Sunday Drive by Hormazd Sorabjee: The Invincibles

You can miss the “Made-in-India” sign that is harmlessly inscribed on the inside of the tailgate, but that’s actually the reason I drive the Jeep Wrangler again.

So is a “made-in-India” Wrangler such a big deal? Yes and no.

Yes, because it’s the first time in Wrangler’s 35-year history that it’s manufactured anywhere outside the United States, but more importantly, this locally assembled version benefits from much lower taxes than an imported one. And it is the huge tariff savings that have lowered Wrangler’s price from 63.9 lakh more 53.9 lakh (for the Unlimited variant) and 69.3 lakh to 57.9 (for Rubicon), which made the American brand do the unthinkable, which is to make Wrangler out of the country that symbolizes the Jeep spirit. At the end of the day, money and the cost benefits of local church talk, to the tune of 10 lakh could not be mocked.

The terrain tour

Built from CKD (completely decomposed) kit, there is no change in the Wrangler spec and it is identical to the imported one, which is the reason why it is not a big deal but reason enough to sit back behind the wheel of this 4×4 that goes where any. I run the Rubicon variant which has even more serious 4×4 hardware to take the terrain game a step further.

Buying the extreme Rubicon specification for long highway trips makes as much sense as taking a Lamborghini to Ladakh. Obviously, the Wrangler does not fight on any surface, at any height or in any weather. But it feels most at home to perform in dirt, slush or mud. Therefore, it would have been unfriendly not to take the Wrangler into its natural habitat.

Learn Off-Road, a training academy for 4×4 has kindly given us the use of their land and its range tracks are the perfect playground for the Wrangler who feels as happy as a wild boar wallowing in mud.

Constant rain has turned the clay courts into slimy chocolate and the grass into a lush green low-friction mat. The peaceful surroundings are misleading and can be treacherous if you put a wheel wrong in a smaller 4×4. But in Wrangler you have to do something really stupid to get stuck.

Wrangler hammers bad roads to submission

It’s amazing how Wrangler simply plows through everything. Deep water-filled ditches, even deeper grooves that test the wheel articulation to the max turned out to be funny easy for Rubicon. I had a moment of panic when I climbed up a steep muddy hill and could feel the terrain tires getting stuck, but thankfully I still had some ammunition left in Wrangler’s huge arsenal. Locking both the differentials and choosing low range was all that was needed to get the Wrangler out of shaft-deep mud and that too when it went uphill. Fantastic!

Experience on the road

How’s it going? It’s about as comfortable on the highway as someone jogging in rubber boots. Make no mistake: this is not a car you buy for highway cruising. The choppy ride, the roar of the off-road tires and the utilitarian interior do not make it as comfortable as, for example, the Land Rover Defender. But at the same time, it hampers bad roads to submission, gives you a sense of invincibility that few other SUVs do, and is your ride in a world full of natural disasters that Mother Nature, overloaded with carbon dioxide, angrily throws at us.

Wading through floods, crossing collapsed roads and avoiding mile-long traffic jams by simply cutting through a field gives you a unique sense of self-preservation. But would you buy a Wrangler just for the 0.001 percent chance of ending up in a disaster? No. You would want it for its invincible image that is an inherent part of Wrangler’s desirability. It is convenient enough to ferry a family to the edge of the earth.

And the good thing is that it does not cost the earth, so if you want something that embodies the outdoor spirit that no other SUV does and is as “jeep” as it gets (the design is a faithful expression of its WWII lineage), Wrangler has a very special attraction.

The views expressed by the columnist are personal

From HT Brunch, August 1, 2021

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