July 4 Stephen, the Welsh doorman at The Milestone in Kensington, has driven almost as many cars as me. Parking is tight outside the hotel, which means he’s shifted everything from Bentleys to Bugattis to avoid the traffic wardens.
Being a fisherman, he likes a 4×4 and was almost as excited about moving the Wrangler as a Rolls. His verdict? He loves the way the Jeep stands out from the crowd of SUVs, the retro look and the huge, comfortable seats.
I get all that but have to point out to Stephen that the Jeep is also ‘retro’ in the way it drives on-road. It might be cool to look at but even something from Vauxhall is more exciting to steer.
So I’m not sure Stephen will be saving his tips towards buying one of these. Besides, he has access to an old Defender that will take him home to Cardiff on Wednesday night for the biggest game in Welsh football history…
The young and sharp-eyed among you might recognise the unit in the picture above. It’s something more likely to be fitted in a modified Vauxhall Corsa than a Land Rover Defender – a bass box.
The Defender is so noisy in the cabin once you reach 50mph that the hi-fi system needs all the help it can get to force music into your ears. Hence the mega-watt Alpine system – what would Maurice Wilks the original Land Rover designer think of that, I wonder?
Having discovered the manual aerial, I’m now benefitting from Radio 4 in deep bass mode. Not sure that’s what this piece of kit was created for but even The Archers theme tune is ‘kicking’ with bass.
Luxuries like this, plus electric windows and heated windscreen seem a little out of place in a Defender but it’s still way off the sophisticated interior of it’s closest rival, the Jeep Wrangler Overland…
The Wrangler makes me want to watch an episode of MASH – or one of those old war films where John Wayne steps out of a Jeep in full military kit, chewing a fat cigar. Yep, from the front, the basic Jeep hasn’t changed much in 70 years.
What is very different about this 2011 update model is that it’s now available as a five-door too. We’re driving the three-door, which does have rear seats but only offers a decent amount of luggage space when that bench is tumbled forward.
Wayne might have walked better if he had driven this current model too. Yes the Jeep bounces and shimmies on the road but the leather-clad seats of the Overland model are soft and comfortable, soaking up a lot of the pain.
He could have made it to the front line a lot quicker using the standard sat nav and the heated seats are among the hottest I’ve experienced too…
Freezing cold trip to the train station this morning – ice covered Jeep but still slightly more tempting to drive than the 1972 canvass-topped Land Rover parked next to it. Mainly because the Land Rover doors had frozen shut in the first serious frost of the year!
Watching the Wrangler defrost, I noted a few features which are becoming increasingly rare on modern cars. The first is an aerial – remember when every car had a whip of metal waiting to be broken off by a passing vandal?
Inside, there’s also a handbrake. Now, I long for the return of the handbrake because so many new models opt for the electronic version which seems to have a mind of its own most of the time and just isn’t as reassuring as hauling a lever upwards.
So I drove off with the Jeep handbrake engaged this morning. I guess that’s one of the consequences when you climb back into a vehicle with old technology. Still, I miss having something to grab in a crisis…
There’s some writing inscribed on the dashboard grab handle in the Wrangler. It simply states ‘since 1941’. Not even Land Rover can match that – the first Series I didn’t arrive until 1948.
And while the latest Jeep is a darn site more comfortable that that first model, it still looks very much like that 74-year-old machine that drove the Americans into the Second World War.
Oddest thing is, I am actually enjoying the Jeep so much more than expected. It’s attracting plenty of attention too. The Wrangler is almost chic, in a rough and tumble sort of way. The Cotswolds is awash with Land Rovers of every shape and size – driving the Jeep is that little bit different.
As well as that, the Wrangler is also just as capable in the rough stuff as a Defender. It also happens to be a lot more comfortable, thanks to a softer suspension set-up. Both it and the Defender crash over potholes and can be jolly bouncy but somehow the Jeep edges it.
Land Rover can’t introduce their replacement for the Defender fast enough, I’d say. It’s due in 12 months time…
I’ve read the ‘other’ reviews and today I’ve experienced the on-road antics of the Wrangler. Nobody seems to like the ride, the jittering nature of the steering and suspension, or the suspect handling. I’ve read all that and today I’ve felt it first hand.
However, what you have to remember about the Jeep is, that just like the Land Rover Defender, it’s not been designed for tarmac. No, it’s a workhorse first and foremost. They can carpet the floor, stitch leather to the seats and add a decent infotainment system but the Wrangler and Defender are essentially beasts that love the dirt.
Anybody who buys either for serious, everyday use really needs rewiring themselves. So, all I can tell you having driven it is that the Wrangler has been a pleasant surprise. It’s a lot softer on the road than a Defender, rather more comfortable and this 2.8 version is pretty quiet too.
So, yes, it’s a lot better than I expected. My spine hasn’t been jolted out of place, my ears aren’t ringing and I haven’t slipped off a wet road into a hedge. Yet.
Fact is, I’m pleasantly surprised. We have a Defender coming in early February and I’m already wondering how it will compare…