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Jeep Wrangler

Rugged off-road cabrio is an interesting, but brave, choice

THE Wrangler can trace its roots back to the original Willys Jeep, first used by the US military in 1941. Fast forward nearly 70 years, and the car is now less utilitarian and much more fashionable.

And with four doors, plus a removable hard-top, the Jeep is a unique proposition.

With the roof down, its extra pair of doors look ungainly and the boxy shape can’t compete with the svelte lines of the other cars on our test, but it does have a trick up its sleeve. Committed sun worshippers can remove all the doors and fold the windscreen flat if they want!

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The Tonka Toy design, massive tyres and exposed hinges will appeal to the inner child in everyone, though, and only the Rolls-Royce commanded more attention in our convoy. Inside, the Wrangler’s practical roots are hard to miss. The upright dash is full of chunky switchgear, but much of it is confusingly arranged and material quality is best described as robust.

The touchscreen sat-nav and audio system in the middle of the centre console costs £1,550, and as the Jeep is a genuine mud-plugger, it also boasts an extra ratio selector for the low-range gearbox.

Rear legroom is the most generous of our quintet, and there’s even room for three passengers to sit across the back bench, which sets the Wrangler apart in this company. Hit the road and the handling and ride quality both bear testimony to the vehicle’s 4x4 roots; it never lets you forget that it was designed with off-roading in mind. There’s too much play in the steering set-up, so it doesn’t inspire confidence, especially on back roads. And the Jeep’s hefty design and high centre of gravity result in ponderous handling and lots of body roll.

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On paper, performance is pretty dismal and the 2.8-litre diesel isn’t the most refined unit, but the Jeep feels willing and can easily cruise at the legal limit. However, as the speed increases, so does the wind noise.

The roof itself is a hard-top design and is removed in three sections. First, the two front panels come off, leaving the front seats exposed to the open air. This takes a few minutes and the lightweight panels have their own storage bags, although they take up a lot of room in the boot.

In this configuration, the Wrangler is best enjoyed at low speeds, as buffeting for the front seat occupants is extreme at motorway pace. Removing the rest of the hard-top requires much more effort, as you’ll need two assistants to help lift it and a Torx-head screwdriver (not included as standard). And once this is done, you’ll have to find somewhere to store it. So driving al fresco in the Jeep takes real commitment, and it leaves you vulnerable to rain showers, too.

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WHY: The only mainstream four-door convertible in the UK also has four-wheel drive. It’s great if you want to get close to nature, but it’s an uncompromising choice.

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