Not a warmed over crossover, but a tried and true sports utility vehicle built from a durable, compact-sized ladder-type, body-on-frame with potent V-6 power and architecture designed to tackle a multitude of terrains.
That's the synopsis of the venerable all-wheel-drive Jeep Wrangler, an adventurer with scant few rivals. It's the closest thing to a Hollywood-inspired 'Transformer' as doors, roofs, windshields and even second-row seats may be removed, morphing into a divergent 'Transporter'.
While strenuous off-roading didn't get put to the test during our week behind the wheel, the two-door Wrangler amply handled the growing number of on-road pot holes springing up throughout Chicagoland thanks to the past winter's wicked ways. Though the cranky concrete tried with might, none of the pot holes swallowed Wrangler whole.
Through the first three months of 2014, Wrangler sales totaled 34,674, a nifty nine percent increase from the same 2013 time frame. Wrangler's 14,481 March 2014 sales was the best March on record. Jeep Brand's total numbers during the first three months has Chrysler Group LLC smiling ear-to-ear. The 145,839 units signaled a 44 percent increase from 2013 and topped both Dodge and Ram Brand totals from the same period.
In the 2007 model year, Jeep capitalized on Wrangler's popularity by introducing a big brother, known commercially as Wrangler Unlimited, sporting four side doors, not just two. While Jeep offers a couple new specialty trims in 2014, little else changes from 2013 models.
Three conventional trims include Sport, Sahara and our tester, the Rubicon with its huge 32-inch mud terrain tires. Looking for something darkly different? Both Wrangler and Wrangler Unlimiteds are available in Noir-inspired 'Altitude' edition with a matte black grille, gloss black bumper appliques and dark-side theme interior.
In addition to Altitude, other specialty trims include a 'Polar edition' and back-to-basics Wrangler Willys Wheeler edition, saluting the early 'civilian Jeeps' (CJs) first available after the close of the Second World War.
Of the three base trims, Rubicon is designed for ultimate off-roading. When opting for the available Rubicon X option package ($4,100), not many factory-ready rivals are as capable of exploring far reaches off the main road.
The sole powertrain, a potent 3.6-liter, multi-port fuel injected Pentastar V-6 with variable valve timing delivering 285 horses. Versions of this versatile V-6 (launched in 2011), power everything from the full-size Ram pickup truck to the sporty Dodge Charger. A six-speed manual transmission, with long throws from gear to gear, comes standard while a five-speed automatic is optional. In markets outside the U.S., a diesel engine is available, something Wrangler might ponder for its home market in the coming years. The 18.6 gallon tank, large for a compact-sized product, requires regular, 87-octane regular. Teamed with the standard six-speed manual transmission, our tester's estimated fuel economy listed at 17 miles per gallon city and 21 mpg highway.
Two different part-time, four-wheel off-roading transfer cases are available. Sport and Sahara offer Command Trac splitting torque 50/50 to the front and rear axle. Rubicon boasts the heavy-duty Rock Trac, providing maximum low-speed torque to all wheels for slow rock crawls or sharp inclines. When selecting two-wheel high (best choice for on-road driving), power gets sent to the rear wheels.
Wrangler is also one of the few remaining 2014s with optional power side windows and air conditioning not standard across the board. All are optional in the Sport trim.
Pricing varies greatly depending on the trim and off-road extras desired. Our Wrangler Rubicon 4 x 4 started at $30,995. The optional Rubicon X package added steel front and rear bumpers, red tow hooks, heated front seats, black fuel door and power mirrors and windows. A $1,095 Uconnect package introduced a 6.5-inch touch screen, remote USB port and GPS Navigation for a $37,185 bottom line including a $995 destination charge. A Wrangler Sport starts at $22,395.
The closet rivals in today's marketplace are Nissan's versatile, off-road capable V-6-powerd Xterra ($23,970) and Toyota's FJ Cruiser ($28,540). Keep in mind Xterra is a four-door midsizer with not as many off-road options or trims as Wrangler and FJ ceases production at the close of this model year.
Our tester included the standard, foldable black soft top convertible covering the two rows. An optional three-piece hard top is available in black or body color.
Wrangler's signature front continues with circular headlights and a bold seven-slot vertical grille, not the toned-down curvatious theme found on the new 2014 mid-size Jeep Cherokee. Wide, squared wheel wheels come standard with a jet-black hue. Two side doors feature bold handles with circular thumb push buttons unlocking the latch. As in years past, these doors are completely removable as is the front windshield. However, when traversing public roads, all windows and doors must be attached and in their proper place.
The small, rectangular rear hatch door, hinged on the right, swings open via the left side as a refrigerator door. In keeping with the maximum ground clearance theme, the full-size spare adheres to the back hatch, not stowed under the vehicle. The red brake light situates atop a long vertical frame above the spare. Our tester included 'Rubicon' imprinted across the side of the slightly elevated hood. An old-school mast stands tall, saluting proudly above the passenger side fender.
The functional, straight-across black dash is minus soft-touch textures of most conventional compacts, but that's by design, not oversight; part of Wrangler's rugged storyline. Front door power window and side-view mirror controls are found in the center stack below the navigation screen. Second-row windows remain static thanks to canvas drapery. Three easy-to-grab ventilation dials remain along the bottom portion of the center column. The column's top region includes a recessed area for storage of portable electronics or other items.
Wrangler, as with many Jeep, Chrysler and now Fiat offerings, enjoy one of the best secondary audio control designs, with volume and station pre-set controls on the wheels back side, where finger tips do the walking while palms confidently grip the front. Cruise control functions reside on the front side of the three-spoke, manually tilting wheel along with tutorial selections through the digital, green-lit information screen inside the instrument panel. The flat IP itself consists of a black background with white lighting and four circular gauges.
Maneuvering into the compact Wrangler's front seating requires strong, able-body legs since generous ground clearance (10 inches for the Rubicon) creates a tall step-in height. A grab handle above the shot-gun side glove box adds an assist to passenger-side entry. Cloth seating comes standard, leatherette-style is optional in Sahara and Rubicon. The easiest way into the two-person second row is from the passenger's side with a seat bottom that slides forward and a back tilting forward for a narrow passage way. Because of the non-curved, sharp-angled roof, headroom remains plentiful front and back and leg room pleasantly spacious.
Even when on pavement, Wrangler's ride is bumpy. Canvas siding does little to keep wind noise out of the cabin. Expect longer stopping distances thanks to added weight and bulky off-road gearing. The compact Wrangler is capable of towing up to 2,000 pounds. 2014 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon
Price as tested:
4,104 poundsPowertrain warranty: