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- 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
The 2015 Jeep Wrangler offers more options and features than ever in a supremely off-road-capable package that's comfortable enough to act as daily transportation too.
The 2015 Jeep Wrangler remains the most capable in the brand's lineup—and perhaps the most capable SUV on the market.
Jeep has gone to great lengths to preserve this model's authenticity. You can still completely remove its top and doors and flip down the windshield. The door hinges are still exposed, attached to flat sheetmetal that pointedly avoids mass-market appeal. Wrangler buyers would have it no 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.
But the Wrangler is no longer the rough-and-tumble compromise it once was. Yes, it's still a bit crude, but considering where it came from, and where it can take you, the Wrangler is now livable, thanks to vital changes made over the past few model years.
Two body styles are available: the two-door Jeep Wrangler and four-door Wrangler Unlimited. They offer a choice of soft or hard tops, as well as a package that includes both, for those who want to switch back and forth depending on season. Though easily penetrated by road and wind noise, they can completely open the cabin, making the Wrangler a true convertible SUV. And fans of T-tops will like the Freedom hardtop, which has removable roof panels for a semi-open-air experience that requires less futzing. Jeep has improved its soft top design in recent years, 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 model. 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 17-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.
The Wrangler is no longer a huge pain on-road, either. While the noise can get to you on long highway trips, the suspension is compliant enough and the handling acceptable. The ride is especially good on the Unlimited model, because of its longer wheelbase, while the two-door can still get caught out on larger bumps. But the Wrangler keeps a solid feeling and, as long as you remember that it has a high center of gravity, works just as you'd expect.
Refinement has been improved incrementally on the Wrangler in recent years, including a pretty dramatic transformation for the interior. The Wrangler no longer resembles cheap plastic roughly stuck together; instead its instrument panel is modern and curvy yet upright, with soft-touch materials provided in a few spots where they'll be noticed. And you can still hose out the interior when you need to, with drain plugs included on every Wrangler.
The lineup includes base Sport, fancier 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 and Rubicon form--as well as a bunch of appearance packages that go by names like Freedom, Willys Wheeler, and Hard Rock. 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 Wrangler has a base price of about $24,000, but it doesn't stop there, 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 have you think twice before getting on the trail and scraping up your new toy.
Changes for 2015 include the usual new paint colors and trim packages, as well as a new standard eight-speaker audio system, a new nine-speaker system that includes a subwoofer, a package that bundles steel wheels with 31-inch tires for Sport models, and a Torx tool set that's standard on all models, allowing owners to remove the windshield or doors wherever they are.