There is probably no vehicle that has a more loyal and friendlier following than the Jeep Wrangler. Don’t believe me? Take one out for a leisurely afternoon drive, preferably with the convertible top down or removed and you’ll notice other Wrangler and CJ owners giving you the “Jeep wave”. It’s a private club with no dues or formal membership and other SUV owners including other Jeep model owners – need not apply. In other words, if you currently drive another Jeep product like a Grand Cherokee or a Liberty – sorry you are not going to get a wave from the pretty girl in the Jeep Wrangler driving by, like you would if you were driving a Wrangler. And if you think owning a Jeep Grand Cherokee or Liberty you can wave at folks driving the same Jeep model as you, well expect your fellow Jeep model owners to look at you like you are nuts. Only with Jeep Wrangler and CJ owners is it all one big happy family. You see, the Wrangler is not a vehicle for the average person, most people fall into the category of practical people. Buying a Wrangler is not a practical choice, this is not saying that a Jeep Wrangler does not have practical uses – it does.
We all heard those stories in grade school about how our ancestors were self supporting people who could do everything themselves and were rough and tumble people that did not give up easily. These were the days long before air-conditioning, TV, and any of the modern conveniences that have made us all soft. What Jeep sells with the Wrangler is a path back to the self support rough and tumble history most of us have lost. With the Wrangler it’s a go anywhere do anything type of vehicle. And this is not just because of it’s impressive 4-wheel drive off-road capabilities, that’s just part of it. Where the Wrangler really shines is you have the freedom to do things in it you can’t in any other car or SUV. For instance you can put down or take off the Wrangler’s top, which will give you one of the greatest open air driving experiences you will ever encounter. Well if that’s not enough then you can take off the doors – driving around without the doors has been a Wrangler and CJ tradition that goes all the way back to the first WWII era military Jeeps that had no doors. There’s no other new car or SUV that gives you this kind of freedom. Without the top and no doors there’s this sense of freedom and fun that can’t be described. And this type of freedom is extremely rare in these control freak times we live in where even taking a basic trip on an airplane (which historically was a simple and painless process) is now a violation of our basic constitutional rights. And for those wanting to take it one step further in a Wrangler, the windshield also folds completely forward into a flat horizontal position on top of the hood, for the ultimate wind in the face experience.
Somehow those wonderful engineers at Jeep in these times of airbags, anti-lock brakes, and on-board computers have been able to keep the Wrangler’s essence and mission pure. One look at the exterior lines of the Wrangler is proof – the traditional boxy shape, the upright windshield, and the perfect vertical sides with no curves. Though Jeep through the years has added a few changes and updates from time-to-time to the basic shape of the Wrangler there is no mistaking this is a modern version of the first civilian CJs after (WWII) which took their styling from the WWII era military Jeeps. The last revision was done for the 2007 model year, which gave the Wrangler a wider overall stance and its first 4-door model, which has been a big sales success and has expanded the Wrangler fun to those who have families.
The traditional round headlights, square rear taillights, and distinctive grille with vertical slats are all there; even a time traveler from the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, or 1970s would at first sight of the Wrangler’s exterior recognize it as a Jeep. Where the time traveler would be a little surprised or shall we say in shock is with all the modern amenities the Wrangler offers. After-all with such options as Sirius Satellite radio, a state-of-the-art Uconnect equipped navigation system, power heated mirrors, power heated seats, power windows, power door locks, and many more options – it’s easy to see how the Wrangler can be equipped with almost as many options as the luxurious Grand Cherokee. An older Wrangler or CJ owner may have roughed it, by sacrificing comfort for rugged off-road prowess. Now that is not the case, a Wrangler owner can still partake in heavy duty off-road activities while on-road enjoying the best modern comforts and conveniences that we have all become accustomed to. A quick flashback twenty years ago to a time when most Wrangler owners did not even have air-conditioning and even if they did it was an expensive option that gave an owner a substandard system that was tacked onto the bottom-of-the-dash (the same way Yugo offered an after-thought below-the-dash air-conditioning as a option to its buyers a few decades back). Back to the future, air-conditioning is now a very popular Wrangler option and it’s as good a system as you’ll find in the best of any of the new SUVs on the market.
There are three different Wrangler models – the Sport, Sahara, and Rubicon. All three are available in either a 2-door or 4-door called the “Unlimited” configurations. Both of these can be ordered with a soft convertible top or a hard top. Worth noting 2011 is the first year a Wrangler can be ordered with a body colored hardtop which is good news, the bad news is that this option is only available on the Sahara model.
