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The 2014 Jeep Wrangler remains the only convertible SUV with traditional four-wheel drive on the market, and it's instantly identifiable. Its singular road presence comes not from its mechanicals but from its heritage as a World War II military vehicle that still colors it design and capabilities 70 years later. Today's version is substantially more pleasant to drive--and a great deal larger and more powerful--than the military Jeep that spawned it generations ago. But there's still the same off-road ability and visual presence, which together are a great part of its appeal.
Technically, sure, the Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet is an all-wheel-drive open-top vehicle too. But it's derived from a car-based crossover, doesn't have a separate chassis or rock-climbing chops--and it's far more at home ushering around middle-aged lady real-estate brokers than hauling, climbing, mudding, or towing, all of which the Wrangler seems to do with glee.
Jeep goes to great lengths to preserve the Wrangler's authenticity. You can still remove its top, completely, and flip down the windshield. The hinges are still exposed, attached to flat sheetmetal and a visual toughness that deliberately avoids soft curves or mass-market appeal. All over the world, its buyers wouldn't have it any other way. And that authenticity goes a long way toward making the other Jeep products, whether family SUVs or smaller crossovers, just that much more desirable than their competitors.
A pair of models are available: the two-door Jeep Wrangler and four-door Wrangler Unlimited. Both are and far more comfortable than in the past, or than you'd guess. Either offers a choice of soft or hard tops, and either top can rightly be called one of the Jeep's best features. Though they allow lots of road noise in the cabin, they can completely open the cabin of both the two- and four-door models, turning a hardtop Jeep into a convertible SUV. When you don't mind a little turbulence and wind in your hair, with the top removed (and even in some low-speed cases, the windshield folded down) the Wrangler can hit the spot, bringing the sensations of a convertible into a very capable off-roader. Jeep has improved its soft top design, making it much easier to use, but it's still a complex, multi-hand operation.In 2012, Jeep introduced its Pentastar 3.6-liter V-6 to the Wrangler, along with a new five-speed automatic transmission, and it's made this the standard powertrain. A six-speed manual is still offered, too. The V-6 and automatic combination can now dash to 60 mph in a much faster 8.4 seconds for the Wrangler Unlimited, or 7.7 seconds for the two-door Wrangler. There's surprisingly strong passing pep, and revs are kept low. About the only complaint we have is with the old (but very rugged) recirculating-ball steering gear and its dullness. Well, that and its 16-mpg EPA city rating.
The sacrifices might well be worth it when you take to the trail—pretty much any trail—and experience the Wrangler's reason for being. The tough body-on-frame chassis and solid front and rear axles that established the Wrangler as one of the most capable off-road SUVs on the market continues to wow, with lots of clearance, a rugged underbody with protective skid plates, and terrific boulder-scrambling prowess. The traditional four-wheel-drive system is also supplemented with some modern tech, including an electric sway-bar disconnect that permits impressive wheel articulation without the expense of floppy on-road cornering.
Refinement has been improved incrementally on the Wrangler in recent years, and last year's powertrain changes brought more of a transformation. The Wrangler no longer either keeps with the parts-bin look inside; instead its instrument panel is modern and curvy yet upright, with soft-touch materials provided in a few spots where they'll be noticed.
The lineup includes base Sport, popular Sport S, showy Sahara, and super-off-road-focused Rubicon. Across the upper trims there's a wide range of choices in top configurations--including a body-color hardtop now offered in Sahara, Rubicon, or Moab form. Wrangler models can be equipped with air conditioning, navigation, automatic climate control, and streetwise alloy wheels, even Alpine speakers. Its utter flexibility, along with those options and others like Bluetooth connectivity, MyGIG music storage, Sirius Satellite Radio, heated seats, automatic climate control, and a hard-core off-road package have us still quite amazed at all that's offered—more than any other off-roader.The Jeep Wrangler has a base price of about $24,000, but those base prices can be misleading, as Sahara and Rubicon models cost thousands more, and you'll want a number of options to make the off-road package (and appearance) complete. At the top end, Rubicon models can pass $40k--a price point that could create a little anxiety if you're headed out to scrape against boulders and brush.
- The undisputed off-road champ
- Truly unique
- Strong V-6 acceleration
- Carlike touches in cabin
- Poor handling on pavement
- Ride is rough
- Steep prices for top editions
- Very poor safety ratings
- Complex soft-top installation