For the first time, Jeep's authorized local distributor, Auto Nation Group, is finally offering a Wrangler variant that costs just below P2 million. The Wrangler Unlimited Sport, at P1.99 million, is finally within reach of buyers who want more than the usual SUVs.
One look at it and you know the Wrangler means business, its black fender flares and visible body-on frame design egging you to take it off-road—stepboards be damned if it means sacrificing the vehicle's 220mm ground clearance. The absence of mud flaps does mean you're likely to get the body shell and the exterior door handles muddied, while the lack of grab handles make getting on board a chore. In addition, the narrow cut of the rear doors could make ingress a difficult task for the less limber.
Once you're inside, it becomes evident that the Wrangler is ready to take off its three-piece Freedom Top hardtop anytime and anywhere—provided you've brought along the complimentary removal kit—because it doesn't have any insulation whatsoever. The power-window switches are on the center console between the A/C vents up front, and at the back of the center console box. The speakers of the Uconnect 135 audio system are on top of the dashboard and in the overhead sound bar attached to the factory-installed roll cage. Also, while the Jeep comes with a carpeted floor, it's removable and has drain plugs for a wash-out interior.
Chrysler's 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 resides under the hood and is paired to a five-speed automatic transmission with manually selectable gears. Off-road, the mill proves more than capable of pulling the Wrangler's 2,540kg mass in mud and over rocks. In Metro Manila traffic, though, the Jeep's built-in fuel consumption meter told us that the best we could do was 3km/L. Bummer.
On tarmac, the Wrangler's steering feels languid especially after you make a turn, because the wheel doesn't return to the center as quickly like in most cars. Then again, the Wrangler isn't like most cars. The solid-axle front and rear suspension feels firm. On the downside, throttle response feels sluggish, particularly from a standing start.
Minor nitpicking aside, the Wrangler 'suffers' from these because it's really meant to go off the beaten path. If you want to be coddled on the road, you're better off in a Chrysler 300C. But if your kind of weekend fun—or your day-today business, for that matter—requires you to climb mountains or ford streams, then the Jeep's 'failings' are needed.
There's no other vehicle on the market for you right now that does what the Wrangler Sport Unlimited can, for less than P2 million.
Or is there?
SPECS: JEEP WRANGLER UNLIMITED SPORT
Engine: 3.6-liter DOHC V6
Transmission: 5-speed automatic
Power: 284hp @ 6,350rpm
Torque: 346Nm @ 4,300rpm
UP NEXT: Toyota FJ Cruiser
The FJ Cruiser is a retro-style midsize SUV based on the Land Cruiser Prado, but styled and designed to perform like the classic—and original—Land Cruiser. As such, it has the same grille-and-headlight arrangement, the 'Toyota' name spelled out across the grille instead of just the corporate emblem, and the white top—albeit done clumsily since the classic FJ had a rain gutter all around that practically divided the roof from the rest of the body.
Open the clamshell doors and the FJ Cruiser is surprisingly roomy inside. The absence of the B-pillars may seem disconcerting at first, but Toyota claims the use of high-tensile-strength steel makes up for it in terms of strengthening the cabin overall. Also, opening the rear door requires opening the front one first, which could be a problem in tight parking spots. While the absence of stepboards doesn't compromise the 229mm ground clearance, boarding the vehicle is made easier by the grab handles mounted on the A-pillars.
Inside, everything is where it should be and within reach, with the body color finish on the center console and door-panel trim adding a touch of character. It's just a shame that the steering wheel is devoid of remote controls for the audio and Bluetooth systems. The small greenhouse and the thick A-, C- and D-pillars compromise visibility and make reversing the vehicle a chore. Good thing there's a backing-up camera—with its monitor cleverly integrated into the rearview mirror.
The same 4.0-liter 1GR-FE V6 in the current Land Cruiser and Lexus GX400 propels the FJ Cruiser with 268hp and 380Nm. Mated to it is a five-speed auto transmission with selectable low gears to match its transfer case for going off-road. The 3,955cc engine ably pulls the 2,510kg mass out of tight spots, but it laughs in the face of fuel economy.
Save for a brief jaunt in the mountains of Tanay, this unit was driven mostly in the metro, and while it has no fuel consumption meter, we noticed that on a weekday drive from Manila to Resorts World and back (through Quirino and Osmeña highways in the middle of the NLEX-SLEX Connector Road construction), the fuel gauge indicated a quarter-tank consumption of gasoline.
As it is, though, despite its SUV underpinnings—or perhaps because of it since it is a Land Cruiser Prado underneath the sheet metal—the FJ Cruiser hardly feels like a truck behind the wheel. The steering feels mostly neutral and returns to the center after turning. The interior fitments are topnotch, so save for its size and appalling fuel consumption, the vehicle is surprisingly easy to live with. At P1.844 million, it's also a bargain, which is why it's so popular to begin with.
Still, if only it had the Land Cruiser Prado's 3.0-liter diesel mill instead...
SPECS: TOYOTA FJ CRUISER
Engine: 4.0-liter DOHC V6
Transmission: 5-speed automatic
Power: 268hp @ 5,600rpm
Torque: 380Nm @ 4,400rpm
UP NEXT: The Verdict
Both the Wrangler Sport Unlimited and the FJ Cruiser are throwbacks to a time when going off-road meant you were limited to a handful of vehicle brands and models—two of which were the highly capable ancestors of our Big Test candidates. With the Wrangler Sport Unlimited priced a little below P2 million, these icons can now go on a proper head-to-head battle. While the Jeep and the Toyota cater to the same niche market, how they approach the challenge differs greatly. And this is where it gets interesting.
The Wrangler soldiers on with the same formula it has used for decades, and that's to create a sport-utility vehicle—the segment it actually pioneered, when you come to think of it—with no pretensions of being a car, though it does have some of creature comforts to keep up with the time. The FJ Cruiser, on the other hand, has a car-like demeanor despite its hefty body. Sure, it mimics the timeless design of the original Land Cruiser, but that's about it. At the end of the day, it is far removed from the vehicle it honors when it comes to size, accoutrements and fuel economy.
Choosing a winner is tough because both models have their respective winning qualities, but we'd have to go with the Wrangler. Sure, the FJ Cruiser looks awesome and can intimidate even the toughest jeepney driver. It will also become a collector's item soon. The Wrangler, however, offers more: interior visibility, pedigree (over 70 years in production), and fuel economy—not by much but something is better than nothing. Best of all, you can take the hardtop and the doors off, and when it comes to fun, going topless and nearly naked is what it's all about.