A tough-looking addition to the Jeep Wrangler family provides an early glimpse of what the factory is planning for the next-generation of this famously rugged machine.
THE Brute has arrived … apparently under orders to establish a beach-head in readiness for a like-configured factory-made Jeep that is set to come into production in 2018.
We’re talking about something that Jeep has considered building for some years and finally green-lighted: A traydeck utility version of its Wrangler, the most direct descendant of the original World War II battlewagon that established this brand.
Fiat-Chrysler recently announced that a dedicated pick-up variant will include in the next-generation Wrangler family, due to hit production two years from now.
To be produced alongside the regular four-wheel drive models at its Toledo plant in Ohio, the utility model realises an idea the brand has been mulling for years – as evidenced by the number of Wrangler ute concepts it has created in both dual and single-cab configurations.
The most recent styling study was 2005’s Gladiator – which, despite sharing the Wrangler’s signature style, was actually based on the full-size Dodge Ram pickup truck.
The factory’s inaction to act out its design dream so far has given opportunity for a brand-sanctioned after-market specialist, American Expeditionary Vehicles, to create the Wrangler Brute Ute Sports, a stretched, elevated and toughened Franken-version of the Wrangler Unlimited.
The big American is now here in New Zealand, being offered by Jeep’s national distributor, Fiat Chrysler New Zealand.
FCNZ has signed a deal with AEV to convert New Zealand-specification right-hand-drive Wranglers in their own facility - appropriately located in Montana, heartland cowboy country.
The models have potential to position as a next-step up alternate to the ‘regular’-sized one-tonne utilities, whose increasing popularity with New Zealand drivers resulted in the Ford Ranger achieving a type first for this market in becoming the country’s top-selling new vehicle in 2015.
However, the level of penetration they achieve against the high-end, diesel doublecab utes that dominate New Zealand interest is potentially set to be tempered by the Brute’s cost.
Also potentially set to be taken into consideration is that it is a pure petrol and has cited towing and payload abilities that, despite the vehicle’s substance, are – at 1588kg and 450kg respectively – no better than half that offered by the leading one-tonne utilities.
But the money is the No.1 challenge. The base model places at $114,990 while a Rubicon version, also with the 209kW/347Nm Pentastar V6 petrol and a five-speed automatic gearbox and even more off-road tuning and ruggedness, carries a $124,990 sticker.
The most expensive one-tonne sector offers are at least $35,000 cheaper and the gap between a Brute and the Wrangler Unlimited donors is even wider – those models list from $59,990 to $69,990 in New Zealand.
The Brute Rubicon is, in fact, at level-pegging with the flagship factory-made Jeep sold here, the high-performance SRT8 with a 6.4-litre V8 petrol.
It might even become more expensive, with FCNZ boss David Smitherman hinting in release publicity that the Brute stickers are “special launch prices which do not reflect the changing value of the US dollar.”
Nonetheless, vehicles from the first shipment are already finding homes and Smitherman’s comments suggest confidence it will be around for the remaining duration of this current Wrangler’s life span.
“This is the vehicle Jeep fans have been calling for and now it’s in New Zealand.”
He points out there is nothing else quite like them in the market.
“There is no doubt that Kiwis love their utes, the sales figures clearly reveal that,” he said. “With this vehicle we can offer something no other ute can match: It’s a Jeep, with everything that means from off road ability to unique styling and design.
“AEV have an exceptional reputation for the quality and integrity of their design and construction, so while Jeep Wrangler Brute Ute may not have come down the production line as a Ute, it is and has everything that would be expected of a Jeep, a fact proven by it earning a Chrysler Design Excellence Award.”
On styling alone, the Brute gives credibility to AEV’s reputation for being a producer of ‘extreme’ Wrangler specials.
AEV’s rework is all out the back; from the front bumper through to the rear of the cabin, it’s all Unlimited. Thereon the specialists add the extension that takes the wheelbase from 2947mm to 3530mm and the overall length from 4751mm to 5486mm.
Measuring an impressive 1530mms by 1550mms, the load bed comprises an injection moulded, cored composite fitting that the maker says is not only stronger than steel but also considerably lighter and non-corrosive. A rubberized, skid-resistant coating protects the bed's interior and four integrated tie-down anchors keep cargo securely in place.
Tucked below load compartment is a hidden under mount tyre carrier to securely hold the spare wheel. A hand operated winch allows for easy lowering and removal of the spare wheel when required.
Surprisingly, in respect to payload and towing ability, the Brute appears to be more wussy than its name suggests.
FCNZ has not provided detail about how much weight the deck can take, but suggests a cited maximum towing capacity, again Sport versus Sport, of 1588kg – against 2300kg for the Unlimited.
In respect to how much weight can be put onto the deck, AEV’s website makes clear it is no one-tonner, notes that “the Brute Double Cab is not designed to be a replacement for a traditional pickup truck. The Brute Double Cab is designed for overland travel.”
“Since there is no standardised test for determining payload capacity, we recommend following Chrysler’s suggested payload capacity of 892 (404kg) to 1000lbs (450kg).” It says weight varies depending on trim level.
There’s no doubt about the rig’s ruggedness otherwise: Wrangler’s already impressive off-road prowess is enhanced considerably by AEV.
The Brute has superior approach and departure angles – 57 and 32 degrees versus 35 and 28 for the Unlimited – and significantly better ground clearance, 273mm versus 220mm. Some of that is due to the extra-meaty tyre type. It’s on Bridgestone Goodrich 35 inch mud terrains.
AEV also credits its in-house developed DualSport suspension. The brand says it’s “manufacturer-level approach to suspension engineering” creates “a true dual purpose suspension system that is extremely capable off-road, while also offering unparalleled performance and handling on the road.”
That’s the Sport. The Rubicon adds a Dana 44 heavy duty front axle, an extra low range gearbox ratio, Tru-Lok front and rear electric locking differentials, body-protecting ‘rock rails’ and an electronically disconnectable front anti-roll bar for extra axle articulation.
The top model also takes automatic headlights.
An inevitable increase in kerb weight, from 2073kg to 2449.4kg in respective to Sport guises (Rubicon weights aren’t supplied but it’ll be even more), potentially affects performance, and perhaps fuel economy.
That’s not cited either, though FCNZ notifies that the fuel tank capacity is unchanged, at 85 litres.