The ability to do all this, plus the sight of the roll structure they leave behind, gives you an idea of what the Jeep is for. It was made for larking around where it’s rough underfoot. (See also the big plastic wheel arch extensions.) Cost, packaging and construction ease gave the Jeep those trademark wing shapes in 1941, but the fact that you can nerf rocks off road without damaging the metalwork is a sign of its intent.
So let’s begin inside it. Or, should you be inclined to drop the windscreen too, pretty much on top of it. This Rubicon variant is the most hardcore Wrangler, so it gets uprated axles, ultra-low-ratio crawl gears and super-aggressive BF Goodrich tyres. (The other cars have less off-road-focused rubber, so we’ll try to devise routes and tests that remove tyre ability – the biggest factor on whether a car will make it through terrain or not – from the equation.)
From the Jeep driver’s perch, it’s easy to see its edges, and it feels, in this company, relatively compact. All three cars get usefully large mirrors, making their overall widths similar, but here, between ruts and undergrowth, body width is more relevant, and the Wrangler, at 1.87m, gets a competitive advantage over both the 1.98m-wide G-Class (although at least some of that width is made up of plastic wing covers), and the Defender, on which wheel arch guards would cost £599 and then add to the 2.04m body width. If you know the old Defender, you’ll be struck by the fact that this is now the widest and tallest car here.
How much does that matter? Like any other number, it depends where you are. If a pair of gateposts is 1.88m apart, then quite a lot. Tyres and the efficacy of these cars’ four-wheel drive systems count for more, but don’t underestimate the numbers, because in severe terrain there’s probably one that will determine ease of progress. A 4×4’s approach angle is its approach angle, and if a hard rock exceeds it, the car will nose into a bank. The relevant figures are all over the page.
They’ll tell you that, on account of its air springs giving ground clearance of 291mm, the Defender puts more space between itself and the surface below. To that, you can add that it has independent suspension all around; this means, because it doesn’t have solid axles, that the differential doesn’t hang in the middle (a measurement not included in the ground clearance). Instead, there’s more metal hanging towards the edges of the body, something generally considered less rugged in markets where people do a lot of rock crawling and bashing. But in wetter climates, where there are lots of muddy ruts, you’d rather have ground clearance in the middle of the car to avoid grounding. The Jeep gets two solid axles – so it’s easy to fit a lift kit to it, as is common in the US – while the Mercedes has one of each.