The Jeep Wrangler is a vehicle that goes against what the evolution of mainstream expectations have become. In the world of crossover utility vehicles, Jeep has more or less stuck with the same formula in the Wrangler. I have had the chance to sample a wide variety of offerings from different manufacturers, and have come to appreciate how refined and easy they are to drive, and how they meet the needs of the vast majority of the modern motoring public. I recently had the chance to try out a 2014 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited, in Sahara trim.
I would like to make clear that I am not an off-roading nut. I prefer spending my time on the tarmac, whether it’s on the city streets, autocross parking lots, or road courses. Some people love to tread off the beaten path, get plastered in mud, and go exploring where Google Maps says you can’t. As it stands, I would be using the Wrangler for the wrong purposes: commuting and living the urban life. Does it fall flat on its face, or does it do the job in an unconventional manner?
The Wrangler design, at least under Chrysler ownership, dates back to 1987. It was a unique design back then, and it still is now – the Wrangler is instantly identifiable as a Jeep even to people who aren’t necessarily into cars. Featuring the squared-off fender flares, trademark seven-slat vertical grille and upright greenhouse design, my tester was painted in a slightly curious “Dune Clear Coat”. Other colours available include a much-brighter yellow (“Amp’d”) and an eye-catching blue (“Hydro Blue”). The Wrangler Unlimited rides on 18” Bridgestone Dueler A/T tires. While fine for on-road use, more serious explorers will likely look for a dedicated mud off-road tire. Climb in and you’re greeted to a very high ride height and more room that one would expect, thanks to the second row of seats and doors. The windshield is close to your face and nearly vertical. With everything so squared off and vertical, it becomes obvious that aerodynamics were not high on the list of Jeep’s priorities. As a result, wind noise at high speed is very obtrusive.
Interior fit and finish is reasonable and fairly close to the new standards that Chrysler has been pushing into all its new models. A long-standing trademark of the Wrangler is the ability to quickly remove all the doors and the roof, depending on the model you have. While nice in the summer for exploring, the Wrangler’s inability to retain heat in the cabin quickly (read: no insulation) became an issue for our Canadian winters. We’ve seen some days of extreme cold, and having to blast the heat all the time just to maintain a reasonable temperature can make you think again about driving such a beast year round.
The Wrangler has never been much of a hot rod. Many people express their respect for the much-loved four-litre straight-six from the AMC days. A durable stump-puller, it did a good job until fuel prices started to go up, and emissions regulations got tighter. Fast forward a few years, where we are now seeing Chrysler shoehorn their new 3.6L Pentastar V6 into nearly everything they make, and the Wrangler is no exception. It produces 285 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. Both of these numbers are impressive on their own, and the V6 usually produces decent results in Chrysler’s smaller vehicles. Paired up with a carryover five-speed automatic, the Wrangler is able to get out of its own way – merging was never a problem. What was a problem was the fuel consumption. No thanks to its aerodynamic shape and weight associated with the full frame and off-road bits, I managed no better than 16L/100km, over the course of about 300km. People who knowingly get into the Wrangler game should already be aware of the fuel consumption. Legitimate off-roading usually involves crawling at low-speeds and revving the engine up in a low-range gear (becoming more and more rare nowadays) – both things that will take a big hit on overall fuel consumption.
As far as off-roading credentials go, the part-time four-wheel-drive system hasn’t changed much. A full low-range gear and locking differentials front and rear give you serious flexibility in getting around, no matter the terrain. The main and obvious difference with the Wrangler’s four-wheel-drive system is how drivability is affected by locking the differentials. Selecting 4-High is great for getting yourself unstuck, but as soon as you turn the wheel, the differentials moan, groan and buck the car while the wheels locked are locked to the same speeds. For city drivers such as myself, leaving the Wrangler in 2-High was the way to go. One thing that did come up as a negative point is the sheer size of the thing. The second row is great for bringing friends and family along on your adventures, but many off-road trails may be considered too tight for the big Wrangler Unlimited to fit through.
It seems there are two different crowds who would be interested in the Wrangler. The first group is obvious: the people who actually go off-road and will utilize all the features it brings to the ground, or dirt, in their case. The second is the group who wants the macho more-than-a-crossover look, actual off-road performance be-damned. These people will enjoy the removable doors and roof, but will pay for it with the fuel efficiency. Wrangler owners also enjoy somewhat of a unique community and excellent aftermarket support, even separate from the standard Chrysler crowd. I am told that many Wrangler owners will wave to each other on the roads, not entirely unlike the camaraderie seen with motorcyclists. At the end of the day, we are all petrolheads – just with different ways to get our fix. I like getting my thrills on the tarmac at the racetrack, while others love being able to crawl up impossible hills and mountains.
My Wrangler Unlimited Sahara edition rang in at $44,900. It came pretty much fully-loaded with just over $10,000 of options – some contributing to the Wrangler’s off-road prowess, and some luxury features. As you can see, the price for a well-equipped Wrangler really goes go up quickly as soon as you check some boxes. For somebody who is only looking to hit the trails, most of these luxury features are not needed, and forgoing some of these items helps prevent the Wrangler from pricing itself out of the market. Jeep purists will probably gravitate towards the standard two-door Wrangler for its friendlier off-road footprint, reduced weight, and maneuverability. What the Unlimited brings to the table is the ability for parents alike to hit the trails, but still have room for a child seat or several of your mates riding along.
2014 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara Gallery