Sunday Drive by Hormazd Sorabjee: The invincibles
You could miss the ‘Made-in-India’ sign which is innocuously inscribed on the inside of the tailgate, but that actually is the very reason I am driving the Jeep Wrangler again.
So is a ‘made-in-India’ Wrangler such a big deal? Yes and no.
Yes, because this is the first time in the 35-year history of the Wrangler that it’s being produced anywhere outside the United States, but more importantly, this locally assembled version gets the benefit of much lower taxes than an imported one. And it’s the huge customs duties savings which has lowered the Wrangler’s price from ₹63.9 lakh to ₹53.9 lakh (for the Unlimited variant) and ₹69.3 lakh to ₹57.9 (for the Rubicon), that prompted the American brand do the unthinkable, which is make the Wrangler outside the country that symbolises the Jeep spirit. At the end of the day money talks and the cost advantages of local assembly, to the tune of ₹10 lakh could not be scoffed at.
The off-road ride
Built from CKD (completely knocked down) kits, there’s no change in the Wrangler’s spec and it’s identical to the imported one, which is why it’s not a big deal but reason enough to get back behind the wheel of this go-anywhere 4x4. I’m driving the Rubicon variant which has even more serious 4x4 hardware to take the off-roading game a step further.
Buying the extreme Rubicon-spec for long highway trips makes as much sense as taking a Lamborghini to Ladakh. Obviously, the Wrangler doesn’t struggle on any surface, at any altitude or in any weather. But it feels most at home performing in dirt, slush or mud. Hence it would have been unkind not to take the Wrangler into its natural habitat.
Learn Off-Road, a 4x4 training academy have kindly given us the use of their grounds and its assortment tracks is the perfect playground for the Wrangler which feels as happy as a wild boar wallowing in mud.
Incessant rain has turned the mud tracks into gooey chocolate and the grass into a lush green low friction carpet. The serene surroundings are deceptive and can be treacherous if you put a wheel wrong in a lesser 4x4. But, in the Wrangler you have to do something really stupid to get stuck.
It’s astonishing the way the Wrangler simply ploughs through everything. Deep water-filled ditches, even deeper furrows that test the wheel articulation to the max proved hilariously easy for the Rubicon. I did have a moment of panic whilst scrabbling up a steep muddy hill and could feel the all-terrain tyres getting bogged down, but, thankfully I still had some ammo left in the Wrangler’s massive arsenal. Locking both the differentials and selecting low range was all that was needed to extricate the Wrangler from axle deep mud and that too whilst going uphill. Amazing!
What’s it like on-road? It’s about as comfortable on the highway as someone going for a jog in a gumboots. Make no mistake: this is not a car you buy for highway cruising. The choppy ride, the roar from the all-terrain tyres and the utilitarian interior don’t make it as comfortable as, say, the Land Rover Defender. But at the same time, it hammers bad roads into submission, gives you a feeling of invincibility that few other SUVs do and is your ride in a world beset with natural calamities that Mother Nature, overfed with carbon dioxide, is angrily throwing at us.
Wading through floods, traversing collapsed roads and dodging mile long jams by merely cutting through a field gives you a unique sense of self preservation. But, would you buy a Wrangler just for a 0.001 per cent chance of being stuck in some disaster? No. You would want it for its invincible image that is an intrinsic part of the Wrangler’s desirability. It’s comfy enough to ferry a family to the edge of the earth.
And the good thing is it doesn’t cost the earth, so if you want something that embodies the outdoor spirit like no other SUV does and is as ‘Jeep’ as it gets (the design is a faithful expression of its WWII lineage), the Wrangler has a very special appeal.
The views expressed by the columnist are personal
From HT Brunch, August 1, 2021
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