The Jeep Wrangler remains popular because it’s so rugged and pure. It comes as a two-door or four-door, removable hard top or soft. All Wranglers seat five people, although the four-door Wrangler Unlimited is 20.6 inches longer, providing more room in the rear.
The 2017 Wrangler may be the last of this generation. An all-new Wrangler is expected soon.
Changes for 2017 are light: a new Sport S model, and available LED headlamps and foglamps.
All Wranglers use Chrysler’s strong 3.6-liter V6, making 285 horsepower and 260-pound-feet of torque, which is more than enough. It’s mated to a 6-speed manual transmission or 5-speed Mercedes-Benz automatic that remains part of the powertrain from the time when Mercedes owned Chrysler/Jeep. The Wrangler accelerates smoothly to sixty miles per hour in 7.7 seconds, with good zip at low rpm.
The Wrangler does off-roading better than just about any vehicle made, but its on-road driving dynamics are raw, archaic and sloppy. The old-school recirculating-ball steering is sturdy but dull, the ride is bouncy, and the vehicle leans a lot.
But it might be worth it, if you love the trails enough. The rugged body-on-frame structure, solid axles, big ground clearance with skid plates, and impressive ability to climb over boulders are what make the Wrangler special. And there is modern technology, for example sway bars that electronically disconnect to allow extreme wheel articulation and grip in spots that would bring almost any other vehicle to a crashing stop.
Hill start assist is standard for Wranglers with a manual transmission, and trailer sway control comes on all models.
Safety has some weak spots. The NHTSA gave the top-heavy Wrangler only three stars out of five for rollover resistance, while the IIHS gave the two-door Wrangler a Poor in side impact. Other IIHS scores were better, as both the two-door and four-door earned the top “Good” rating for moderate frontal impact, and Marginal in the difficult small overlap frontal test, while the four-door Wrangler Unlimited got a better Marginal rating in side impact.
The only standard airbags are the mandated dual front bags, while side-impact front bags are optional; we can’t think of another vehicle that doesn’t have standard side-impact airbags in front. Moreover, there are no available advanced safety features, not even a rearview camera.
The two-door Wrangler gets an EPA-estimated 17 City, 21 Highway and 18 Combined miles per gallon, with either transmission. The bigger Wrangler Unlimited is rated at the same 18 mpg Combined.
The Wrangler comes in Sport, Sport S, Sahara, and the off-road Rubicon; there are also models with specific equipment called the 75th Anniversary, Rubicon Hard Rock, and Willys Wheeler.
Wrangler Sport ($23,995) has manual windows and no air conditioning, but as you move up you’ll find things like heated seats, satellite radio, leather seats, and alloy wheels. Options include Bluetooth, navigation, and towing and trim packages.
A well-equipped Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon can exceed $45,000, by which time you might not want to expose it to a bashing in the boonies.
No question the Wrangler looks unique. Millions of them have looked unique since WWII. One thing that makes it unique as a vehicle today is its aerodynamics, which resemble the factory in Toledo where it’s built. Same factory where they built those WW2 Jeeps. True.
Speaking of true, the Wrangler is true to its roots, with a seven-slat grille, trapezoidal fender flares, and door hinges that are still exposed after all these years. And you can still take off the top and drop the windshield flat. The sheetmetal is also flat (sculpted would be sacrilege); it’s easier to fix that way, after you rub a tree or boulder.
The designers had some fun with the details. Look closely and you might find little Jeeps here and there. A Willys silhouette in the edge of the windshield., little Jeeps in lighting elements, and there’s that Willys silhouette again in the wheel pockets.
The 2017 Wrangler is still a bit crude inside, made so you can still spray it with a hose after a day in the mud with the windshield dropped. But it’s businesslike and livable, and compared to the past it’s downright luxurious. The modern instrument panel is contoured while remaining upright, with bezels that have a machined look, along with a lot of plastic. There are soft-touch materials around the dash and door panels, with ambient lighting under the panel and around the cupholders. Elbow rests are padded.
