2014 Jeep Wrangler Review

2014 Jeep Wrangler - A Patriotic tug prided in military muscle


 Jeep's blue-collar-inspired Wrangler finds itself atop a class carved out by its very own existence. Others have tried to emulate the compact, competent off-road architecture only to realize the sizeable task at hand of besting an entrenched trend-setter. Toyota quietly announced the retirement of its capable FJ Cruiser at the close of the2014 model year. The three-door off-roader arrived for duty in 2006. Nissan's compact, off-road-capable Xterra fared better since its 1999 debut; but remains a niche pick, not an iconic nameplate.

The multi-purpose three-door Wrangler smartly added its Unlimited five-door big brother in the 2004 model year; building on the already established Wrangler name and providing a more civilized means into second-row reaches. Then again, civilized may not be the best Wrangler description. Unlimited stretches its wheelbase (distance between front and rear axle) by 20 inches compared with the two-door Wrangler, finding itself in mid-size territory.

Both body styles come with removable soft or optional hard tops with three trim level selections: Sport, Sahara and ultimate off-road Rubicon. All encompass body-on-frame, truck -inspired construction, translating into a true go-anywhere attitude thanks to standard four-wheel drive. A five-link front and rear suspension contributes to a sturdy, albeit bouncy ride.

In the 2013 calendar year, the Jeep Brand set an all-time sales tab of 731,565 units in the United States and numbers continue strong through August of 2014.

Mechanically, little changes from the 2013model year in three or five-door models. One notable and welcome nuance includes additional inside grab handles, making the long climbs in and out palatable. The sole powertrain remains a 3.6-liter V-6 generating 285 horses. Tweaked versions of this versatile six banger, launched in 2011, power everything from the full-size Ram pickup truck to the sporty Dodge Charger. Remember, air conditioning is optional in entry sport trim, while standard in Sahara and Rubicon.

Need side doors removed or windshield folded down? Wrangler rates as one of the few vehicles offering these features, although when traversing public roads, keep doors intact to abide by most ordinances. Hard-top versions include removable roof panels unlatching with a simple manual latch twist. Chicagoland drivers may find the removable hard-top a more durable choice than the canvas-like soft top when factoring snowy conditions five months out of the year. Another Wrangler cue; floor drain plugs useful when cleaning out a muddy interior with garden hose.

A special, limited edition "Freedom" package returns. Available in both three- and five-door body styles, it's based on the Sahara 4 x 4 trim. Its 2012 debut proved so popular, it's back for a third go round in 2014. Expect seventeen-inch silver plated alloy wheels and body-colored, squarish wheel fenders.

The Freedom package was part of our Wrangler Unlimited tester with a prominent hood-affixed, weathered, circular white star decal creating a patriotic-theme comic book and movie crusader Captain America might select as his mode of transport. Unlimited Freedom's go-anywhere attitude and ease of second-row entry provides friendly confines for fellow Marvel Comic book cronies and Justice League of America tag alongs.

Patriotic exterior color choices include red, white and Freedom-specific hydro-blue in addition to silver, black and dune. All Wranglers include an old-school, mast radio antenna protruding up from the front passenger-side fender.

"Oscar Mike" front fender badging, pays tribute to Jeep's battlefield beginnings. Translated from military code, "Oscar Mike" alludes to, "On the Move." Each 2014 Wrangler Freedom edition sold generates a $250 donation to the United Services Operation (USO).

Sizeable ground clearance creates a tall step-in height designed for the young and young at heart. For less of a jump, side rails remain optional. Jeep's storied seven-slat vertical grille flanked by circular headlights remains a staple. The standard-sized spare tire, mounted on the back hatch, clears under-belly spacing for off-roading. The hatch door, hinged on right, opens in a refrigerator-door fashion. The window also swings up independently once the lower door swings out.

All four side doors sport large black grab handles with circular, thumb-driven push mechanisms. Square, side-view mirrors match the same box styling of tail light housing and the non-aerodynamic vehicle scheme. Exterior, black latches unhitch when raising the hood while the fuel door also sports a black hue.

Base price of a four-door Wrangler Unlimited is $26,195. Our tester included the $5,700 Freedom equipment package with mineral gray grille, power windows, power heated mirrors, leather-wrapped steering wheel, special Freedom badging and one year of satellite radio; five-speed automatic transmission ($1,295) replacing the six-speed manual; three-piece hard top ($995); Uconnect 6.5-inch touch screen radio with hard-drive storage ($695) and $995 destination charge for a bottom line of $35,875.

As with just about all Jeep, Chrysler, Dodge and Fiat vehicles, fingers work their magic behind the scenes with one of the best placement of secondary audio and station preset toggle-like buttons, along the steering wheel's back side and a natural resting place for digits. The three-spoke steering wheel's front is home to cruise control functions and scroll commands visible on the instrument panel.

The Freedom interior includes black, leather-trimmed seats with white accent stitching and Freedom Star decal on buckets. Four circular vent rings and grab handles include quicksilver accents, prominent against black backdrops as is the grab-handle near the passenger-side glove box sporting "1941," the year Jeep was born.

Back-to-basic interior nuances include three easy-to-grab, similar-sized circular dials for ventilation and air conditioning operation. Power window buttons operating all four side windows can be found in the center stack rather than doors themselves. The mechanical shift knob commanding Wrangler into four-wheel mode resides on the floor left of the transmission shifter. Most larger Jeep models use an electric, dashboard button to switch modes.

Plan on extra stopping distances since it takes longer to bring Wrangler Unlimited to a complete halt; it's an off-road beast, not a performance crossover. Wrangler Unlimited delivers below-average fuel economy readouts of 16 mpg city and 20 mpg highway with optional five-speed automatic. The gas tank holds a rather large 22.5 gallons of regular, unleaded fuel.

2014 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited

Price as tested: $35,875

Wheelbase: 116 inches

Length: 173.4 inches

Width: 73.9 inches

Engine: 3.6-liter V-6

Horsepower: 285

Curb weight: 4,294 pounds

Powertrain warranty: Five-year/100,000-mile

City/Highway economy: 16/20 mpg

Assembly: Toledo, Ohio

Dave Boe

Dave Boe, a lifetime Chicago area resident, worked at the Daily Herald, Illinois' third-largest daily newspaper, for 24 years. In 1989, the Daily Herald began a weekly Saturday Auto Section and he was shortly appointed editor. The product quickly grew into one of the largest weekend sections in the paper thanks to his locally-written auto reviews, the introduction of a local automotive question-and-answer column, a new colorful format and news happenings from Chicago area new-car dealerships.

Five years later, a second weekly auto section debuted on Mondays with Boe adding an industry insight column and introducing a "Love Affair with Your Car" column where readers sent in their own automotive memories for publication. During the next 10 years, the number of weekly auto sections Boe edited and coordinated grew to five and featured expanded NASCAR racing coverage, a dealer spotlight/profile feature and a Car Club Calendar where grass-roots automobile clubs could publish upcoming events for free. Boe also introduced more local automotive columnists into the pages of the sections, all of whom were seasoned members of the well respected Midwest Automotive Media Association. In 1997, Boe earned the Employee of the Year award from the Daily Herald.

Boe is a founding member and current president of the Midwest Automotive Media Association. He has degrees in Journalism and Business Administration from Northern Illinois University.