Parkers overall rating: 3.2 out of 5 3.2

For American off-road fans, the Jeep is considered a way of life - but in the UK there's a distinct absence of rocky deserts, endless dirt roads and nature reserves to roam in, so what's the Jeep Wrangler for? Richard Kilpatrick finds out...

Update 1: Long short-termer

If you're reading this long-term report expecting a very Parkers, unbiased, objective summary of whether a £48,000 Jeep Wrangler makes more sense than a Nissan Qashqai - sorry.

You already know, I already know, even small green aliens from Alpha Centauri know; a Jeep Wrangler is utterly ridiculous for day-to-day driving in Britain.

2018 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Overland, Granite Crystal

I'd even go so far as to suggest the Qashqai is 'a bit much', and we'd probably all be happier driving a nice little VW Up and swapping into a van for trips to IKEA, or a rented Volvo S90 for long motorway hauls, but you want a Qashqai becuase it's a bit SUV-ish and looks handsome on your drive, and I want a Jeep because it looks like it escaped a movie set and is made out of things you can fix with a large hammer. Or a torx set.

A Jeep Wrangler isn't about objectivity. It's about emotion, about a passion for adventures or engineering, about history, about style. As you rightly guess, I'm already a big fan of 4x4s and Jeeps in particular, so this long-term test is really about whether or not the Jeep delivers on the promises it makes for that quite substantial price tag.

Starting at over £41,000 for a basic two-door Sport, rising to over £50,000 for a four-door Rubicon, the Jeep Wrangler has few direct rivals and many alternatives. For off-road prowess, you could choose anything from a Ford Ranger Raptor/Isuzu D-Max XTR to a Foers Ibex; including the sensible options of Toyota Land Cruiser or Mitsubishi Shogun Sport.

For open-air motoring and silliness - Caterham, Morgan, Ariel plus countless more conventional options. For rugged, boxy practicality, a Vauxhall Combo 4x4?

2018 Wrangler Unlimited load area, seats down

Nothing on the UK market blends all of these things into one car, though. The Jeep's only real rival (and even then, the roof doesn't come off) is a used Mercedes G-Wagen. For the cost of a new top-spec Wrangler you'll get a six year old diesel G-wagen, or ten-year old V8 AMG model with almost 100,000 miles on it and probably, pimped out to near-nauseating levels of poor taste. The Jeep looks very appealing in such company.

And yes, if you want to know what it's like to live with a Jeep even if you don't want one, we'll cover that too - but for fairness, understand that I'm biased. You need to be to even consider this thing a rational choice.

Intro: 'my' Jeep.

Given the relatively small cost difference between the higher specifications, I'd always pick the Rubicon; the upgrades are good value (and fully warranted and tested) compared to aftermarket equivalents, and it's the Jeepiest Jeep there is. However, what was available was an Overland, which is the top-spec of road-biased Wrangler.

2018 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited, rear

Due to the pandemic, the loan period (and pool of cars) was somewhat changed, meaning FCA (Jeep's parent company, about to merge with PSA) have to substitute the sensible four-door Overland for a two-door Sahara (with options), both in Granite Crystal grey.

I wouldn't choose this colour myself, as I think the Jeep's size, structure and contrasting black plastic elements look best against bold colours - but there's a subtle maturity to the long-wheelbase four-door one and it's really grown on me.

National Trust 2020 Jeep

Both are specified with the 2.2-litre diesel, which provides acceptable performance, surprisingly good refinement and reasonable economy given even the smaller Jeep is a two-tonne truck.

And that's after the weight reduction for the JL-series, which uses more plastic and alumin(i)um parts in the body.

First impressions of a used Wrangler Unlimited

You can consider these 'used' tests - the four-door Jeep has 15,000 miles on it, the same as my previous long-term C-Class Cabriolet - but they're not 'approved-used' cars, they're press loan vehicles and they've been put through the full gamut of on-road, off-road, test-day abuse before I took the wheel. One careful owner they are not, so any issues with build quality are sure to be revealed here.

With just two weeks to enjoy the four-door, it's been on one trip to Scotland and a couple of trips to Peterborough for shooting test cars - where the ability to remove the roof is very useful for getting a bit of height for roadside shots. Previously I've used roofracks and ladders on 4x4s as a platform; it's one of the advantages of a vehicle like this.

View out of the Jeep Wrangler, Kielder Forest

Over that time, it's returned 36mpg (motorways, cities and a very small amount of off-road), and proved comfortable enough on 10-hour round trips - you can read more detail about what the Wrangler's like there in the main review. It's also made me a little concerned about my actual long-termer's usefulness, as the four-door's seats fold flat into the floor, adding to a decent boot, where the two-door has tumble-forward ones and no boot to speak of.

