2011 Jeep Wrangler Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
May 20, 2011

The 2011 Jeep Wrangler isn’t at all suited to highway commutes, but the most adventurous weekend warriors will find its off-road prowess and iconic style hard to resist.

You might not even distinguish the Wrangler, at a quick glance, out on the trail, from a much older Wrangler or CJ. That's what Jeep hopes, it seems; the brand has evolved the Wrangler's iconic exterior style very little over the years, and the flat side sheetmetal, trapezoidal wheel flares, and seven-slot grille keep with the Wrangler's military-truck heritage. Yet inside—and especially this year—this off-road toughie has gained a considerably upgraded interior and has a pretty impressive feature set. Overall, the new interior look is more sophisticated, more rounded, with softer detailing throughout, and it's likely that few will miss the more angular, parts-bin look of last year's model.

The driving experience in the 2011 Jeep Wrangler is by no means exciting or rewarding on the road, but it's deft enough to get out of its own way. The 3.8-liter V-6 is perfectly adequate with either gearbox—though it's winded on the highway, and neither as torquey as Jeep's former straight six nor as refined and responsive as the new 3.6-liter in the Grand Cherokee. Overall, though, with its stiff, jittery ride, combined with just-adequate handling, imprecise steering, and a somewhat tall, tipsy feel—imagined, we should add, as the Wrangler's quite stable—you'll be very much aware of the road surface and probably keep to the speed limit.

Take off to the trail—pretty much any trail—and you'll 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.

Review continues below

Off-roading toughness of the Wrangler is assured by live axle front and rear suspensions, with 10.2 inches of ground clearance and the availability of a four-wheel-drive system with heavy-duty axles, locking differentials, Rock-Trac transfer case with the sway-bar disconnect, extra-low gearing, and knobby BF Goodrich tires on Rubicon versions. And for those who shop by the numbers, the critical ones for the Wrangler are 44.3 degrees approach, 25.4 degrees breakover, and 40.4 degrees departure—that's all for the top-of-the-line, off-road-pedigreed Rubicon.

One way the Wrangler is retro in a bad way is that it's still just as thirsty as the CJs of decades ago. It's surprisingly inefficient for a compact vehicle on the road, and there's no frugal four-cylinder choice as there was in the past.

The 2011 Wrangler is offered in two different body styles (Wrangler and Wrangler Unlimited) and three different trims (Sport, Sahara, and Rubicon). Wrangler Unlimited models add 20.6 inches of wheelbase (116 inches), giving them the most cargo space ever in a Wrangler, and a larger rear-seat design. While that extra backseat space in the Unlimited will be much appreciated, don't expect a lot of comfort anywhere in the Wrangler—although sound insulation has been improved for 2011.

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 in a very capable off-roader—it's the only four-door convertible SUV. The removable tops are one of 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. Last year Jeep improved its soft top design, making it much easier to use for 2010, making it much easier to use, and for 2011 the Sahara gets a new body-color hardtop.

While you might expect the 2011 Jeep Wrangler to be an extremely basic vehicle, ill-equipped for daily use, that's just not the case. Wrangler models can be equipped with air conditioning, navigation, automatic climate control, and streetwise alloy wheels. Standard equipment includes fog lamps, tow hooks, a compass, a device that shows how economically you are driving, and even an outdoor temperature gauge. Its utter flexibility, along with those options and others like Bluetooth connectivity, MyGIG music storage, Sirius Satellite Radio, and a hard-core off-road package have us still quite amazed at all that's offered—more than any other off-roader.

For 2011, the interior upgrade given to the Wrangler goes a bit beyond the detailing of the dash and the look and feel of the materials; there's an all-new steering-wheel design with integrated controls, a new armrest, and a locking glovebox, and heated seats and heated mirrors are newly available—as is automatic climate control.

This year there's also a new Call of Duty: Black Ops special edition, based on the Wrangler Rubicon model. It's black, of course, and includes huge 32-inch off-road tires like the Rubicon, with special graphics on the rood and rear quarter panels. 

