With roots going all the way back to the Willys "Jeep" used during WWII, the iconic Jeep Wrangler is one of the purest and most capable SUVs on the market today. The latest model, available in two-door and four-door Unlimited versions, has been updated in recent years with a muscular V6 and a host of interior changes that make the truck a better daily driver.
For the latest model year, the Wrangler Unlimited sees the return of a handful of previous appearance packages and the introduction of one more--the Black Bear Edition.
Looking past the rugged fenders, trademark seven-bar grille and other familiar styling elements, the biggest recent news for the Wrangler is the implementation of Chrysler's 3.6-liter Pentastar V6. Replacing a boat anchor of a 3.8-liter V6, the mill offers a 40 percent increase in power, not to mention better fuel economy. Officially, the V6 is rated at 285 horsepower at 6,400 rpm and 260 lb-ft. of torque at 4,800 rpm and is designed to run on regular unleaded fuel.
The latest Wrangler also utilizes a Mercedes-Benz-designed five-speed automatic in place of the old four-speed unit. A six-speed manual transmission is standard across the line, the first such transmission to be mated to the Pentastar engine.
Fuel economy is rated at 17/21 mpg regardless of transmission for the two-door Wrangler. Trailer towing is capped at 2,000 lbs.
Other recent changes include an interior that is far more hospitable than that of the outgoing model. A more upscale dashboard design retains much of the outgoing model's basic layout - a high-mounted radio, centrally-located window controls and rotary climate control knobs - but uses much richer materials. The interior is still designed to withstand abuse, and can even be hosed out on models with cloth seats, but is more inviting than before. Cargo space is an ample 17.1 cubic feet behind the rear seats, or 61.2 cubic feet with the rear seats folded.
A central component of the Wrangler's appeal is the open air-motoring experience it provides; buyers can choose from a durable three-piece hard top with glass windows or a soft top with plastic windows, both of which can be removed to take advantage of sunny days. Even the side doors can be removed with just a screwdriver.
Jeep recently added a new "premium" soft top option - it's built from upscale materials and is said to be easier to clean than the standard top.
What Makes a Jeep, a Jeep
The suspension for the Wrangler is a five-link coil setup with tuned shock absorbers. This setup works with Dana 30 front and next-generation heavy-duty Dana 44 rear axles. The Wrangler Rubicon model uses heavy-duty front and rear Dana 44 axles.
Jeep Wrangler Rubicon also features an electronic-disconnecting front stabilizer bar - called the active sway bar system - which delivers additional wheel travel for challenging terrain.
With high ground clearance combined with short front and rear overhangs, the Jeep Wrangler has the ability to conquer incredibly challenging off-road obstacles, especially severe inclines. Off-road enthusiasts will appreciate the key numbers: for the Rubicon model, an approach angle of 44.3 degrees, breakover angle of 25.4 degrees and departure angle of 40.4 degrees.
Underbody protection is provided by three skid plates, which protect the fuel tank, transfer case and automatic transmission oil pan.
The latest Jeep Wrangler Sport and Sahara models are also equipped with the second-generation Command-Trac NV241 part-time, two-speed transfer case with a 2.72:1 low-range gear ratio.
An available Trac-Lok limited-slip rear differential provides extra torque and grip during slippery, low-traction situations, such as driving over sand, gravel, snow or ice.
The Jeep Wrangler Rubicon model is equipped with an Off-Road Rock-Trac NV241 two-speed transfer case with a 4.0:1 low-range gear ratio, as well as electric front- and rear-axle lockers, an electronic sway bar disconnect and 32-inch BF Goodrich off-road tires.
Sport and Sahara models now include a standard 3.21 rear axle ratio, while off road-oriented Rubicons can be optioned with either a 3.73 or 4.10, both of which improve upon the outgoing 4.10's crawl ratio thanks to the new automatic's lower first gear ratio.
Trim Level Breakdown
The Wrangler is available in three trim levels: Sport, Sahara and Rubicon.
The Wrangler Sport comes standard with full metal doors with roll-up windows, black fender flares, fog lights, manually-adjustable door mirrors, 16-inch steel wheels, ambient lighting, cloth upholstery and a multi-function steering wheel.
The Black Bear Edition, available on the Sport S trim, adds some heritage-inspired badging, some exterior trim upgrades, rock rails and Silent Armor tires.
Sahara models add heated mirrors, tubular side steps, a body-colored top, 18-inch alloy, A/C, power door locks, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and power windows. A new Olive Green leather interior group is also available.
Stepping up to the trail-ready Rubicon trim level adds heavy-duty rock rails, BF Goodrich Mud Terrain tires, 17-inch alloy wheels, a Dana 44 axle with an electronic locker, a 4.10 rear axle, two locking differentials and an electronic sway bar disconnect system.
Highlights from the list of option packages include the Freedom Package, which pays homage to the U.S. military with mineral gray bumper inserts, body-colored wheel arches, tail lamp guards, Oscar Mike ("on the move" in military jargon) emblems, Mopar slush maps and silver accent stitching on the seats. The Freedom Package is only available on the Wrangler Sport.
Rubicon buyers can order the Hard Rock appearance package. It brings gloss black trim all around, package-specific 17-inch alloys, winch-ready steel bumpers on both ends, a power dome hood, leather upholstery and heated front seats.
Finally, the Willys Wheeler package brings a limited-slip rear differential, 3.73 gears, 17-inch wheels on BF Goodrich KM tires, rock rails, a Jeep Trail-Rated kit and a number of aesthetic updates inside and out.
The Wrangler features dual front and side airbags to supplement a sturdy body-on-frame construction and crumple zones that absorb energy from a crash.
As a two-door, removable roof SUV with unparallelled off-road chops, the Wrangler is essentially in a class of one. However, off-road-focused SUVs that could conceivably be cross-shopped against the Wrangler include the Nissan Xterra and the Toyota 4Runner.