The “Sport” is the base Wrangler model while the Sahara is the more upscale Wrangler with more standard goodies. The Rubicon is essentially Jeep’s answer to the serious hardcore off-roader’s demand for the ultimate rock climbing dirt digging 4-wheeler. Years ago serious off-road drivers would buy Wranglers and then spend extra money on a body lift kits, larger off-road tires, and other upgrades in order to tackle the most intense off-road trails. Since Jeep introduced the Wrangler Rubicon model this is no longer necessary, it comes standard with everything anyone would ever need to do some serious trail riding. It’s a great setup if you spend a lot of time off-road however a word to the wise; you’ll be better off with another Wrangler model if you don’t plan on hitting the serious off-road trails on a regular basis, the Rubicon’s serious off-road tires (LT255/75R17) do sing during highway driving. Any of the other Wrangler models will perform very well as expected in any off-road condition, while still having nice driving manners on the paved roads and interstates in comparison to the Rubicon.
Jeep has over the years offered many limited edition Wrangler models. Well this year is no different. There is an all black 2011 Jeep Wrangler Call of Duty: Black Ops Edition, which is based on the popular video game of the same name. The Call of Duty Wrangler is based on the Rubicon model; it has all the serious off-road items that are standard on the Rubicon. Also there is a (limited production) 70th anniversary edition Wrangler, which is available in the following colors: Bronze Star, Bright Silver, and Black. The exterior of this special edition Wrangler sports some 70th anniversary emblems and a set of 18 inch shiny distinctive wheels but it’s the upscale interior accents and trim upgrades like upscale seats with leather inserts that make the 70th anniversary Wrangler distinctive. Unfortunately this comes at a base price of $32,120, which is more expensive than the Rubicon.
Climbing into the driver seat of the new Wrangler, it’s hard to believe how far the Wrangler has gone upscale. There is a brand new updated interior for 2011, and it’s leagues ahead of the interior it replaces. No matter what model you pick the interior is much improved over last year’s Wrangler. The dash layout is very function but for the first time it’s cosmetically very attractive – the cheap plastic look is now gone, on all Wrangler models the dash now has attractive accompanying trim. The dash pieces and center console are now nicely sculpted; there are no more blunt edges. And the best is the cheap looking steering wheel of last year’s Wrangler is now long gone and a much sportier and more attractive steering wheel (especially when the optional leather wrapped steering wheel is ordered) resides in its place. The driver can now control the following via new steering wheel buttons: the radio, cruise control, and Uconnect controls. Seats are the most comfortable ever offered in a Wrangler. There’s plenty of space in the front seat for those who need extra shoulder or legroom (same is true for the rear seat in the Unlimited). The days before the 2007 redesign (which gave the Wrangler a wider cabin) when shoulder room was a little cramped are long gone. And the best yet is that there’s plenty of headroom, which in most vehicles including SUVs is hard to find – even the tallest of NBA basketball players would agree that the Wrangler has great headroom. It’s also very easy to see through all the Wrangler’s windows, it has the best visibility of any SUV on the road – there are no blind spots to speak of. The upright (almost vertical) front windshield really helps in this respect.
Driving the Wrangler is a real joy; you seem to be above most of the traffic on the road – it’s a safe kind of feeling. The four-wheel coil spring suspension is well tuned. You really don’t feel like you are driving a vehicle with both a front and rear solid rear axle. Jeep has wisely kept both axles solid, since a solid rear axle can take much more punishment (especially off-road) than a non-solid axle used in an independent suspension design.
The Wrangler comes standard with a multi-port fuel injected 3.8 liter V6 which produces 202 horsepower and 237 lb-ft of torque. This pushrod 2 valve-per-cylinder V6 has been in the Chrysler stable for many years. It’s a reliable motor and it’s the most powerful motor ever offered in a Wrangler. Anyone familiar with the old Wranglers with the 4.0 and 4.2 liter inline six motors will notice the current V6 does not have the familiar whine of the 4.0 and 4.2 inline six motors which were developed when AMC still owned Jeep many years ago. These inline six powerplants have a reputation for being almost bulletproof and running many more years before a rebuild than most owners expect – it’s a common occurrence for these motors to obtain well over 200,000 miles before a rebuild. The old 4.2 liter was saddled with the Carter (electronic bbd2) 2-bbl carburetor so horsepower was a low 112 but there was a plentiful 210 lb-ft of torque on tap at the low end of the rpm range (which is ideal for off-roading). Back in the day Motor Trend magazine thought the 4.2 horsepower figure (in the 1987 Wrangler) was underrated (they believed it to be over 130 horsepower) since AMC quoted the 112 horsepower figure at 3,000 rpm and the 4.2 liter did not run out of steam (hit its horsepower peak) until it approached 4,000 rpm. The 4.0 liter (which was fuel-injected) on the other hand had plenty of torque – 235 lb-ft to be exact (during its best years) but it also had a lot of horsepower (around 180 horsepower).