Jeep Wrangler Unlimited, Scottish Borders

There's a pleasing absence of unexpected noise from the trim, or wear in the suspension, despite the miles (and use), and the interior arguably shows less wear than my Mercedes did at the same age. Setting off at 8am from the Midlands means lunch in Scotland is possible, comfortable and not stressful, at least with the road-biased Overland trim.

The original convertible SUV isn't really a convertible

No matter which Wrangler you choose (Unlimited is the name for the four-door) they all come with a three-piece 'Freedom Top' in the UK. This hardtop can be unbolted (as can the doors and windscreen), but in reality it's a big sunroof for the front and a secure roof for the back, unless you're really into getting rained on or unbolting things often.

Wrangler roof removed, view out

Soft-top options are available in other countries, but in Britain if you want a convertible Jeep, you'll need to shell out for an extra roof from Mopar or an aftermarket supplier. Frustratingly, this means you can't get the most sensible open-air option, the full-length electric sunroof hardtop. Americans may have garages - we Brits have sheds, and they're usually not big enough to store the roof of a Jeep in.

One half of the Freedom Top front panel in the boot of the four-door Jeep

Even then, storage of just the front panels on the go could present a problem. They're huge, and on higher-spec ones, painted so easily marked, but there's no dedicated holder for them. The two-door car comes with a bag, and you can get quick sunshade-like tops, but it's also worth noting that for other markets the four-door Wrangler has a five-piece top so the passengers can enjoy sunshine too, and the front panels on that version are more compact.

As a four-door, practical car with a large front sunroof the Wrangler Unlimited requires surprisingly few compromises for daily duties, though. The name suggests that the two-door Wrangler may, in fact, be limited...

Update 2 (door): four doors good, two doors better? An Orwellian shift in Jeeps...

There's a theme here. Two seems to be the magic number, as two weeks after taking delivery of the Wrangler Unlimited, it was taken away by two socially-distanced professional drivers, leaving a two-door Wrangler Sahara in its place.

From this:

2018 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Overland four-door, granite

To this:

2018 Wrangler Sahara two-door, granite

The rather disconcerting feel of two such similar, yet different vehicles is compounded by the fact that the Sahara is the same shade of grey, has a similar numberplate, and even has the leather interior of the Overland (an option well worth having).

Where the Wrangler Unlimited aims to be an uncompromising, family-friendly 4x4 for people who have had to compromise between 'leisure driving and hobbies' and 'real-world practical needs', the Wrangler two-door is a veritable smorgasbord of compromises made for people who are uncompromising in their pursuit of off-road, lifestyle driving. Roads? Where we're going, we don't need roads. Or luggage space.

Handily, the two-door model came with the proper bag for the roof panels. This is a well-designed, but slightly fiddly zip-up back with foam inserts to keep the painted panels apart - aside from some arguing with the zip, it's easy to use, securely attaches to the headrests and boot floor load retainers, and takes up the entire boot.

Jeep Wrangler freedom top roof panel bag

It also takes most of the view out of the back window. But that's okay, you're driving a Jeep - you only need to see where you're going, man, not where you've been,

2018 Wrangler freedom top storage 2 door

While we're on the subject of seeing where you're going...

Jeep Wrangler windscreen folded down UK

Folding the windscreen requires removal of the wiper arms and four torx bolts in the header rail; the tools do do it are provided and it's very quick, but you'll want the optional retaining straps to drive like this. I'd like to see a quick-release system for off-road driving where you could secure the windscreen to the header rail with catches for most of the course, then uncatch and lower it for tricky sections, but the bulk of the frame does reduce the appeal compared to a classic Jeep or Land Rover going screenless.

Still, it's a great touch from Jeep - awesome for lamping (hunting with lamps), if that's your thing. It helps that the bumper's big enough to hold a muntjac, too (some might argue it's big enough to hold a moose) - though poachers can forget sneaking about in a two-door, you've nowhere to hide things unless you're going to tuck a salmon in the spare wheel cover.

Not planning and going off killing wildlife for sport? The flip-down windscreen is also ideal for our post-pandemic world of drive-in events. Just don't forget your mask.

Realistically, there are plenty of amazing places to drive your Jeep - join the Green Laning Association to learn where and how to drive your 4x4 in the countryside responsibly. We'll be taking a look at some routes that are suitable for most popular SUVs as well as more serious 4x4s in future updates.

