Car manufacturers can learn a lot by breaking down the new Jeep Wrangler, and not just because it's very easy to reassemble it later. (Seriously: opening and closing doors, roof and windshield is very simple.)
The newest generation of this free exploration emblem – the fourth redesign in its 30-year history – is more than an update. It is a demonstration of climbing, tracking and swimming how holistic thinking can change the course of a classic. It sets a new standard for how cars should be conceived, integrated technology and customer voices.
Driving through New Zealand, turning on boulders and fording streams, the Wrangler proved to be a vehicle that takes fans and novices to the sights and camping spots where paved roads do not lead. He does it thanks to a different approach. Most vehicle designs focus on features, discrete innovations or design touches that can be transferred to other vehicles. The Wrangler designers made decisions that contribute to the central purpose of the product: to be a fully developed and usable adventure tool without effort.
Few other cars would benefit from an adjustable center brake light that can slide up and down its mount, accommodating Wrangler owners who buy their own oversized tires. Even less need a waterproof interior: homeless exploration can be a muddy affair, and Jeep wants owners to be able to turn things off without killing the subwoofer or the infotainment system.
The list goes on: A dedicated set of tools in the armrest that allows you to remove the wipers from the windshield (needed to flip the windshield) and unscrew the doors for lighter weight or improved visibility. Dedicated slots for storing those lighter bolts and doors that are easier to move. A backup camera mounted in the center of the rear part that does not prevent you from reaching the tire. Large buttons on the board and knurled knobs that are easy to use with gloves, because cold weather is not always a reason to put the doors back. These are simple solutions that make possessing the Wrangler a richer experience. After all, if removing or installing doors is a pain in the back, it will not bother you, and you will not get the most out of your SUV.
Other features are more universal, although they are still absent from most other cars. The new Uconnect infotainment system allows you to drag and drop icons to organize your screen as you wish. The suspension adjustment, the best hardware and soundproofing measures reduce wind and road noise. After leaving the forests of New Zealand, the car felt as smooth and refined as any SUV of similar size, and equally stable as it floated through tight bends over the lakes that dot the South Island.
Other details make it more capable off the road. In the six-speed manual transmission, you can drive as slowly as .5 mph without traffic jams, crucial to overcoming those rocks. Improved clearance below the vehicle will expand the reach of veterans and keep the noobs out of trouble. A new turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine generates 270 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque, better than the 3.6-liter Jeep Pentastar V6.
Even if many buyers never modify or go off the road with their Wrangler, these touches represent the ability of Jeep to consider and accommodate its fan base. Of course, all cars, to a certain extent, strive to master their mission. Nobody can say that Porsche, Ferrari, BMW or Mercedes do not think about their customers.
But Jeep does it without imposing additional costs or limiting their drivers. While its engineers leave room in the engine compartment for adjustments and modifications, most engine compartments of performance cars are tighter than sardines. Where Jeep includes buttons integrated in the board for up to four accessories (lights, winch, etc.), there is no such accommodation in any other segment. There are no mounting points for radar detectors or fire extinguishers for the multitude of races. Going to the track and want to lose weight by temporarily removing hardware? It will not happen. If you skip the door panel or the additional seat, it will not come back soon. Not that you could seriously have fun anyway: no sports car comes with a built-in roll cage off the assembly line. The Wrangler yes.
That does not mean that all vehicles should be prepared for mods and extreme users. But it sure would be fun to clean the sand of your Lexus after a weekend trip to the beach, or install a new carpet in 20 minutes instead of, well, never.
Off the road again