9

2011 Jeep Wrangler

Styling

The 2011 Jeep Wrangler keeps its timeless, instantly recognizable exterior but trades its bargain-basement interior in for a softer look.

You won't mistake the Jeep Wrangler for any other new vehicle from the outside. The Wrangler enters 2011 with the same iconic exterior, with one of the boxiest, hard-edged looks in the business—enforced by details like removable doors, outside door hinges, and a fold-down windshield. The flat side sheetmetal, trapezoidal wheel flares, and seven-slot grille also keep with the Wrangler's ready-for-the-trail, military-truck heritage.

Not much has changed on the outside this year, and that's a good thing. The Wrangler is still offered in two-door Wrangler and four-door Wrangler Unlimited variants; Sahara trims get a new body-colored hardtop, and five new colors for this year brighten up the color palette.

Inside, changes on the 2011 Jeep Wrangler are much more significant. It gets what Jeep calls an all-new interior, and it's true; the instrument panels and door panels are newly contoured, trims have been freshened and much improved, and the look and feel is more sophisticated even if the layout is still abbreviated and upright. Overall, it's more rounded, with softer detailing throughout, and it's likely that few will miss the more angular, parts-bin look of last year's model. 

6

2011 Jeep Wrangler

Performance

The 2011 Jeep Wrangler is lackluster and unimpressive on the road; but it has top-notch performance chops off-road.

While most of the Chrysler and Jeep lineup has received the company's new Pentastar V-6 for 2011, the Jeep Wrangler The 3.8-liter V-6 engine produces 202 horsepower and comes with a choice of either manual or four-speed automatic transmissions. Fuel economy on rear-drive, manual-transmission models is as high as 16 mpg city, 21 highway, which is good for the Wrangler lineup but not particularly economical.

The driving experience in the 2011 Jeep Wrangler by no means exciting or rewarding on the road, but overall it's deft enough to get out of its own way. The V-6 is perfectly adequate with either gearbox—though it's winded on the highway, and neither as torquey as Jeep's former straight six nor as refined and responsive as the new 3.6-liter in the Grand Cherokee. With its stiff, jittery ride, combined with just-adequate handling, imprecise steering, and a somewhat tall, tipsy feel—imagined, we should add, as the Wrangler's quite stable—you'll be very much aware of the road surface and probably keep to the speed limit.

Take off to the trail—pretty much any trail—and you'll 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.

Off-roading toughness of the Wrangler is assured by live axle front and rear suspensions, with 10.2 inches of ground clearance and the availability of a four-wheel-drive system with heavy-duty axles, locking differentials, Rock-Trac transfer case with the sway-bar disconnect, extra-low gearing, and knobby BF Goodrich tires on Rubicon versions. And for those who shop by the numbers, the critical ones for the Wrangler are 44.3 degrees approach, 25.4 degrees breakover, and 40.4 degrees departure—that's all for the top-of-the-line, off-road-pedigreed Rubicon. 

4

2011 Jeep Wrangler

Comfort & Quality

If you need a backseat or significant cargo space, you'll be happier with the Unlimited, but don’t expect much softness or comfort here in any case.

The 2011 Wrangler is offered in two different body styles (Wrangler and Wrangler Unlimited) and three different trims (Sport, Sahara, and Rubicon). Wrangler Unlimited models add 20.6 inches of wheelbase (116 inches), giving them the most cargo space ever in a Wrangler, and a larger rear-seat design.

While that extra backseat space in the Unlimited will be much appreciated, don't expect a lot of comfort anywhere in the Wrangler. Front seats are merely adequate, and all the seating has a rather firm, flatly padded feel (perhaps under the assumption that it might get wet). Ride quality is on the firm side, and quite busy, with nearly all minor road imperfections making their way inside. Standard Wrangler models are somewhat more bouncy, though, due to their shorter wheelbase. At highway speeds, the Wrangler is still one of the noisiest vehicles on the market, although for 2011 Jeep has aimed at improving the situation with more acoustical treatment.

