FAUX-wheel drives may be all the rage but Jeep has swum against the tide by making its latest Wrangler more hardcore than the previous model.
The latest Wrangler, which traces its heritage back to the original 1940s military-issue Willy's Jeep, has more off-road ability than ever before, whether it's crawling over rocks, slushing through mud or tackling water crossings.
Hardcore off-road hardware includes a two-speed transfer case, electronic front and rear axle lockers, a limited slip differential, a 760mm wading depth and improved rock-crawling ability.
Jeep engineer Brian Leyes says the latest model has better approach, departure and ramp-over angles than its predecessor, allowing it to tackle more difficult tracks than before. He said the brand was unconcerned by the trend towards softer, city-focused SUVs.
"There was never any discussion of going backwards on capability," he says.
The look of the Jeep hasn't changed much either, with Jeep simply fashioning a new take on the iconic slat grill and round headlights that have been around for more than 75 years.
Exterior designer Mark Allen said the company decided not to stray from the original recipe.
"We wanted to infuse this car with a lot of heritage and a lot of classic design cues. It's one of those rare automotive icons that never went away so it's not retro," he says.
The doors still come off, as does the roof and the windscreen.
Some things have changed, though. Jeep has replaced the zippers on its canvas roof and windows with easier to remove sliding panels, while the windscreen is now much simpler to remove for the complete outdoor experience. The previous model required 28 bolts to be removed to put the windshield down but the new model has only four.
There's also a one-touch folding canvas roof.
Unfortunately things haven't changed a great deal under the bonnet, where the new vehicle makes do with improved versions of its 3.6-litre V6 petrol engine and 2.2-litre diesel. A more powerful 3.0-litre diesel and more efficient Fiat-developed 2.0-litre turbo engine won't be seen on local versions. Jeep says the V6 will get fuel-saving stop-start tech and an eight-speed auto, but won't say how much that will improve fuel efficiency.
The new model is also roughly 90 kilograms lighter.
While the focus has been on improving the Wrangler's off-road capability, Jeep says changes to the suspension make it more refined on the road, while new driver assist technology will be available for the first time when the car arrives in Australia in the second half of next year.
Infotainment has also been upgraded, with the centre touchscreen adopting smartphone-like pinch and swipe ability. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto will also be available.
One vital element left off the 70 safety features available on the Wrangler is automated emergency braking, which becomes mandatory for a five-star crash rating next year. Discussions on how to introduce the feature are continuing.
Jeep says roughly 95 per cent of local customers add accessories to their Wrangler, be it for better offroad ability, improved underbody protection, aesthetics or lifestyle options. As such more than 100 options will be offered locally by Jeep's accessory offshoot Mopar.
Mopar's Todd Beddick says customers on average spend at least $1000 on accessories.
"They want to put their fingerprints on it. They want to take this vehicle and make it their own," he says.