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So which is the better...? Well, depends on what you are comparing. I owned and drove 3 Landrover Freelanders from 1998 to 2002. Now I have a Jeep Wrangler Sahara hard top.
I bought my Jeep second-hand in 2002, with 13,000 miles on the clock. It's a 2000 model, but the Wrangler has not changed much from 1997-2003 - other than minor cosmetics.
Mine is a black hard top Sahara edition (top of the range as at 2002). The Sahara hard top comes standard with Aircon, dual airbags, leather covered steering wheel, a radio/tape (CD changer compatible).
Upholstery is beige (Jeep call it camel) and green.
Useful features of the Wrangler: - The hard top comes off (optional soft top - a pricey option that costs more than £1000). Note: Two people needed, and a star torque spanner. - ALL the carpets come out. VERY useful to wash them and the interior when you have got it all muddy (have done this!) - The doors come off - although for on-road driving like this you may want to buy the half-door option for safety. - Airconditioning - might sound crazy in England but is GREAT for those occasional sunny days when you jump into a 50 degree celsius car!
Quirky things: This is a REAR WHEEL DRIVE vehicle. What does this mean? Well, when you put your foot down, and 4 litres of straight 6 cylinder power hit the back wheels, you can find yourself skidding, or sliding. This is especially apparent on wet road. (My current tyres are Michelin's... have been told by other Wrangler owners that other brands and tread patterns may be less slippy).
There are not that many Jeep Wranglers on the UK roads. Evidently, only 500 a year land in the UK from the USA. This does mean that you are more noticed on the road - if you enjoy attracting a bit of attention! Possibly makes this less of a theft target too.
Security is limited to an immobilizer (Thatcham approved), and your ignition key is "chipped" with a transponder, so only that key will start your Jeep.
Interior glove box/cubby hole and centre storage box are lockable with the ignition key - so somewhere to stow the valuables when you're out in your Jeep topless (with the roof off in other words!)
The Chrysler radio tape is not that great. A CD changer option is expensive, so I changed the head unit. Went for an Alpine front loading CD unit that does MP3. My local in car sound specialist had a kit to adjust the dashboard fascia opening (Chrysler head units are double height) and a wire-harness adaptor kit to convert from Chrysler to Alpine. The fascia kit and wiring kit were £25.
One thing I miss over the Landrover is ABS brakes. I had to learn to cadence brake all over again!
As far as off-roading, the Jeep is a totally different vehicle to the Freelander. It is more comparable to a Landrover Defender, but probably not as "go anywhere" as the Defender. Ground clearance is great, engine power and torque from the 4 litre gas guzzler is amazing.
But as with all 4x4 vehicles, know the limitations. Yes, I have managed to get myself well and truly stuck a few times. Main thing I can say - make sure you have a good rope or chain, and someone to help you out or off what you've got stuck in or on!! Either that, or a well charged mobile phone to call for help!
As far as "better or worse" than a Landrover Freelander - I am not going to pass that judgement. The Wrangler is a DIFFERENT vehicle altogether. It hasn't got all the refinement of the Freelander, and the technology like ABS brakes, traction control etc, but it does have raw, brute force power, and it's tough as nails.
I am less afraid of bumping, scraping or bashing my Wrangler than I ever was with the Freelanders.
RECOMMENDATION: Join a local owner's club (www.jeepclub.co.uk is a good one in the UK) if you get a Jeep. A good way to meet other owners, compare notes, swap stories and most importantly, go on Jeep outings. The Jeep Club have regular events all over the UK (and there are many other clubs globally) - and always welcome novice offroaders to the family. Best way to learn about your 4x4 is to use it with others who are experienced.
Will I change my Jeep? Not for many miles... (done 20,000 in the last 14 months). Yes, it's scary at the fuel pump, but I am getting 280 miles out of 70 litres (averaging around 21 mpg). Of course, if Chrysler bring out a diesel version of the Wrangler, or a new Wrangler with ABS, I am going to be VERY tempted!
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