comfort suffers from a bottom cushion that stops mid-thigh. The seats inside the Wrangler are just as versatile as the vehicle itself with the Fold-and-Tumble rear seat, delivering exceptional seating and cargo versatility that offers a spacious 425 litres of cargo room with the rear seats folded and tumbled or up to 714 litres with the rear seat removed.



Jeep Wrangler Sahara dials



Like I mentioned it’s quite a purposeful environment in the Wrangler considering the situations the Jeep can find itself in.  The dash has quite a retro touch to it but in no way does it feel dated. Considering the horror stories we have heard about the quality of plastics in American cars, the Jeep’s insides boast decent quality and feel. The switches and buttons might not have a Germanic precision about them, but nevertheless they go about their functions perfectly. What you also notice is the location of most usual things in the most unusual of places. For example, it took me a while to figure out the power window switches. While it’s either on the armrest or in the centre near the handbrake, in the Wrangler has it bang on the dashboard right below the audio system between the very funky aircon vents. And then try looking for the speakers. Nope you won’t find them in the door cladding or on the parcel tray. Trying the roof would be more apt here. Why the awkward positions you ask? Like I mentioned before, the Wrangler has been known to find itself in the most extreme situations one can think of. One such situation is fording through extremely deep waters in which case the water entering the cabin could damage these components and electricals and hence the lofty locations. 



Jeep Wrangler Sahara



As far as comfort and convenience is concerned, the Wrangler has everything you can ask for. The small steering feels very nice and with audio controls behind the wheel it’s extremely accessible too. Lots of storage places makes it easy to place cell phones and other knick-knacks. While the ergonomics are good, the only fly in the ointment is the narrow foot-well. Now the automatic gearbox means the left foot has a lot of free time to roam about and the best place to keep it is on a dead pedal. Not only does the Wrangler lack one, but it also has a massive transmission tunnel which protrudes inwards in the foot-well giving a very awkward left foot position. 



Jeep Wrangler Sahara engine shot



Diesel 4-Banger and lots of torque


While in international markets, the Pentastar V6 is the most loved engine, here in India its diesels that rule. As a result the Wrangler Unlimited gets a 2.8 litre DOHC Common-Rail diesel unit. Not too big on displacement considering even a Toyota Fortuner boasts a 3 litre engine but talk output, that’s when the Wrangler comes out triumphs. With 200 PS and 460 Nm the Wrangler boasts more than decent figures. But to experience its muscle you really need to bury that throttle thanks to the lazy 5-speed slushbox. There is no tip-tronic, no paddles, just plain ‘ol shifter stuck in ‘D’ with the lever to control the transfer box on the side.


That really a pity considering how much the engine has to offer but the conventional auto-box just bogs it down. With a tip-tronic or the paddles one could have at least tried and kept the engine in its optimum powerband. The problem is the slow response time with the lag getting quite irritating at times. One needs a substantial throttle input to get some response and that not only makes it slow but ends up using more fuel than needed too. 



Jeep Wrangler Sahara action shot



That apart, when urgent performance is needed and you get the pedal married to the metal, the Wrangler squats its rear, makes some wonderful turbo noises and charges ahead. For those not expecting this big behemoth to move, will be taken by surprise. Drivabilty feels good too, thanks to the ample torque and the Wrangler can keep chugging along all day. Braking is just as impressive. With massive discs all round along ESC and ABS, the Wrangler stops hard enough to upset your internal organs.



Jeep Wrangler Sahara action pic



Pothole killer, terrain tamer


It’s a Jeep, it’s meant to go places where most other vehicles choke and seize. And in that department the Wrangler does not disappoint at all. While hunting for a spot to test its skills we came across a construction site which had only big heavy earth movers operating. While it was easy for them considering they use tracks, it was going to be a true test for the Wrangler. Sliding the lever into 4H, the Wrangler took the terrain (or rather lack of it) like a fish to water. Slush, rocks, loose gravel, crazy inclines and then some, everything is tackled with ease.


Every time you think, ‘This is it, now I have done it”, the Wrangler manages to surprise you by wriggling out of what was supposed to be a catch 22 situation. And its got the tools for it as well. Electronic roll mitigation to keep those extreme roll angles in check, brake locking differentials and that fantastic Command-Trac 4WD system which delivers power equally to all four corners which makes it possible to make a molehill out of a mountain. Looking for a premium off-roader which likes getting its wheels dirty? Doubt you’ll find something better!



Jeep Wrangler Sahara rear action shot



And it’s not just good off the beaten path. The Wrangler is surprising compliant on the road too. I was expecting it to wallow like a boat thanks to the long travel suspension, but it seems Jeep has worked hard on getting the damping right, and it shows. Body roll is there, but then it’s not enough to upset you or dampen your enthusiasm should you opt to stitch some corners. Push it too hard though and the traction control cuts in rudely suggesting you to behave. Potholes don’t seem to exist as those meaty 75 profile Goodyears pummel them out of existence.



Jeep Wrangler Sahara static pic



The perfect buy for the adventurist then?       


As far as premium cars are concerned in India, very few of the vehicles are really used for what they are meant for. Supercars worth crores spend more time in the garage and car shows, while the big capable SUV’s are seen stuck in traffic jams ferrying the ‘neta’s” of the world. The Wrangler however is different. With its purposeful styling, it won’t really appeal to the posers of the world and as a result will only be considered by purists who would own it for what it offers which is a very good thing. What remains to be seen is the pricing.



Jeep Wrangler Sahara rear shot



In the end it always boils down to that, doesn’t it? Because of what it offers and the low flash value, the Wrangler will only attract a select band of buyers which makes getting the price right even more important. With a gazillion features and top spec mechanicals it won’t be cheap for sure, but we think anything under Rs. 30 lakh will be an ideal price. With the launch due soon, it remains to be seen if my good friends wet dreams turn into reality or not. Keep watching this space for more! 


Recommended Variant : Wrangler Unlimited 4x4