Built for the Wild West but sentenced to a life on the road, the Wrangler could be a country & western ballad
Top speed 107mph
The sweaty-headed banker sitting next to me at a charity comedy evening didn’t know what to make of the first act. “Is it a man?” he whispered, as a pencil-thin female impersonator whooped on to the stage in a blizzard of sequins and intimately subdued body parts. Tina C introduced herself as a “country music artiste from Open Throat Holler, Tennessee”. And with songs like “No Dick’s as Hard as My Life!” she went on to brilliantly eviscerate the country & western stereotype, grinding it under the heels of her rhinestoned cowboy boots.
As I listened, I could only imagine what Ms C would have made of the bizarrely appropriate vehicle I’d pulled up in that night. Jeep’s Wrangler Ultimate is a bristlingly macho, red neck stereotype all of its own. With its bloated wheels, thigh-high bumpers and die-hard looks, it’s a vehicle that’s almost impossible to sit in with a straight face. It feels like a theatrical prop rather than a car. It’s a motor that’s immune to the sensibilities of our times, virtually unchanged from the dark decades before the sexual revolution, when off-roaders were thrashed by men who wore chaps, neckerchiefs and fearsome moustaches even when they weren’t parodying the Village People.
This 4×4 has its roots in the CJ (Civilian Jeep), the public version of the famous US military Jeep first introduced in the Second World War. Since then many variations have come and gone but the basic vehicle has always stayed the same. However, after you’ve taken away the yee-haa, what are you really left with? So much of the all-American Jeep is about image that it’s difficult to remain objective.
The two-door version with clip-on, clip-off roof system that I drove was certainly brilliant fun (once I’d worked out how to get the roof off and found a garage to store it in), though it did sometimes feel more like wrestling than driving. And the 13-year-old boys I ferried around over a long weekend thought they’d died and gone to line-dancing heaven. But is that really what you want in a car as an adult?
The Ultimate weighs 2.5 tonnes and can happily tow a 2-tonne trailer. Its 2.8-litre diesel engine delivers a top speed of 107mph and will take you to 62mph in a dozen seconds. Remarkably, it will do about 30mpg – a figure that’s higher than you’d expect from such an unreconstructed brute.
On the open road the Wrangler Ultimate’s imperious height means it feels slightly unsteady at speed, and the super-responsive steering makes motorway driving twitchy and exhausting. But that’s to miss the point of the Jeep. Beyond all the Wild West posturing the Wrangler is an off-roader with real pedigree. Its hard-plastic interior and no-nonsense finishing are made to be hosed out after a long day in the dust, rounding up those longhorns. It has a ground clearance of almost a foot, it can iron out a 38-degree slope with ease and will wade through water that’s half a metre deep without hesitation.
But trapped on the tarmac, this bulked-up Jeep is like a performing sea lion, a powerful beast sentenced to a life of meaningless tricks. If only Tina C could set it free…
On the road: Do you hate garages?
When it comes to choosing a new car, we consider its safety, its speed and its sexiness. But surely its reliability should be the ultimate arbiter? What Car? examined Warranty Direct’s data on breakdowns for 50,000 insurance policies and found, for the fifth consecutive year, that the most reliable cars on the road were all made by Honda (below).
The most expensive car to repair, not surprisingly is a Porsche, with an average bill of £717. Conversely, Renaults may break down all the time, but at least they are the cheapest to repair – an average of £226 per garage visit.
The endless grey ribbon
Like most of us I spend 50 weeks of the year driving on congested, pot-holed, over-signposted roads. The other two weeks of the year are all I have to remind myself that there is another way. Last month, we headed for the southeastern corner of Spain for two weeks of sunshine. My wife organised the villa, the passports, the dog (and cat) sitter, the holiday clothes… All I had to do was sort out the flights and rent a car. Easy, 20 minutes on the computer and return flights to Alicante for five were booked and a car was reserved at Sixt.co.uk. The only problem was that the villa was actually near Almeria – not Alicante – a mere 300km away. A boring waste of time for the rest of the family, yes. But for me, a chance to drive at speed down a great chunk of the glorious E15/N7. Also known as the Autovia del Mediterráneo, this incredible strip of virtually vehicle-free, velvety smooth tarmac slices through the desert-like scrub and rugged mountains of the most arid corner of Europe. The road is actually 1,300km long and runs from Barcelona in the north to Algeciras in the south. And the best thing of all? I got to do it all again at the end of the fortnight…