2011 Jeep Wrangler Review:
Jeep’s Wrangler is the epitome of an off-road vehicle, a direct descendant of the Willys that went off to war with so many of our fathers and grandfathers in World War II.
Today’s Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 4X4 is a far cry from that original 1941 buckboard, but it’ll still go way off road to conquer whatever mud, muck and man-made hazards stand between driver and destination.
Most of us don’t need to climb a steep wall of boulders or ford a stream or muscle through a foot of mud. We need to get to work, pick up the kids or head to the mall.
For that, there are many more comfortable, quiet and refined sport-utility trucks that would fit the bill for the test Jeep’s $39,640 sticker price. But there is only one Jeep and if that is what you hanker for, the four-door Rubicon will carry your rucksack, tent and a family of four on a rugged outdoor adventure.
Unlike many SUVs, you can take the Rubicon off-road because it has 10.1 inches of ground clearance, tunable shocks to give it better feel on rocks but a firmer ride on the road, plus a serious four-wheel-drive system that requires you to shift a stubborn lever adjacent to the usual five-speed automatic transmission. The automatic is extra here, costing $1,125 and including a hill descent control that helps the Jeep crawl down a steep incline safely.
Chrysler/Fiat has given the Wrangler’s 3.6-liter V6 engine about 10% more power for 2012, which translates to 285 horsepower. Even around town, the Jeep feels peppy as you accelerate from a stoplight, and the five-speed automatic does a good job of using the power to move this 4,340 pound vehicle.
Steering is fairly light, just not terribly precise. When you’re clanking over jagged rocks, some play in the wheel can be a good thing so you don’t break a wrist. But it’s not as much fun on the highway, as the Jeep tends to wander a bit in the lane as you keep adjusting the wheel.
Handling is good for a tall vehicle. There is not a huge amount of lean in turns, and the Jeep’s 32-inch B.F. Goodrich off-road tires keep the vehicle on a turn’s apex if you want to push it a bit.
The ride, while a bit bouncy, is not as Jeep-like as you’d expect. The heavy-duty live axles absorb a fair amount of what our crumbling roads hand out. You won’t mistake this for a luxury SUV’s ride, but you won’t be beat up either. Being the four-door model, the Unlimited rides on a longer 116-inch wheelbase, which helps spread the bumps. That’s about a foot longer than the standard Wrangler’s wheelbase.
Braking is fine from four-wheel discs with anti-lock braking system and stability control.
If you take your Jeep off road regularly, the Rubicon comes standard with Tru-Lok electronically locking front and rear differentials for better traction, a transfer case skid plate shield and rock rails. Also, the sway bars can be disconnected when you’re off-roading.
You’ll be glad to see a 22.5-gallon gas tank, in case you get lost in the outback or have to go a long way before a fill-up. Jeep says that’ll give you about 405 miles on a tank, the Jeep being rated at 16 mpg city and 20 highway. I got a miserable 10.9 mpg in about 60% city driving.
Inside, you’ll notice the road roar of these big truck tires. The plastic three-piece removable roof only adds to the reverberation. So at times, there is a resonance that only a true Jeep lover will enjoy.
While that can be annoying in fall or winter, the roof and doors come off, so you can be fully exposed in nice weather, a boon to Jeep owners in more southerly climates. That hard top, along with a rear wiper and defroster, add $1,625 to the price tag.
The Unlimited gives you a sizable trunk that gets even larger (82.0 cubic feet) when you fold down the rear seats. The rear tailgate swings out like a door and holds a large spare tire, partially blocking your rear view. The Jeep’s rear window will only flip up after that tailgate is out of the way.
Inside, the look is pure industrial Jeep, with door pulls and a dash handle attached with polished and exposed hex nuts. Overhead are exposed roof rails too, but that’s what you want and expect in a Jeep.
However, you’re not entirely roughing it. The bright blue test Jeep is well equipped, especially after adding some extras, like leather trimmed seats with two-speed heat ($900) and a media center with CD/DVD/MP3 and satellite radio and a navigation system ($1,035). You’ll need all the volume you can muster for that radio/stereo, as the road noise makes it hard to hear above about 40 mph.
While the test Jeep ended at nearly $40,000, its base price is a more reasonable $33,570, plus an $800 delivery fee. The Unlimited Sport model (same engine) lists at $25,545 and the Sahara at $30,745. Either may be a better, more basic, choice if you plan to pound your Jeep in the brush.
Inside, the seats are flat but comfortable. I suspect the flatness is to help you move around and get up on the wheel if you’re off road. There is a manual pump handle on the driver’s seat side to pump up its height.
While not horrible, the heater takes a while to warm the foot wells, something that could become an issue in winter. I was glad to have the warmed seat a couple mornings to take the chill off before the heater started doing its magic.
Jeep is unique, so if you want rough-and-tumble looks, this is the way to go. While you give up some comfort and quiet with the Unlimited model, you get decent on-road manners – and the ability to let the sun in for everyone once summer arrives.