TO THE POINTWhat’s New? The Jeep Wrangler is all-new, with a redesigned interior, subtle sheetmetal changes and a slew of mechanical improvements Selling Points: Off road champ, improved pavement prowler, interior space and convenience, Unlimited’s four doors Deal Breakers: Not enough power boost, heavier weight, less than ideal fuel economy Our Advice: For shoppers who want the real deal in the wilderness and families who want both off-road and on-road livability
Jeep Wrangler and Jeep Wrangler Unlimited – First Drive: It has been to more places than a Magellan, seen more moments of history than a Roosevelt and had more people obsess over it than Paris Hilton. From Eisenhower to Patton and up to today’s off-road adventurers, the Jeep Wrangler (or CJ, YJ, TJ or now – JK) is arguably the most prolific symbol of the American Automotive Legacy. In one form or another, from one company or another, it’s been climbing over obstacles since 1941. You can go ahead and change the name. Or the headlights. The facts still apply: The Wrangler is simple. Smash-mouth straight. As rugged as a brown bear, as canny as a coyote and as nimble as a mountain goat.
And now Jeep wants you to park one in your suburban driveway.
They say it’s more mellow, and if you listen closely you can hear the whispered pleas of Dr. Z and the gang, straight into the ear of the Wrangler: Please, please, behave… After all, it’s not in the nature of a Wrangler to behave like a good little suburban SUV. It’s not the style people have come to expect from this rugged little beast, more suited for rolling over boulders than speed bumps. Let the poseurs have their Land Rovers, their Hummers. The Wrangler was always for off-road – a statement about a person’s preference to be out in the wild instead of stuck in traffic.
That’s changed, now. Blame it on the number of competing models available for purchase, and the desire to keep the heart of an American icon beating into the 21st century. It’s no longer enough for Wrangler to be Wrangler. Now it has to do double duty for families and urbanites in order to survive in a dog-eat-dog SUV segment where there are over sixty competitors snarling over declining sales. It’s not enough to be a niche champ anymore, not with other automakers encroaching on your hallowed ground. That sort of pressure would make anyone do strange things, such as build a Wrangler with four doors that can’t drive off-road.
It makes us laugh just writing the words.
Why Jeep decided to stick a thumb in its own eyeball and sell such a two-wheel-drive vehicle is flabbergasting. It’s all about sales, and selling more Wranglers is a good thing – or is it, when they’re two-wheel-drive? But no matter. The company may have no choice, such are the pressures of today’s mid-size SUV market. But you have a choice: you can pick the wider Wrangler with the longer wheelbase that is significantly improved on pavement and inside the cabin, with new materials, controls and more room. The one that is safer and more refined, but still rugged enough climb the Rubicon Trail. Or you can save a little money and drive around in an SUV that wears a seven-slot grille, yet can’t make it’s way past a corn stand.
It’s your choice. But is that really a choice at all?