A car guy’s wife was eagerly awaiting delivery of a Jeep Wrangler for a week-long test drive, and he was telling a fellow car guy about it. “She likes the idea of the Wrangler,” the husband said as the other nodded in agreement. “The experience of it will change her mind.” He was wrong.
Wrangler skeptics dismiss these rugged, retro-styled SUVs as noisy, top-heavy, underpowered, hard-riding, thirsty and awkward. Oh, everyone acknowledges they’re beasts in the back country. But they’re tough to live with in the civilized spaces of western Connecticut, right?
Our 2015 Wrangler – the first we’ve ever taken for a test drive, and the first we’ve ridden since American Motors owned the Jeep nameplate – was unlike any midsize SUV we’ve driven. Yet we responded to its forceful personality and quickly got comfortable behind the adjustable steering wheel.
The Firecracker Red Jeep had four removable doors and a long, somewhat narrow body designed to negotiate narrow woodland trails. The ride was not soft, but neither was it punishing. The upright windshield and removable two-piece roof conspired to keep wind noise at a high level, even at moderate speeds. Power was ample.
When it came to handling, the Jeep made no secret of its limitations, so we never found ourselves apprehensive about what might befall us in an emergency maneuver. Driven within its limits, the Wrangler serves up a surprisingly relaxing driving experience.
The suspension, tires, brakes and drive train might have been built to withstand wilderness excursions, but the Wrangler Unlimited Altitude Edition’s interior bordered on plush: soft leather seats, automatic climate control with humidity sensor, navigation system, remote start, power windows and locks, satellite radio and heated front seats. Some of these features were optional, and the bottom line was $41,715. But the base model, at $32,795, is nicely appointed, too.
The price of admission to the most basic Wrangler model, the 2-door Sport, is $22,995. The 4-door Unlimited starts at $26,795. All Wranglers have 4-wheel drive and 3.6-liter, 285-horsepower V-6 engine. Jeep offers a choice between a 5-speed automatic and 6-speed stick shift.
The Wrangler Unlimited is much more versatile than the Sport because the back seat is accessible and accommodating for two or three adults. Moreover, cargo room is considerable: 31.5 cubic feet with the back seat upright and 70.6 cubic with the seat laid flat.
The Wrangler performed well in frontal crash tests performed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, but received a score of Marginal in side-impact collisions, head restraints and seats. Reliability is below average, according to Consumer Reports magazine; interestingly, the same magazine reported owner satisfaction with the Wrangler was above average.
That may help to explain why Jeep drivers always seem to smile and wave when they see another Jeep – and with sales volume up 16 percent this year, they must be doing a lot of smiling and waving.
Steven Macoy (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.
Engine: 2.6-liter V-6, 285 horsepower, 260 lb.-ft. torque
Transmission: 5-speed shiftable automatic
Drive: Command-Trac shift-on-the-fly part-time 4-wheel drive
Weight: 4,231 lb.
Ground clearance: 10.5 in.
Suspension: Live solid axles, 5-link front/rear, coil springs, leading arms
Wheels: 18×7.5-in. high-gloss 5-spoke aluminum
Tires: 255/70SR18 all-terrain
Seating capacity: 5
Luggage capacity: 31.5 cu. ft.
Maximum cargo capacity: 70.6 cu. ft.
Towing capacity: 3,500 lb.
Fuel capacity: 22.5 gallons
Fuel economy: 16 mpg city, 20 mpg highway
Fuel type: regular unleaded