It's a Jeep thing... |
The Jeep Wrangler is one of those iconic vehicles that has been a staple in the Canadian automotive landscape for what feels like forever. It’s also a vehicle that tends to attract some strong opinions; a person either absolutely loves the Wrangler for its iconic styling and capabilities, or hates it for its harshness. Previously, I’d only briefly driven a Wrangler, a base Sport model with a 6-speed manual, and in my short experience I had not come away impressed. But when the folks at Chrysler gave me the opportunity to spend a full week with a 2015 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara, I was anxious to see whether or not I could warm up to it.
Now the Chrysler team either knows me well, or someone has very good taste because I was pleased to find my Wrangler Unlimited Sahara, at just over $43,000, was optioned out exactly the way I would have ordered it. My tester came in the signature Wrangler bright red with a matching hardtop, the Sahara 18” wheels, Alpine stereo, navigation, towing package and a 5-speed automatic. I’d have no need for the pricier Rubicon package aimed at serious off-roaders, or even leather seats, also not fitted to my tester. You might question the automatic transmission, but after driving the alternative 6-speed manual, I don’t think I could live with its long throws and stiff clutch. In my humble opinion, my red test Jeep had to be one of the best looking Jeeps out there. I am a huge fan of the look with the color matched 3-piece hardtop, a mere $800 option and money very well spent in this climate.
What I like the most about this particular setup is that it is the most livable way to option out a Wrangler Unlimited. Inside its tight and rattle-free hardtop, my tester has most of the modern comforts that we have become accustomed to without losing any of the traditional rugged Wrangler feel. The doors are still removable and a nylon strap still keeps them from opening too far. My Wrangler also features a huge padded rollbar with speakers mounted, a big weatherproof subwoofer in the trunk and a heavy-duty solid axle suspension with massive gas shocks. If it were summer, I absolutely would have taken a topless Jeep to the beach, as it would be the ideal beach party companion. However, given that it’s December, I had to make do with Holiday traffic in the city and a short jaunt on a muddy and rocky service road.
I was expecting to suffer the most during my commute with the Wrangler, so I was very surprised at how livable it turned out to be – in this configuration, at least. The Wrangler is definitely out of its element on the highway, but it isn’t bouncy or unstable. In fact, aside from having to correct its tracking a fair bit, it does make a reasonably comfortable cruiser. Wind noise is the biggest issue on the highway as it seems to invade the cabin from all sides. My experience in the city was equally positive; good visibility and a respectable turning radius made it easy to maneuver, and the heavy-duty gas shocks made driving over potholes nearly seamless. The ride is much rougher than that of a typical SUV or crossover, but it’s not nearly as harsh as some might expect. I’ve definitely experienced more jarring rides in some higher-end sports cars.
The Wrangler Unlimited made light work of the rough and mucky service road I decided to tackle. In 4-HI, the Bridgestone Dueler All-Terrain tires had no trouble gaining traction and hauling the Jeep through some pretty deep and sticky muck with ease. It does stiffen up and get quite bouncy off-road, but that’s to be expected and I am certain it’s all part of the charm true Jeep enthusiasts enjoy. While we’re on the topic of capability, the tow package on my tester is rated to tow 3500lbs. That’ll get most race cars to the track.
I have to admit that I’ve begun falling for some of the Wrangler’s charms; it has a certain character to it that I really enjoy. However, the fuel mileage numbers I got out of the 3.6L Pentastar V6 and its 5-speed automatic mate quickly put a damper on my enthusiasm. In my regular mixed commute, I managed a 13.5L/100km average. There are some obvious reasons for this; aside from the brick-like shape, weight of the 4×4 system and heavy-duty suspension, I feel like the 5-speed automatic is a contributor to the problem as well. Chugging along at highway speeds, the V6 revs up around 2500RPM, which really makes me wish it had another gear or even an overdrive to help save some fuel on the highway. I am also not sure why Chrysler hasn’t adopted their 8-speed automatic into the Wrangler. I’m sure it has something to do with ensuring that the Jeep is geared for optimal off-road performance. However, I doubt it would hurt to have the 8-speed option for those suburbanites whose Jeeps will rarely see terrain rougher than the occasional snow storm.
Fuel mileage aside, the 285 horsepower V6 does an adequate job at moving the heavy Wrangler around. It doesn’t feel fast in any way and the throttle response remains quite slow, as do the shifts from the 5-speed. Clearly though, the Wrangler Unlimited is not meant for on-the-road performance. What it does have is plenty of low-end torque, which will easily break the rear tires free from a standstill with a swift kick of the throttle. To be perfectly honest, I am not sure whether it was the Jeep’s charm or the fact that its on-road handling left a lot to be desired, but I had no urge to drive any faster or have any additional power at my disposal.
The interior of the Wrangler is simple, but everything you need is present and easy to use. The front seats are very comfortable and supportive, though I did get some complaints from rear passengers about the bench being too upright. Rear cargo space is excellent and the swing out rear gate makes loading easy. The UConnect 730N multimedia center and navigation is also simple to use and is well adapted to the Jeep’s dash.
The simple truth about my experience with the Wrangler is that I enjoyed it. It has its shortcomings, but there is nothing else on the market quite like it. It’s not the vehicle I’d recommend to a family looking for a practical hauler or someone who just thinks it looks cool, because its novelty will wear off over time. However, for young adventure enthusiasts or couples who just want to get away from the city and explore, the Wrangler might be the perfect ticket. The Wrangler has a personality that is lacking in many modern vehicles, and it’s that personality that is the difference between a vehicle being a simple tool to go from point A to B versus becoming a part of your life. When a vehicle makes that jump into your life, you gain more than an appliance; you gain a companion.