2014 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Freedom
Still a commanding road presence, the latest special edition Jeep Wrangler, the Freedom, adds further to that with several stylistic references designed to reference the American brand’s Army vehicle heritage. Available only with the thirsty petrol V6, the Freedom is offered as an upgrade over the regular Sport variant and is available in two- or four-door forms. The Jeep Wrangler Freedom is priced from $35,000 (plus on-road costs).
The big kid’s Tonka Truck, Jeep’s Wrangler, has been a definite presence on our roads for a few years now. And the driving experience makes good on its rugged looks.
Playing on that appearance, Jeep has released a special edition, known as the Freedom. For an additional $2500 premium over the Sport variant on which it is based, Jeep has splashed the Freedom with additional equipment, which is largely inspired by Jeep’s illustrious history within the military services of the United States. It is available in both two-door and four-door (Unlimited) forms.
The extra kit over the Sport is largely cosmetic. Outside, Freedom gains a mineral grey painted grille, body-coloured wheelarch flares, ‘Rock Rails’ from the up-spec Wrangler Rubicon, a Mopar black fuel flap and ‘Oscar Mike’ badging (which apparently refers to ‘On Mission’ in military code). There’s also a large, weathered-look ‘Freedom Star’ decal on the bonnet and a smaller version on the rear flank.
Inside the biggest change is to the front seats, which also carry the Freedom Star embroidered on both driver and passenger seats. The seats themselves are re-trimmed in a combination of black leather, vinyl and fabric. In fact, silver and black abound here, the black centre console trimmed with silver stitching as is the steering wheel and front door armrests, with Quicksilver finishes for the air vents and door grab handles.
Your feet, meanwhile, rest on Mopar black ‘slush’ floor mats – the kind that can be hosed off after a day’s off-roading.
The Freedom is powered solely by a 3.6-litre naturally-aspirated V6 petrol engine, producing a grunty 209kW but needing 6350rpm to reach it. Similarly torque is competitive at 347Nm but arrives at a high 4300rpm; not an ideal range for low-speed off-roading.
The tested four-door variant, complete with detachable hardtop, is fitted with a five-speed automatic transmission, though a six-speed manual is also available. Both transmissions feature a secondary gear selector, to transfer the Freedom from rear-wheel drive to four-wheel drive, with a choice of high or low ratio gearing options.
In rear-drive mode, claimed fuel consumption is 11.9L/100km on the ADR Combined cycle.
My first 150km in the Wrangler are largely on sealed Victorian highways, and the Jeep has an immediate presence in the commuting traffic. But the kudos that come with its looks doesn’t forgive its on-road manners, which languishes far behind the best modern medium all-wheel drive SUVs, such as the Mazda CX-5.
From the near-upright driving position, which gives admittedly good forward visibility, the hydraulically-assisted power steering feels detached from the chassis, requiring you adopt a turn and wait approach while the Wrangler catches up with your steering input.
The Pentastar V6 engine, though smooth and punchy with an appealing soundtrack, isn’t suited to the rest of the package, needing revs to shine – a problem exacerbated by the automatic transmission, which lacks at least one ratio compared to its competition.
This may sound harsh, but the Wrangler gives an on-road experience that is reminiscent of the late 1990s off-roaders, which were then just starting to consider on-road refinement as a key for future sales.
Just like those noble beasts, the truck-like on-road performance of the Wrangler, all-jiggly ride and disjointed solid-axle response, is quickly forgotten when tarmac turns to bush track.
Even in the rear-wheel drive mode, the Wrangler performs with aplomb, maximising its ground clearance and axle articulation to clear obstacles. Even the traction control is well-judged, giving the Wrangler more grip without needing to shove the transfer case into four-wheel drive, high ratio.
Do that, however, and it’s clear that the Wrangler is as far ahead off-road as the CX-5 is on-road. Whether crawling up hills (especially when employed with the low-ratio gearset) or using the hill-hold on craggy descents, the Wrangler impresses; even the steering begins to make sense.
Unfortunately, just as we were growing to appreciate the Wrangler’s ability, the tested vehicle failed to start. After being towed back to Jeep headquarters the synopsis was that the security system had stopped talking to the key. As Jeep explains:
"The Wrangler Freedom failed to start because the security system detected an issue with both keys supplied with the car and activated the immobiliser. Two new keys were supplied and programmed for the car, which corrected the problem. The system is designed to protect the customer by preventing an unauthorised or affected key from starting the vehicle."
An easy fix, maybe. But one we couldn't help think would prove might inconvenient were we truly out On Mission...
2014 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Freedom pricing and specifications:
Price: $41,000 (plus on-road costs)
Engine: 3.6-litre V6 petrol
Transmission: Five-speed automatic
Fuel: 11.9L/100km (ADR Combined)
CO2: 276g/km (ADR Combined)
Safety Rating: Four-star (ANCAP)
|What we liked:||Not so much:|
|>> Forward vision||>> Vague on-road steering|
|>> Off-road ability||>> Thirsty engine, outdated gearbox|
|>> On-road presence||>> It stopped working, and we don’t know why|