It’s a good thing you can remove the top, because the roof squeezes down on the upright windshield and cuts some forward visibility, especially if you’re tall. No vehicle offers so many roof options, with the Freedom T-top, Sunrider flip-back top, and soft tops that are a pain in the butt. It’s kind of difficult to explain how each works here, and what might be inconvenient to buyers with different desires, so we suggest that you spend 30 minutes with your dealer trying the four options out, and thinking about your own situation and wants.
Whatever top you end up with, it’s going to be noisy inside. Jeep has put effort into reducing noise and vibration in recent years, so it’s better than it used to be, with surprisingly little wind noise given the boxy shape. But maybe that’s because you can’t hear the wind for all the mechanical noise, especially with the manual transmission.
Cargo space is generous in the four-door Unlimited and stingy in the two-door, with only 12.8 cubic feet behind the rear seat. It folds, but not flat, and that’s simply unacceptable in this vehicle. Jeep will tell you that if you want to load something big back there, take the back seat out, because you can. So the best way to use a two-door Wrangler is take off the roof, take out the rear seat, and keep it garaged and only drive it on nice days.
That’s why they invented the Unlimited, a few years ago. It has 31.5 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seat, and 71.6 cubic feet total inside. The tailgate swings out, or the rear plastic window zips with a soft top, or there’s a glass panel with a hinge on top with the Sunrider.
First, the good things. Off road the Wrangler will wow you, thanks to the tough chassis, solid axles, high ground clearance with skid plates, and technology like the electric sway-bar disconnect. It’s very easy to position on tight trails, with its very tight turning radius. Off-roaders will appreciate these stats for the Rubicon: 44.3 degrees approach angle, 25.4 degrees breakover angle, and 40.4 degrees departure angle. You won’t find numbers like that in any other vehicle.
For serious offroad situations, you can start the Wrangler in gear, with your left foot off the clutch pedal, when in 4WD using low range in the transfer case. The starter motor alone gets it moving. This works on a steep uphill with the engine stalled, otherwise you’d find yourself cursing your body for not having three feet for the three pedals.
The modern and powerful 3.6-liter V6 engine totally works in the Wrangler, with its high torque useful for low-speed off-roading, and smooth, quick acceleration for passing on the highway.
The 5-speed automatic transmission is an old but good hand-me-down from Mercedes-Benz; its shifts are smooth during easy to medium acceleration, and get firmer when you push. But we prefer the six-speed manual, not only because it provides more of the real Jeep experience, but also more control over the engine. Sure, the throws are long, the clutch pedal travel is long, and there’s more vibration, but that’s the Jeep experience we’re talking about. The sixth gear is an overdrive, tall to keep the revs and noise down, and gas mileage up, at freeway speed.
The automatic also has high ratios, with a 3.21 final drive; in the zero-to-sixty sprint, you’re still in second gear at the finish. If you plan to go off-roading, a 4.10 ratio is available in the Rubicon.
As for the road manners, if you’re young or have never owned or driven a Jeep, you might be shocked. It’s noisy, rides hard, jiggles, flops, bounces, and leans. And those are just the first moves; there are finer snatches and jerks that impress every imperfection of the road upon your body. Like a heavy-duty pickup truck, the Wrangler has a live front axle, so big bumps in the middle of a corner might deliver a full-frontal shudder. And the two-door Wrangler is worse than the Unlimited, because of its shorter wheelbase.
The Wrangler’s old-school recirculating-ball steering isn’t exactly the sharpest tool in the shed. The turn-in is crisp enough, thanks to that tight turning radius that’s good on trails, but then comes a numb zone where road feel is lost. And the tall tires don’t help with responsiveness, not least on curvy roads.
The world is a better place with the Jeep Wrangler in it. And it’s popular for a few good reasons. Most people who own Jeeps love them. It may be uncomfortable, and it’s not the safest vehicle on the road, but it sure is fun. Importantly, you can’t go wrong with today’s powertrain.