Just how do you test an icon like the Jeep Wrangler? Well, you bring in an even more extreme beast of course. Let the games begin…
One of the biggest perks of working for an automotive publication is that you can get away with some plain old madness every now and then. Now, in consumer interest, we regularly carry out sensible reviews and comparison tests to help you folks make informed decisions about your dream cars and bikes.
So, given that we ordinarily bring you everything you need or want to know about the exotic, exciting, and adventurous world of automobiles, we hope that you’ll cut us some slack if and when we decide to sidestep any sense of judgment and just let our hair down and have some fun! But, believe it or not, there is some method in our madness…
Now, the Jeep Wrangler is an icon and a legend in its own right – with no worthy rival in the Indian market. So, it would be grossly unfair to compare it to something available at a similar price – or, for that matter, to a Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen, which costs more than twice as much.
And, therefore, we called in some help from ATV specialist Polaris, but not for a direct comparison mind you. The Polaris RZR and the Jeep Wrangler have little in common – one is a passenger car, an off-road legend, and a pioneer of four-wheel-drive vehicles, while the other is a dedicated off-road vehicle, specially built to go where no car can go.
Okay, let me be honest here, this whole exercise is an attempt to answer a question that no one has asked – how do these two very different vehicles fare against each other? But, hey, cut us some slack. How else would you put an icon to the test?
When you’ve got 78 years of experience of doing something, you’re likely to be very good at it. Jeep, of course, has been consistently working through the generations of the Wrangler to improve it – perfect it.
What we have here is the brand-new Wrangler JL Unlimited Sahara. Now, since this isn’t the Rubicon model, it doesn’t have front and rear locking differentials and a front sway bar that you can electronically disconnect.
The Wrangler Sahara comes with two engine options and two types of four-wheel-drive systems. The one that is available in India is powered by a 2.0-litre 266bhp petrol engine, and features what Jeep refers to as the Selec-Trac 4x4 System. It allows the Wrangler to operate normally in two-wheel-drive mode, while you can switch to High Range Four-Wheel Drive on the fly at speeds of up to 72km/h.
Now, that’s pretty impressive, for it allows you the opportunity to switch to 2WD mode on dirt trails, right until you need more traction and power going to all four wheels.
So, at first, we decided to hit the dirt in two-wheel drive mode to have a bit of fun!
As you may have guessed, first, we opted for rear-wheel-drive mode to have a bit of tail-happy fun – and the Wrangler was only too happy to oblige. In fact, it was more than a willing companion – it was rather adept at power sliding in the dirt. You only need to prod it with your right foot and it’s happy to play along. The chassis balance is excellent, and the handling is always predictable and composed – even when you’re deliberately fooling around to get some action shots for the camera. And, despite its rather tall stance and long-travel suspension, it’s beautifully balanced and worthy of high praise. To see it in action is like witnessing a professional dancer at work – it leaves you awestruck! And the interesting thing is that it’s a high-riding four-wheel-drive vehicle, which means that it shouldn’t be so comfortable and easy to slide.
After some horsing around, we got down to business and switched to 4WD for some cross-axle obstacles, engaging low range on the 4x4 transfer case. In this mode, the Wrangler offers incredible grip and low-end torque – all you have to do is simply touch the throttle to traverse over steep inclines and obstacles.
While the 400Nm of peak torque comes in at a rather high 3,000rpm, it’s the Wrangler’s clever ECU that modulates power intelligently – allowing the engine to deliver just enough power to scale an obstacle with little or no input from the driver.
Of course, what helps is the suspension setup of the car, which allows for phenomenal levels of articulation. The solid axles (Dana 30 front and Dana 44 rear) give the Wrangler an immensely balanced off-road ability. A closer look at the wheels when the suspension is compressed on one side will give you an idea of its flexibility, which allows the wide 255/70 section tyres find traction under the most demanding conditions.
Honestly, all this is a little too easy for the Wrangler, and you can tackle these obstacles with the four-wheel drive system in high range even.
Now, our favourite off-road playground – the Off-Road Adventure Zone (ORAZ) on the Gurgaon-Faridabad highway in the NCR – had a set of fresh chicken holes that seemed fairly deep, so after having a go in the Wrangler, we were left quite impressed. For instance, if you take any premium 4x4 SUV, such as the Toyota Fortuner, over these tracks, you will definitely be left with a scraped underbody. But not the Wrangler! Its wheels just dropped in and out of these ruts in an absolutely fuss-free manner – no drama, no wheel slip, nothing!
It’s a similar story when you head into and out of steep gorge-like entry and exit points and inclines. Of course, the Wrangler’s high stance and well-designed bumpers allow for great approach, departure, and break-over angles, which complement the long travel suspension to ensure that the Wrangler (even in the stock specification) is capable of some impressive off-roading.
But that’s not all! Another splendid aspect of the Wrangler is the way its wheels and tyres, as well as the steering and throttle response, make you feel at one with the machine and give you an incredible amount of feedback about every inch of the vehicle’s movement.
There are a lot of off-roaders out there, but it’s this combination of off-road ability and feedback that makes the Wrangler the legend that it is.
A different breed
Now, the Polaris RZR is a whole other breed of vehicle – it has a suspension setup with incredible travel, excellent approach & departure angles, and no bodywork at all. In other words, you don’t have to worry about damaging anything, should you decide to push it to the limit.
You’d think that this four-seater variant, with its extra-long wheelbase, would struggle off-road. But nothing could be further from the truth. Its incredible 343mm ground clearance and suspension ensure that you don’t bottom out anywhere, even over the tight chicken holes.
