- Off-road prowess
- Overall toughness
- Freedom Top
- Nothing else like it
- On-road handling
- Uncomfortable rear seats
- Bouncy, jittery ride
- Thirsty for such a compact vehicle
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.
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.