For the 3.8 liter V6, good low-end torque is there and there’s plenty of horsepower to move the vehicle, so it does its job well. The 3.8 liter V6 is a lot quieter than the 4.0 inline six it replaced in 1997 and most Wrangler fans will find it up to the task no matter what driving conditions are throw at it. However don’t expect to win any speed contests with the 3.8 liter. 0-60 mph for the 2-door Wrangler takes just over 9 seconds and around 10 seconds for the 4-door Unlimited. As a comparison the previous generation 4.0 liter inline six Wrangler took just over 9 seconds and the 2-door (extended wheelbase) Wrangler Unlimited took around 10 seconds – so performance has remained the same even though the current generation Wrangler has gained a few pounds.
It’s this writers guess that Chrysler’s newly released Pentastar 3.6 liter (DOHC) V6 rated at 283 to 305 horsepower and 260 to 268 lb-ft of torque will make its way to future Wrangler offerings since the old school 3.8 liter pushrod V6 is on borrowed time. This is a no brainer when you consider that the new Pentastar V6 has much better gas mileage than the 3.8 liter V6. Gas mileage for the 3.8 liter V6 is 15 mpg/city and 19 mpg/highway.
Standard on the Wrangler is a smooth shifting 6-speed manual transmission while optional is a 4-speed automatic transmission. The automatic gets the job done well however an extra gear or two would make it that much better. For those who plan to use a Wrangler in urban and heavy traffic commuting the automatic is probably the wise choice. For those that don’t mind doing their own gear changes and for those wanting the highest fun factor the manual transmission is the way to go – especially for those who plan on doing off-road driving the manual transmission gives the driver so much more control. The 6-speed manual is just plain fun, it was not too many years back CJ and Wrangler owners almost considered an automatic transmission a heresy. And unlike in the old days (the CJ days) the current 6-speed has a nice light-effort smooth clutch that will not drive you crazy if you happen to get stuck in stop-and-go traffic for a few hours.
Off-road is what the Wrangler was built for, so it’s no surprise this is where the vehicle shines. It’s best in class ground clearance and rugged 4-wheel drive drivetrain make the Wrangler a natural for conquering all of the worst possible driving situations. All Wrangler models except for the Rubicon come standard with the part-time 4-wheel drive Command-Trac NV241 two-speed transfer case. The low ratio on this transfer case is 2.72. A Trak-Loc rear axle is optional with this transfer case. The Rubicon on-the-other-hand has a beefed up NV241 two-speed transfer case, which is called Rock-Trac – the low gear ratio is an impressive 4.0. The Rubicon also comes standard with electronic front and rear axle lockers. Also included on the Rubicon is the ability to remove the sway bar, which is a must if you frequently go rock climbing in a Wrangler.
The toughest decision a Wrangler buyer will face is whether to go with the traditional 2-door or the 4-door Unlimited model. The 2-door definitely accelerates faster and is more nimble due to its lighter weight and its turning radius is tighter. On the trails the 2-door will be easier to manipulate around obstacles. This will be the smart choice for the buyer who wants a rugged vehicle and does not care or need the extra utility that the 4-door Unlimited offers. However in the real world it’s ideal to have plenty of extra cargo space and the two extra doors that open up to a full backseat – most who have a family these items are a necessity. The good news is that Jeep offers both so no matter what your requirements are there’s a Wrangler that meets your needs. It does all this at an affordable price – the Wrangler Sport has a base price of $22,045, the Wrangler Sahara’s base price is $27,245, and the Rubicon has a base price of $29, 245.
Don’t be fooled by all the features of the new Wrangler, it’s still the bundle of freedom, Jeep has been selling for years – just in a nice modern retro package. It’s real liberty for the masses, in fact so much so that Jeep should have called the Wrangler – the Liberty. And if you do buy one, don’t forget to wave to your fellow Wrangler and CJ owners.
Written contents in this article – © 2011 Pete Dunton – All Rights Reserved