But it’s not all smooth sailing for the Polaris though. It is an ATV after all, and it does have its own set of limitations. For starters, it has a very narrow track, which is a problem, especially considering its length. Over the chicken holes – since the camera crew requested maximum tilt angle – I really was afraid of it flipping over. The flip side of this (literally) is that even if it were to ‘flip over,’ there really wouldn’t be any real damage – even for the driver, as long as you’re belted in, you keep your arms in the vehicle and wear a helmet.
The fun really begins when you start to push the Polaris at higher speeds. With its feather-light body and extremely lively 1.0-litre turbocharged engine, the RZR XP 4 can get up to some really fast speeds in an instant – but the moment you approach a wide bend, it’s time to slow down, as there’s a fine line between pulling a slide and ending up on one side.
This kind of behaviour is not unique to the RZR XP 4 and is usually associated with all high-riding vehicles with narrow footprints and rather long bodies. But, if you really want to have fun with the RZR, all you need to do is prod the throttle a little and it really comes alive – a fact that’s exaggerated by the wind-in-the-hair experience (or wind-in-the-helmet more like it) that you have since there’s no real bodywork to speak of.
At lower speeds, it really doesn’t offer all that much feedback, as it crushes any and all obstacles in its wake. Of course, as an ATV, it’s far more capable off-road than the Wrangler – owing to its narrower footprint, which makes it easier for it to enter dense foliage and tight off-road tracks. It really can go where no other car can, again courtesy of its lack of bodywork and lightweight.
Most SUVs and off-roaders in India are diesel powered, and while the low-down torque makes off-roading easier, it also makes them a bit dull when it comes to the fun stuff. The duo that we have here, with their petrol engines, bring back the fun of off-roading – both at low and high speeds.
The Wrangler’s petrol engine may only displace 2.0 litres, but the way its turbocharger delivers power not only sounds great but also gives it impressive pace for a vehicle of its size and weight. It makes driving, both on the road and off it, a lot of fun.
While the Wrangler’s high-speed stability on tarmac is great, it’s tail-happy attitude on the dirt makes it incredibly lively and a whole lot of fun. Although Jeep has managed to wonderfully mask its weight around wide sweeping bends on the highway, you do sense its weight shift from side-to-side when you encounter tighter turns.
And while there’s no doubt that its ride quality is decent, but, at the same time, it’s also very clear that this is no luxury SUV. What it is, really, is a kind of power ballad for Jeep – an emotional rock song, one that Jeep’s been singing for many decades, all the while making sure that its character is well and truly intact with every remake. In its own way, it’s a beautiful, unadulterated automobile – a species on the verge of extinction, owing to modern automotive norms and regulations.
The Wrangler makes no attempt at hiding its intentions – right from its design to its drive dynamics, it screams off-road. And the moment you get there, be it over slow obstacles or high speed trailblazing, the Wrangler really comes into its own and reminds you of why it’s a legend.
What’s more, it’s now better built than ever before, with an interior that finally feels up to the mark. It has some cool features too, such as a detachable roof, a sweet-sounding Alpine sound system, a swanky infotainment system, and a crystal clear digital display that can even show navigation maps between the two analogue dials – a perfect combination if you ask me. This particular Sahara model for India comes with a couple of options, including leather upholstery as standard.
The Polaris RZR, on the other hand, is not a road-legal machine. It is a dedicated off-roader and a very competent one at that. Although it can even be used as a rally racer, given its agile nature. It operates in a niche – its clientele range from the military to farm owners and adventure park operators to rally drivers. And, interestingly, all of them swear by it. It’s just that it is a bit out of reach for normal people.
Mind you, the Wrangler is no different in India! At ₹63.94 lakh (ex-showroom), thanks to our tax structure, it too is far from the reach of the average customer. Also, given its off-road focused nature, it demands committed customers with big pockets, and the fact is that most customers with over ₹60 lakh to spend would prefer a luxury SUV.
If only we could have a true-blue Jeep like this for more reasonable money – much like how it’s positioned in its home market of the US. But, unfortunately, with our duty structure, we can’t. Damn, this high-powered New Year feature is ending on a rather depressing note, isn’t it? Well, here’s wishing you a Happy New Year anyway…
If, in 2020, you can make your way into the cockpit of either of these two legendary machines you won’t be disappointed – we can guarantee you that!
Our favourite off-road playground – the Off-Road Adventure Zone (ORAZ) in Gurgaon – had a set of fresh chicken holes that were perfect to test the suspension articulation of the Polaris.
- Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara
- Polaris RZR XP 4 Turbo
Engine: 1,995cc / 4 Cylinders / 16 Valves / DOHC / Turbocharged
Transmission: 8-Speed Automatic with Twin-Speed Transfer Case / Four-Wheel Drive
Power: 268bhp @ 5,250rpm
Torque: 400Nm @ 3,000rpm
Approach Angle: 41.8°
Ramp Over Angle: 21°
Departure Angle: 36.1°
Ground Clearance: 254mm / 246mm
Price: ₹63.94 Lakh (Ex-showroom)
X-factor: The Wrangler is beautiful, unadulterated, and a very capable off-roader, irrespective of which variant you choose.
Engine: 925cc / 2 Cylinders / Turbocharged
Transmission: Four-Wheel Drive
Power: 165bhp @ 8,000rpm
Torque: 155Nm @ 5,400rpm
Approach Angle: 34°
Ramp Over Angle: -
Departure Angle: 22°
Ground Clearance: 343mm
Price: ₹35.5 Lakh (Ex-showroom)
X-factor: Light and compact with great off-road suspension setup, the RZR XP 4 is in a league of its own as an off-roader.