Jeep Wrangler Dragon Edition Review : Bunyip weekender

Is more really more? James seeks the answer, and a good milkshake in the Dragon Edition Wrangler.

There are times in the dad job where you just need to get out of the house. Partnering up with the little person and with no clear goal in mind, all you need is a few hours, a sense of adventure and in this instance, a Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Dragon Edition.

Miss Five had been singing songs about bunyips at school (Alexander Bunyip – remember that one?) so we thought a visit to Bunyip State Forest east of Melbourne would make a great destination and offer a potential spotting ground for the mythical creatures. But more importantly, we needed a good milkshake.

Less is more when it comes to the ultimate comfort drink. Chocolate syrup, milk and ice cream – it’s not that complicated, but finding a café around South Melbourne that doesn’t try to glam it up is becoming harder and harder.

Floats, spiders, mochas, choccas… the list goes on with Masterchef-inspired creations on offer, but when all you want is a great ‘base’, the fancy stuff just seems wasted.

Which leads me to the Jeep Wrangler Dragon Edition (I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this…)

The big black Jeep does look pretty cool. The utilitarian edges have all but been removed, with every inch of the standard black cladding covered now in rich, gloss black paint. And dragons.

Yes Khaleesi, I have found your dragons. They are on the bonnet, the headrests, the carpets, the spare tyre cover and the dashboard. It’s an interesting theme to say the least, and well… not to all tastes.

We’ve seen plenty of special editions on the road over the years, with varying degrees of ‘over the top-ness’ to support their marketing theme.

Launched in concept guise at the 2012 Beijing motor show, the Dragon Edition Wrangler was to celebrate Chrysler Jeep’s re-entry into the Chinese market. A fully optioned black four-door Wrangler Unlimited with special gold-edged wheels, golden grille and headlamp inserts, stylised with more gold and dragon motifs – it makes perfect sense as a show car, and even good sense as a limited edition model for the Chinese market. Australia, perhaps less so.

Wrangler Polar Edition – I get it. Wrangler Freedom Edition – I get it. The Dragon, however, could be a little too much.

In fact we think it would have been better named as the Wrangler Rush Hour edition: The Chris Tucker Jeep meets Jackie Chan accessories and you’ve got a crazy east-meets-west stereotype good-time action adventure!

We head down the M1, the excellent Alpine stereo blasting the Frozen soundtrack (over and over and over again), the cruise control set to 100km/h seeing the Jeep returning about 9.0L/100km fuel consumption.

Mechanically identical to a standard Wrangler Overland, the 209kW/347Nm 3.6-litre V6 is punchy enough to make the Jeep respond as you want, and the five-speed automatic is smooth and easy to use even if it’s short a ratio (at least) by modern standards.

The 18-inch wheels with Bridgestone on-road tyres make the Dragon Edition a bit quieter on the highway than a standard Wrangler, but I found they would occasionally push to understeer in wet weather, even when negotiating a roundabout.

Despite the road tyres, the Dragon Edition still manages the impressive Wrangler trait of handling dirt roads with aplomb. Yes the ride is a bit bouncy and you can feel imperfections in the road surface through the steering wheel, but when the blacktop turns brown, the Jeep feels at home, dealing with ruts and bumps with confidence and composure.

The dirt trails of the state forest provide plenty of Bunyip-spotting opportunities, made even more fun by removing the ‘Freedom Top’ roof panels over the front seats. These have their own storage bag which fits in the boot when you take them off – although they are quite heavy and awkward if you are removing them yourself.

Through some winding roads into Gembrook and the Wrangler is still a great fun car to drive. It’s not a low, tight sports car but considering its size and ride height, it always manages to put a smile on your face. So much so I almost forget we look like the cover of a Sir-Mix-A-Lot album.

Stopping for a rest, we find a café in Gembrook that serves an excellent traditional milkshake. The basic ingredients, all mixed well and served in a large tin cup – with two straws. Mission accomplished!

As we head back to town around the back of Cardinia Reservoir, we pass a couple of other Wranglers who all give a friendly wave. The #jeeplife mentality is always very strong and a big part of what makes this such a fun car.

We averaged about 11L/100km at this point, which isn’t too bad given the diverse driving conditions and setup of the Wrangler (Jeep claims 11.7L/100 for a combined cycle). It’s not the thirstiest option going around, but if hyper-miling is a hobby of yours then I’d wager a Wrangler isn’t in your consideration set.

We pass a friend on the way home who drives a VE Holden Commodore SS Ute with full Walkinshaw tune, personalised plates, ‘blue meanie’ style body kit and Corvette sawblade wheels. “A bit much isn’t it?” he says of the Dragon. Pot/kettle/black? Unfortunately no, he’s absolutely right.

Less is more with a milkshake, and less is more with a Jeep.

I love the Wrangler. I’ve always wanted one, and nearly bought a TJ when they first launched in Australia in the mid 90s. I thoroughly enjoyed the Freedom Edition Wrangler Unlimited we drove earlier in the year: it’s a fun car, and a tremendously capable car. But less is more.

Keep the all-terrain tyres – it’s a Jeep. Keep the black plastic guards and trim – it’s a Jeep. Keep the soft-top on, better yet keep it off – it’s a Jeep!

The Dragon does have some appeal, probably for the same reason they made two sequels to Rush Hour, but rather than get Tucker and Chan back together again, I’d stick with a Bruce Willis lead and go for a standard Wrangler.

For $51,000 the Jeep Wrangler Dragon Edition is an expensive style statement commanding a $12k premium over the excellent Wrangler Unlimited Sport. Yes you do get more luxury and standard features – such as bronze-stitched dragon-scaled black Nappa leather seats – but the core Jeep DNA is there on the Sport, and isn’t that what you buy this car for?

If you want more Jeep from your Jeep, then give Bruce another action star sidekick and go for the Rubicon or recently announced Rubicon X. It’s like adding malt and a flake to an already excellent milkshake.

And for what to do with the dragons… well, spoiler alert, but maybe burying them in a cave isn’t such a bad idea after all.

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