Back-to-basics 4x4

Mean, green off-road machine ditches luxury of Wrangler to create the ultimate utilitarian 4x4.

Overall Auto Express Rating

3.0 out of 5

If you like refinement in your 4x4, you’ll hate the Sarge! It’s noisy and its on-road handling is from a bygone age. However, as once rugged off-roaders become increasingly sophisticated, its go-anywhere appeal will attract buyers. And its incredible off-road ability and ‘wipe clean’ nature will give Jeep a unique offering in utilitarian vehicles.

With its unique wartime heritage, Jeep has always had a hard-man image. Yet even the Wrangler – the US firm’s most rugged offering – has been growing increasingly soft of late. So it’s hardly surprising that Jeep is looking to toughen up its act. And in traditional US military style, it’s expecting the Sarge to lead the way.

It’s currently a concept that’s designed to show how a civilian version of the firm’s J8 military vehicle would look. And although it’s Wrangler-based, the Sarge redefines the word utilitarian.

At first glance the running boards look like painted scaffolding poles, while the bumpers are metal girders. You do get doors, albeit flimsy ones to access the two front seats. And although the Sarge has a fixed roof, the load bed at the back has old-style canvas sides that you roll up.

Of course the paint finish helps the macho look, as do the tongue-in-cheek military logos on the bodywork and jokey ‘bulletproof glass’ sticker on the plastic window behind the two seats. Overall, it looks like a refugee from Eighties action series The A-Team.

If the exterior makes a regular Wrangler look as macho as a pair of slingbacks, the feeling inside merely emphasises it. You don’t get anything as pampering as carpets, for instance. In fact, there’s no floor covering at all, simply painted metal. This aside, there are standard Wrangler seats and, bizarrely for such a big vehicle, the same slightly restricted driving position.

Beneath the bonnet is the standard 2.8-litre diesel which produces 174bhp and 400Nm of torque. But elsewhere the Sarge has undergone some significant modification. The bodywork sits on a frame that’s been beefed up to military specification. The Wrangler’s coil springs have been abandoned in favour of tough old-school leaf items. And there are 17-inch wheels rather than the regular 16-inchers, as well as larger front disc brakes.

The results don’t do the machine’s on-road handling any favours. It can’t soak up bumps very well and feels skittish and unsettled. However, take it off road and the Sarge comes into its own, offering even more all-terrain ability than the legendary Land Rover Defender. The Command-Trac four-wheel drive and Trac-Lok limited-slip rear differential mean the Sarge will make light work of the sort of ground that would see most SUVs surrender on the spot.

With hardly any sound deadening, the noise of the diesel makes small talk in the cabin difficult. But with so much torque mated to a five-speed auto, what this Jeep lacks in sophistication, it compensates for with sheer grunt.

Jeep has yet to confirm whether a civilian J8 will ever be seen on a green lane near you. If it does, it’ll lift macho motoring to a whole new level.

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