In the days when a Jeep was issued, not sold, it was your basic go-anywhere go-kart, with all the comfort and luxury of a powered skateboard.

These days there are off-roaders that'll take you almost anywhere a Wrangler can, in leather-upholstered, air-conditioned luxury, and the Wrangler has had to up its game.

So, for 2012 the open-top icon that, for many people, is still the 'real Jeep' gets a new, more efficient turbodiesel and an all-new interior, while leaving the distinctive exterior styling almost untouched - Chrysler has already learned to its cost not to mess with success.

A new 2.8-litre 'Cheetah' engine replaces the previous 'Panther' diesel; it comes with impressive credentials, notably 147kW (12 percent better than the previous model) and 460Nm of stump-pulling, rock-climbing torque, when mated to a five-speed automatic transmission.

It has also been 'Africa tuned' for the South African market and is quite happy on a diet of 500ppm diesel - one of the few current-generation diesels that is - while returning a claimed 8.1 litres per 100km and emitting 213g/km of CO2.

It drives all four wheels through a second-generation Command-Trac NV241 part-time, two-speed transfer case with a 2.72:1 low-range gear ratio - which means that if it can get a grip it'll go up the side of a house.

The all-steel body - in two-door Wrangler and four-door Wrangler Unlimited format - hasn't changed; it still has solid axles, removable doors with exposed hinges, a removable hard-top and fold-down windshield; the Wrangler is still the ultimate bush buggy with its signature seven-slot grille, classic round headlights and trapezoid wheel arches

In fact the only exterior change is that the hard top is now body-colour instead of as-moulded black - which is by no means as simple as it sounds because the painting processes for the steel body and the composite hard top are totally different.

The interior, however, is a whole new story with a redesigned instrument panel, upgraded materials, improved ergonomics, new storage areas and a larger rear window for improved visibility.

There's a new, lockable console, 12-volt accessory outlets and auto aircon in a redesigned centre stack that's easier to reach and operate, while ugraded door armrests provide a comfortable place to brace your elbows across the rough stuff.

New steering-wheel controls allow the driver to operate the radio and cruise control without taking their hands off the wheel, and the cabin has more acoustical treatment to reduce interior noise.

But this is still a Jeep Wrangler, so it's all held together by hex-head bolts rather than hidden clips; even the 'Jeep, Since 1941' inlay on the passenger grab handle is bolted in place.

Standard equipment includes tyre pressure monitoring and a switchable electronic stability programme with traction control, hill hold, roll mitigation and a trailer anti-sway function.


Wrangler 2.8L CRD Sahara - R394 990

Wrangler Unlimited 2.8L CRD Sahara - R419 990