Of all the cars I have owned, my clear favourite was the 1981 Jeep CJ7 I drove around the wild streets of Jakarta. This was one of a long line of Jeep models released on the civilian market after the end of the Second World War, the latest incarnation of which is the current Jeep Wrangler. It was a no nonsense vehicle that inspired a degree of respect from other road users and generally kept me out of trouble. So when I got the chance to try out this latest version, both on the streets of Singapore and off-road over the border, I jumped at the chance.

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As a legendary off-road vehicle designed to handle the extreme challenges of tough terrain, the Jeep Wrangler is the not the first vehicle you would perhaps choose to negotiate the city streets of Singapore. There is little need for four-wheel drive in a modern city with excellent roads and infrastructure – unless you happen to get caught in a flash flood – and the advanced mechanics which ensures stability when crossing through water or driving over uneven ground won’t get a lot of use on a city commute or trip to the shops.

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This is all true, but what it fails to recognise is that even though you are not using the car to its full potential every day, you could if you wanted to. In fact, with such a powerful and robust vehicle in your hands, you might be inspired to explore new terrains at every available opportunity, if not in Singapore, then over the border in Malaysia and beyond. And when you’re not pushing the car to its limits, it’s still a very attractive car to drive on city roads. It might be a rugged off-road vehicle but it’s still modern and comfortable and features all the mod-cons you need from a daily ride (think music system with built in hard drive, aux socket and CD player, arctic air-conditioning and dynamic power steering. It’s also a large vehicle, with the new elongated 4-door version offering tons of space for both driver and passengers, so is a viable family vehicle as well.

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Whereas its increased size makes it a little harder to negotiate tight three-point turns, it also adds gravitas to your road presence – with its raised road position and fearsome front grill and bumper, you’re pretty much guaranteed that no other road user, aggressive bus drivers included, will attempt anything foolish in your immediate vicinity.

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To get a good idea of how my handsome new Jeep would handle both on- and off-road terrain, I took one for a spin around some of the island’s diverse locations, mixing eight lane highways with narrow lanes and alleys to see how she coped. Picking her up from the Jeep Chrysler showroom just off Alexandra Road, I was impressed to see how many variants of the car now exist – with both two- or four-door versions, available with either hard or soft-top, drivers are spoilt for choice. I believe my assigned black four-door soft-top Jeep Wrangler Sahara Unlimited provides a great all-round option for those looking to get the most from their Wrangler experience. Cruise along the coast with the doors and top off, keep cool in the CBD with full AC comfort or let loose on the trail with the whole family – all very possible and good fun too!

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Heading north from Alexandra, I passed through the rolling greenery of Bukit Timah towards Kranji and the Sungol Boleh Wetlands. Although there wasn’t much chance of testing the car’s water clearance capabilities (760mm) it was a chance to leave the high rises of the inner city behind and get out into some of Singapore’s open country. On the highway, the car responded well, providing a smooth, stable and remarkable quiet ride at 90kph. The steering is slightly looser than other cars on asphalt but once you’ve got used to it, it’s a breeze to control for such a sizeable machine.

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The Sungol Boleh Wetlands is one of Singapore’s many National Parks, offering nature lovers the chance to hike through trails along the north east coast, an area rife with dense fauna, varied birdlife and even the odd crocodile. Nearby, the Bollywood Veggies Farm (100 Neo Tiew Road, tel: 6898 5001) serves up some hearty local cuisine in their Poison Ivy Bistro (using homegrown herbs and vegetables from the farm) as well as offering cooking classes and educational tours of the farm. It’s a world away from the modern city and a popular destination for families and school trips looking for a more natural environment and slower pace of life. It was also an ideal lunch stop to refuel before the main leg of the Singapore road trip got underway.

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The plan was to drive south from Kranji along the SLE and CTE before hitting the CBD and the vibrant streets of Chinatown. I’d then head towards the west coast, hitting the Keppel Marina for a coffee before exploring some of the many popular tourist sites on Sentosa. Leaving this tropical playground behind, I’d try out the engine’s power on the ascent of Mount Faber. Before tackling the narrow winding lanes around Coronation Road, where some of the city’s best black and white colonial bungalows would provide a suitably historic backdrop.

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Encompassing the city, the coast, the country and the island’s highest driveable mount, this should provide a decent idea of how the Jeep would handle a mini Singapore adventure.

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Inside the car’s cabin, the finish is what you would expect from an all-terrain vehicle – it’s no-nonsense and no frills but very practical. The ride is comfortable and stable on the road but there are lots of handles to grab once it gets rocky. The music system offered basic functions but no Bluetooth pairing or GPS that I could find – this is apparently available at an additional cost. Acceleration is slightly sluggish if you use your pedal gingerly, but the engine (3.6 litre V6 with 285 horsepower) roars to life with a little encouragement. Whether cruising along the SLE or attacking the windy ascent of Mount Faber, the car responded well, with the only difficulty being a particularly tight U-Turn – the turning circle of the four-door version is not the best, more akin to a bus, making swift about turns on narrow roads an impossibility.

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If you’d like to test-drive the car in the more extreme conditions it’s built for, Jeep have recently added the opportunity to take the car over the border to Malaysia, where an off-road course has been specially constructed not far from the causeway. Here you can test the car’s four-wheel drive capabilities on steep inclines, through water hazards and over uneven rocky terrain. Apart from experiencing the car’s impressive off-road pedigree, this is also pretty good fun and should be tried by all of those considering buying such a machine. Technology like the Trail Rated traction, which keeps the vehicle steadily going forward on slippery or loose terrain (with Hill Descent Control allowing the Jeep to maintain a steady low speed on a steep incline), keeps the driver in control in sticky circumstances. This with the high ground clearance (10 inches) and integrated suspension (which keeps you going forward even when some of the wheels are elevated off the track), ensures a relatively stress-free trail drive. It’s definitely enough to whet the appetite for more serious off-road adventures, and that may be enough for some prospective buyers.

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Returning the car at the end of the day to the dealership, I was suitably happy with the car’s all-round performance. Despite the distance covered, the fuel consumption was fairly decent, considering the large engine, and the car had coped well in all the circumstances I had thrown it in. Now to come back another day to try the two-door version…..

For more information, visit jeep.com.sg

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  Hamish Morgan

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