It’s doubtful you can drive anywhere, anytime and not see a Jeep Wrangler Unlimited four-door SUV on the road. Their popularity has exploded. And with them comes a new camaraderie where Jeep owners flash a wave to each other in passing. Just like Harley motorcycle owners do.
So what makes this 4WD off roader so desirable? Its ride is not the smoothest or quietest. Nor is its fuel economy the greatest. But Wrangler is the last of the true 4WD vehicles that hasn’t been pasteurized and homogenized into a crossover. However, Wrangler still offers the latest in high-tech infotainment and other amenities that today’s car buyers want. All the while it’s one of the very few SUVs that can handle the rim rock of Moab, Utah; Hell’s Revenge in Utah’s red rock country; the rugged mining terrain of Ouray, Colorado; and the treacherous and demanding Rubicon Trail in the high Sierras of California. You may not need these capabilities, but it’s nice to know they’re there for any off highway excursions. Most of all, Wrangler’s are fun to drive and surprisingly, many are being driven by females.
For this review we were privileged to test the Unlimited Altitude Edition, which along with the Rubicon Hard Rock Edition, are new to the 2015 Wrangler line. Wrangler is also offered in Wrangler 2 and 4 door, Sport, fancy Sahara and Rubicon hardtop and convertible. There are also sub-trims of Freedom Edition, (which is Military themed), Willys Wheeler (with its 10 eye-catching color choices), and Black Bear Edition.
Wrangler gets it power from a single engine. A 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 that generates 285-hp and 260 lb/ft of torque. Buyers get a choice of either a standard 6-speed manual transmission with hill start assist or optional 5-speed automatic with hill start and his descent control. Our tester had the automatic and as such received EPA mileage ratings of 16 city, 20-highway mpg. This low mileage isn’t helped with the Bridgestone 18-inch, deep lugged Dueler tires and 3.73 rear end. But in snow, the deep lugged tires grip with tenacity.
Power wise, the V6 held its own but it’s no dragster, having been 0-60 tested at 8.8 seconds. A heavy foot will quickly move the gas gauge needle.
Braking distance comes up long at 140 feet when tested from 60 mph. This is due to it’s hefty 4,570 pound curb weight (that includes the extra weight of transfer case and fuel tank skid plates) and large knobby tires.
Climbing up and into the cabin is a stretch (25 inch step-in or 20 inches to the rails) as the side rails are too high to assist. It’s even worse for back seat passengers as the doorways are narrow. Once in, you’re treated to cushy leather seats with some lateral support. The back seat is exceptionally upright and not especially comfy on long hauls.
A 6.5-inch display serves the Alpine audio and GPS nav systems and includes Bluetooth connectivity. Large rotary HVAC dials are easy to use even with gloves on. Wrangler’s legendary and proven manual shifting 4WD system offers conventional 2H, 4H and 4L gearing. Want a sunroof? There are two removable T-top fiberglass panels for open air driving. One or both can be removed after releasing six latches and turning two knobs. But it’s a two-person job as they are heavy. The entire top (and doors) can also be removed with the furnished Torx tool kit.
The cargo area is rated at 31.5 cubic feet or 70.6 with the 60/40 rear seat backs folded. But before being able to load, the spare tire and gate has to be swung out and the rear window raised. This arrangement does impair rear visibility as the spare covers part of the lower window and the rear wiper and mount block the upper part.
As for ride quality, it’s stiff and firm with appreciable road noise as there is no sound deadening throughout the rugged cabin. A solution for this is to crank up the volume of the Alpine audio with its nine weatherproof speakers. And because of no interior insulation, it takes a while for the A/C to cool the interior and heat it when it’s cold outside. There’s also some body roll in sharp turns taken at speed. Off-road this isn’t a problem.
Wrangler Unlimited Altitude carried a base price of $32,795. But after adding the $3,600 Altitude Edition package consisting of an appearance group, rear defroster/washer, tire pressure monitoring and more, plus, $1,350 for the auto trans, $395 for A/C, $95 for engine block heater, $845 for the Alpine audio, satellite radio with 40GB hard drive, touchscreen, GPS nav, $495 for remote start and a delivery of $995, the bottom line reflected $41,715. Of course this includes a 5/100K mile powertrain warranty.
With a vast aftermarket for Jeep add-ons, one Wrangler owner likened their new purchase to a Lego-set as their Jeep can be decked out with all kinds of goodies. Extras that aren’t necessarily offered from Jeep.
The Wrangler Unlimited received a “Good” rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and marginal for both side and whiplash protection. Rollover received a three out of five star government safety rating.