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 in a very capable off-roader—it's the only four-door convertible SUV.

The removable tops are one of 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. Last year Jeep improved its soft top design, and for 2011 the Sahara gets a new body-color hardtop. 

6

2011 Jeep Wrangler

Safety

The 2011 Jeep Wrangler might be able to get you safely through tough off-road conditions, but there are clearly safer choices for the highway.

With mostly lackluster crash-test ratings and only the basics, by today's standard, in safety equipment, the 2011 Jeep Wrangler doesn't claim safety as its strong point.

The federal government hasn't yet tested the Wrangler under its revised, and more stringent testing system, but the results that are out there point out that you might have better choices for on-the-road safety. In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) testing, the two-door Wrangler is rated 'good' for frontal impact, 'moderate' in the seat-based rear-impact test, and just 'poor' for side impact; the four-door Wrangler Unlimited has the same frontal and rear ratings but a better (though still worrisome) 'moderate' rating for side impact.

One other surprise shoppers might find in this respect is that side-impact bags remain an option ($430), in a class where they're almost taken for granted. Otherwise, it's all included though, with anti-lock brakes and stability control both on the roster for all Wranglers. Also included are two off-road aids: Hill Start Assist (HSA) to prevent rollback on graded surfaces, and Trailer Sway Control (TSC), which monitors vehicle movement relative to the intended path. 

9

2011 Jeep Wrangler

Features

The 2011 Jeep Wrangler includes way more features and modern technology extras than you might ever expect in such a simple, utilitarian-looking vehicle.

While you might expect the 2011 Jeep Wrangler to be an extremely basic vehicle, ill-equipped for daily use, that's just not the case. Wrangler models can be equipped with air conditioning, navigation, automatic climate control, and streetwise alloy wheels. Standard equipment includes fog lamps, tow hooks, a compass, a device that shows how economically you are driving, and even an outdoor temperature gauge. Its utter flexibility, along with those options and others like Bluetooth connectivity, MyGIG music storage, Sirius Satellite Radio, and a hard-core off-road package have us still quite amazed at all that's offered—more than any other off-roader.

For 2011, the interior upgrade given to the Wrangler goes a bit beyond the detailing of the dash and the look and feel of the materials; there's an all-new steering-wheel design with integrated controls, a new armrest, and a locking glovebox, and heated seats and heated mirrors are newly available—as is automatic climate control.

Like many Jeeps before it, though, the Wrangler provides features that other SUVs simply can't match. One such feature is the removable top. Although it is also possible to remove the top on a two-door convertible car, the Wrangler remains the only four-door convertible on the market, and you can even flip down the windshield for low-speed operation.

Last year the soft-top mechanism was improved, allowing easier access to convertible thrills. And with the Freedom Top, the Wrangler Jeep can go roofed, as a targa, or as a full convertible, which definitely increases its appeal.

This year there's also a new Call of Duty: Black Ops special edition, based on the Wrangler Rubicon model. It's black, of course, and includes huge 32-inch off-road tires like the Rubicon, with special graphics on the rood and rear quarter panels. 

5

2011 Jeep Wrangler

Fuel Economy

Poor fuel-efficiency means the 2011 Jeep Wrangler isn't so green at all.

The 2011 Jeep Wrangler is quite a compact vehicle overall, yet its fuel-efficiency is unimpressive—even downright poor, by some standards. Whether you get the four-speed automatic transmission or the six-speed manual gearbox, EPA ratings for the Wrangler are 15 mpg city, 19 highway.

For the off-road crowd, that's the price of the Jeep's rugged off-road hardware and toughness; but for on-road drivers, that might be cause to consider another type of vehicle. 

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USED PRICE RANGE
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6.8
Overall
Expert Rating
Rating breakdown on a scale of 1 to 10?
Styling 9.0
Performance 6.0
Comfort & Quality 4.0
Safety 6.0
Features 9.0
Fuel Economy 5.0
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