Wrangler 2018 GLASS

Two doors good, two seats better

We know the two-door Jeep is the purest form of Wrangler, and really, the compromises are very few in UK-specification Sahara (the mid-range level, there's a Sport below, and the Rubicon or Overland range-toppers for road or off-road perfection above). By far the most obvious issue is the need to carry four people, which in a vehicle this short means there's no boot space.

This is easily resolved if you're alone or just with one passenger, as the seat can be tumbled forward and secured with straps as a small, but very thick, bulkhead - or better yet, removed entirely. My first thought was 'what am I going to do with this seat', and the second was 'I could make a base for it and use it as a sofa'; of course, someone's already done that...

2018 Jeep Wrangler two door with rear seat removed

With the seat removed there's a practical, large load area behind the front seats - you can even fold the passenger front seat back down to get long loads in - and aside from loading up the back blocking the subwoofer (on the two-door, it occupies the space in the boot floor where the four-door has storage and a subwoofer to the side) it's a really practical load carrier for two people and a load of camping, hunting, fishing or sports gear.

In this form, you can pop your roof panel bag to one side, tying it to the roll bars. Once again, the fact that UK Jeeps only ship with the hardtop is infuriating but probably keeps insurance down - a committed Jeeper will want to hand over the roughly £1,500 needed to put a proper soft roof on to get the full out-in-the-wild experience.

There are many aftermarket solutions for storage - Amazon US shows the true expanse, but a few companies offer the rollbar bags and tailgate organisers in the UK.

For comparison, here are the boot spaces available on the four-door and two-door Wrangler without removing any seats...

Wrangler Unlimited boot space

Wrangler Sahara two door boot space seats up

Wrangler Sahara two door boot space seats folded

All seats are equal, but some are more equal than others

Perhaps the biggest shock in the Wrangler - of any level - is that you've got to move bits of plastic and metal around to adjust the seats. Not many bits, either - the driver's seat has fore-aft, backrest recline (with a pull tab to release the latch, not a rotary control), height and lumbar support. The passenger has fore-aft and recline only, and the rear passengers have seats - no recline, despite the open space of the Jeep. But the space available to all is quite equal, in that rear passengers in a two-door Jeep feel quite boxed in, and front passengers also feel quite boxed in by the small footwells and close pillars.

Drivers don't care as a rule, because they're driving, but even then the Wrangler's footwells have quite a big intrusion on the left, where your clutch foot would normally rest on a manual - even on an auto, there's no easy place for normal adults to rest their spare foot, and the long wires in braided surrounds for the door wiring can nibble passenger's calves without the focus of pedals to press.

Shorty's got the moves - rather a lot of moves

Swapping straight into the short wheelbase Wrangler from the Unlimited, there's a marked difference in handling. This one has 12,000 miles on it, but feels less planted and there's far more movement of the body in reaction to road surface imperfections. In town, it's a non-stop stream of information, ajustment, more information, and you're grateful in poor weather for the JL Wrangler's permanent 4x4 option. It may be placebo effect, but I felt that the Wrangler two-door handled motorway slip roads, roundabouts and twisty roads better with all-wheel drive on, even in conditions where you wouldn't normally bother.

It's not that odd - my 1998 Cherokee was much the same, but then it had a ferocious 4.0-litre straight-six and less technology stopping the wheels from spinning. They share the same solid beam axles, steering architecture and track bar concept as well - though the Wrangler bits look meatier than I remember on the Cherokee.

2018 Wrangler front knuckle and suspension

From the driver's seat it's entertaining, exciting, you feel involved and in control. Passengers get less out of it, and unless you've got someone who loves to be driven in that passenger seat, expect complaints - moreso than you'd get in the long wheelbase Unlimited, and I'd wager more than you'd get in a short wheelbase Land Cruiser.

Again, that removable roof makes all the difference here - where the Land Cruiser may as well be a tall, wobbly Yaris, the Jeep is an experience, an identity and a lifestyle statement as well as a thoroughly competent off-roader.

Green Laning Association 25 years - Wrangler

On-road it's a different matter - for an objective take, read the full review, but as a 4x4 enthusiast I find the short wheelbase Wrangler rides pretty well for a car with solid axles at either end, is responsive and most importantly, brakes predictably and safely even at legal maximum speeds. I really enjoy driving it, but it's a moshpit, not an opera.

The four-door is more stable, relaxing and comfortable and that's the one you should choose as a practical, everyday, long distance and family car, though; the two door's advantages off-road are marginal compared to the disadvantages on-road and at IKEA (other sources of impractically-large but often-bought items are available).