Jeep tweaks its tough heritage
Journalist Sally Cox with a new JK Wrangler (white) and an older TJ Wrangler (green) Picture: Ben Crabtree/The West Australian

When the going gets tough the tough get going. That's why there are Jeeps.

First used by the US Army in World War II, the Jeep has since provided rugged all-terrain capability for civilians.

It is the world's oldest SUV, inspiring the likes of Land Rover and Toyota LandCruiser.

Quite simply, it is the grand-daddy of them all.

I bought my Jeep when transferred to the Pilbara for work. The first challenge for my 1997 TJ Jeep Wrangler Renegade was cyclonic flooding, courtesy of Cyclone Monty.

The road into Karratha was a couple of feet under water, but the Jeep treated the obstacle with contempt.

Later we explored the spinifex-covered plains and climbed the rugged red rocks of the Pilbara in search of fish, views and camping sites. The Jeep never missed a beat.

Back in the city in 2010 the exterior stood up to the biggest hailstones Perth had experienced better than the shiny sedans parked next to it.

The downside of owning what has been described as the last real Jeep was the lack of comfort on the long drives to and from the Pilbara and the running costs - my Jeep is a gas guzzler.

So I was interested to try the 2012 JK Jeep Wrangler Sport.

Like my model, it was a two-door six-cylinder petrol automatic convertible hard-top with removable roof, doors and fold-down windscreen.

Touted as the most refined on-tarmac Jeep yet, it was wider, taller and longer than my Jeep with a new, more powerful 3.6-litre V6 engine.

Inside was a basket-full of fruit, including a complicated media centre with Bluetooth, audio streaming, voice recognition and reversing camera screen.

There was even an LED compass display.

The luxurious interior is a bid to match the ever-evolving consumer demands for the electronic gadgets.

First impressions aroused my suspicions. Beginning with the door handles there was a lot of plastic instead of the metal I was used to.

Even the side step was plastic. For me the words "plastic" and "Jeep" don't go together.

Had the makers compromised the Jeep's core values in an attempt to match the popular SUVs?

Ignoring the mind-boggling array of buttons on the steering wheel and console I got behind the wheel noting that, like my 15-year-old Jeep, you still had to slam the door closed.

I started the engine and drove off. Ahh. That was more like it. All very familiar, but with less engine noise; sort of like a tractor with an efficient noise-reduction cabin.

There was the same loose steering - a bonus off-road but disconcerting on the highway.

Despite the bigger wheels and wider chassis the turning circle was as tight as my smaller Jeep.

It makes it great in the city for parking and cross country for squeezing around obstacles.

But the rear visibility was terrible. The big spare wheel mounted on the back was hard to see around; not helped by the heavily tinted windows - especially at night.

I didn't take the test Jeep off-road but I don't doubt it would be as capable, if not more so, than my old campaigner.

However, I did attempt to remove the hard-top to enjoy driving with the wind in my hair on a warm spring day.

It wasn't a good plan.

It takes about 15 to 20 minutes to remove the one-piece hard-top from my old Jeep. The 2012 hard-top comes in three parts and I gave up after spending about 20 minutes trying to get the first component off and then battling for another 20 minutes to get it back on again.

The three-part configuration is good for storage and more convertible choices, but would it be worth the effort?

The new Jeep did have it over the old one in fuel consumption - by at least three or four litres per 100km.

There is no doubt about the ancestry of the new Wrangler. It's still a robust four-wheel-drive for the adventurous, but the plastic and computerisation worry me.

I have to confess I'd rather my old classic - it's somehow more of a Jeep.

The West Australian

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