Class: Compact Crossover
Miles Driven: 123
Fuel Used: 8.7 gallons
Real-world fuel economy: 14.1 mpg
Driving mix: 75% city, 25% highway
EPA-estimated fuel economy: 16/20/18 (city, highway, combined)
Base price: $32,795 (not including $995 destination charge)
Options on test car: Altitude Edition package ($3600), automatic transmission ($1350), automatic temperature control ($395), engine-block heater ($95), premium audio system ($845), navigation system with satellite radio ($1145), remote engine start ($495)
|CG Report Card|
|Report-card grades are derived from a consensus of test-driver evaluations. All grades are versus other vehicles in the same class. Value grade is for specific trim level evaluated, and may not reflect Consumer Guide's impressions of the entire model lineup.|
|Room and Comfort||C|
|Power and Performance||C/A*|
|Fit and Finish||C+|
Price as tested: $41,715
The great: Unquestioned off-road capability, convertible feel with roof panels removed
The Good: Ride quality improved over 2-door Wrangler
The not so good: Fuel economy trails less-burly class competitors
*On road/off road
Having driven a number of Jeep Wranglers in my years with Consumer Guide®, I’ve come to this conclusion: You can add a lot of things to a Wrangler, but you still wind up with a Jeep. Read into that anything that you choose.
Take the “stretch” 4-door Wrangler Unlimited that CG editors recently tested. It was liberally bestowed with modern technology features and creature comforts but it still had as standard the Command-Trac shift-on-the-fly 4-wheel-drive system, specialized Dana front and rear axles, undercarriage skid plates, and high ground clearance that would make it impervious to practically any muddy trail or rock-pile obstacle. In the very best traditions of the brand, it is a Jeep.
That said, the Wrangler that we sampled topped out at $41,715 delivered. That money would buy a prestige-brand compact sedan—even a few premium intermediates—bristling with luxuries and cachet. It would even cover the cost of some flashy compact sport-utilities with better (on)road manners. What pumped up the sticker on the test vehicle were the extensive $3600 Altitude Edition option package, an automatic transmission, an enhanced-audio/navigation system, and several more comfort and convenience items. Pony up for leather upholstery, gloss-black alloy wheels, automatic-temperature-control air conditioning, and navigation if you will, but it all still comes with a hard ride, a lot of highway noise, and a long climb in or out of the cabin. Heck, for $41,000 you don’t even get door detents—this is, after all, the “Jeepiest” of Jeeps.
“You can add a lot of things to a Wrangler,
but you still wind up with a Jeep.”
CG’s test vehicle started as a Wrangler Sahara, second from the top of the basic 4-model hierarchy at $32,795. (There are also 4 limited-edition versions for 2015.) That brings functional and safety features like electronic roll mitigation, hill-start assist, trailer-sway damping, and a tire-pressure monitor. Interior equipment highlights are air conditioning, power windows and door locks, remote keyless entry, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with integral audio controls, a tilt steering column, 8-speaker audio, and satellite radio.
The Altitude package is big on appearance items. It adds a power-bulge hood plus gloss-black highlights on the grille, headlamp surrounds, 18×7.5-inch alloy wheels, exterior mirrors, bumpers, and Jeep badge. The interior sports black leather upholstery with accent stitching, heated front seats, piano-black accents, a “connectivity group,” and electronic vehicle-information display. Also included are a body-color 3-piece removable hardtop (in place of the standard fabric top), a rear-window defroster, and rear windshield wiper and washer. The audio/navigation package packs a base 40-gigabyte hard drive, remote USB port, and GPS navigation that displays on a 6.5-inch touchscreen in the dash.
No matter which Wrangler Unlimited you might select, the standard engine is a 285-horsepower version of Chrysler’s 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 that provides a lot of ready power. A 6-speed manual transmission is standard, but as noted, the Unlimited Altitude that CG drove had the extra-cost 5-speed automatic (which is packaged with hill-descent control). With this powerteam, I averaged 16.4 mpg over 84 miles, 65 percent of which came in city-type traffic conditions. The EPA’s city mileage estimate for the vehicle is 16 mpg (highway is 20).
With a longer wheelbase than the 2-door Wrangler, the Unlimited is less choppy and wobbly when crossing blemished pavement, but surface imperfections still make themselves felt in no uncertain terms, and there is some sense of drumming noise through the body with the solid top in place (though it does provide more isolation from traffic sounds than the fabric top). Speaking of the top, over-the-shoulder visibility in this 4-door wagon is just so-so, though door mirrors are large enough to provide a good view of the road behind.
The Unlimited has nominal room for 5 passengers—though 3 adults across the back seat will be a stretch, and a none-too-comfortable one for whomever is in the middle. Head room is good all around but leg room in better in front than in the 2nd row. Regardless of where they sit, passengers have a high climb into the vehicle. The Altitude’s standard rock rails not only offer protection to the lower body off-road but they provide a bit of a step to assist entry and exit. While leather seats lend a dressy air, there’s lots of hard plastic on interior surfaces.
Personal-item storage is handled by an acceptably large glove box and a console box that makes up for its small opening by being quite deep. There are net pouches on all doors, and a pouch on the back of both front seats. Two open cup holders are found in the console, and 2 more at floor level in the middle of the 2nd row. The rear cargo area is fairly spacious for what’s technically a compact SUV, and the rear seats fold in a 60/40 split to open up more room—though there’s a sizeable gap between the forward edge of the cargo floor and a folded seat. The vehicle’s high stance means a little extra work when loading objects in the back.
The Jeep Wrangler is, at its core, among the very best no-nonsense avoiders of beaten paths on the market. However, getting carried away with style and luxury items doesn’t make it more capable. Neither, ironically, does it transform a mountain goat into a show horse. Even a cheaper Jeep can do things that are difficult, but throwing money at it won’t make it do the impossible.
The world would be a better place if everyone in possession of a Jeep Wrangler actually hit the trail and did a little rock pounding. No Sharper Image chair, Wes Anderson movie, or affordable yet nuanced chablis can match the stress-reducing thrill of torquing over a huge rock, or trusting a route spotter as she guides you over a blind drop down a tricky hillside.
I suppose that’s why people buy Jeep Wrangler Unlimiteds instead of Grand Cherokees, for the look and feel of outdoorsy ruffianism implied by this iconic beast. I love the Wrangler, have owned a CJ, and fully understand the appeal. That said, if you have no intention of hitting the trail, consider the excellent and far more refined Grand Cherokee instead. Though the Wrangler is ultimately more capable in the rough stuff that the GC, I don’t want to know the snow storm–or end-of-times scenario–which the Wrangler can manage but the Grand Cherokee cannot.