The Jeep Wrangler is authentic and unique, with capability that keeps getting enhanced at the same time this intentionally crude vehicle gets more comfortable and civilized. By intentionally crude, we point to the wonderfully exposed hinges on the removable doors and a windshield that flips down for a less-impeded view off road.
After all these years, the Wrangler can still make you feel like General Patton. And this is not an outdated product.
Wrangler uses a smooth and fancy Chrysler Pentastar 3.6-liter V6, and a 5-speed automatic transmission designed by Mercedes-Benz with an available 6-speed manual. The engine makes 285 horsepower with 260 pound-feet of torque, scooting a two-door to 60 mph in 7.7 seconds, with the heavier four-door Wrangler Unlimited trailing behind, in 8.4 seconds.
There’s surprisingly good acceleration at relatively low rpm. The old-school steering is dull and the ride not great, and it only gets 17 miles per gallon, but all of that becomes less important in rugged terrain where the Wrangler shines.
Wrangler features a rugged chassis with high ground clearance and skid plates, and solid axles front and rear. It is an amazing machine when it comes to scrambling over boulders. New tricks by the Rubicon model, in pursuit of bigger boulders, include electronic disconnection of the sway bar to allow extreme wheel articulation and stability in extreme situations.
And General Patton would be blown away by the refinement in the cabin. Air conditioning and Alpine speakers.
The two-door Jeep Wrangler and four-door Wrangler Unlimited come with a hard top, soft top, or both. The Freedom hardtop is like a T-top, with easily removable roof panels. The soft top is easier to get down than it used to be, but the T-top is the easiest to manage.
New for 2016 is a Black Bear edition with rock-resistant rails and a soft top.
Jeep Wrangler comes in two-door and four-door Unlimited versions and a wide range of models, from the Wrangler Sport ($23,495) to the fancy Sahara ($29,495) to the rugged Rubicon ($32,695). Packages with names like Freedom, Willys Wheeler, and Hard Rock add to the fun.
Options include navigation, automatic climate control, Alpine speakers, Bluetooth, heated seats, satellite radio and MyGIG music storage.
Being the original Jeep, the Wrangler looks like a Jeep, as it should. Big boxy wheel flares, flat sides, seven-rib grille. Cleverly, designers have stashed silhouettes of the original Willys Jeep in the wheelwells and windshield.
The padding is soft to the touch, and lighting from under the dash and cupholders is something, in a Jeep. The instrument panel is still somewhat Jeep-like, upright and clean. Some corners are contoured, and trims machined. There are drain plugs in the floorboards so you can hose it out.
The V6 engine is powerful while being a gas hog. It revs smoothly and quickly.
The 5-speed automatic shifts softly under light acceleration and sharply when you’re on the gas harder.
The 6-speed manual is a must for the Wrangler to feel like an authentic Jeep. It features long throws and long pedal travel, and enough vibration to feel what the vehicle is doing. The top gear ratios are tall, in both the manual and automatic, to keep revs and vibration down at higher speeds. Too bad it’s not enough to keep down fuel consumption. Aerodynamics, not so much here.
The Rubicon has its own final drive, for scaling boulders, along with the right numbers: 44.3 degrees approach angle, 25.4 degrees breakover, and 40.4 degrees departure. Those are useful numbers to serious off-roaders.
The steering, thanks to the old recirculating-ball setup, leaves a lot to be desired. The turn-in is crisp enough, but overall it feels dull, with a dead zone. And it’s not responsive in curves, thanks to the tall tires. But on the trails the Wrangler comes to life. Mud, sand, rocks, snow: bring it on.
For its final trick, the Wrangler will start in gear and your foot off the clutch, in 4WD Low range. The starter gets the Jeep going, on steep hills where you want your left foot on the brake.
Jeep Wrangler is the authentic Jeep for serious off-road use. Other capable vehicles include Land Rovers, which cost more. Wrangler comes in a range of models, but only one engine is available, a V6.