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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.
2015 Jeep Wrangler
No matter what year it is, the Jeep Wrangler seems to be in contemporary shape.
Few vehicles have such obvious design lineage, carrying from one generation to the next. The current Wrangler looks a whole lot like the Wranglers that came before it, and the CJs that came before that. Extra styling doesn't help off-road, and straight sheetmetal is easier to repair.
The Wrangler is ripe with military heritage and go-anywhere parentage, and there's just nothing else that looks like it on the road today. Its trapezoidal wheel flares, flat sides, and seven-slot grille all remind us that this Jeep was designed with function at front of mind. Many of its current design features are just about as old as the original model–just look at its removable doors, external door hinges, and fold-down windshield.
This deference to heritage hasn't stopped the designers from having a little fun with the details, though. A Willys silhouette is part of the windshield's edge mask, and there are little Jeep icons in the lighting elements, as well. Some models even have that Willys silhouette painted in the wheel pockets.
It's the interior of the Jeep Wrangler that's seen the biggest changes with the passing years, and that's a good thing. The drab, hard-plastic dashboard and trim of a few years ago are now history, and instrument panels and door panels are now nicely contoured. Trims have also been freshened and given a bezeled or machined look, and the look and feel is way more sophisticated while keeping the brief, upright, and businesslike look of the dash. Elbow rests and other areas have soft-touch padding, while there's now interior courtesy lighting underneath the instrument panel and in the cupholder areas.
2015 Jeep Wrangler
No one questions the off-road adaptability of the Wrangler--but it's better on pavement now, too.
While the look hasn't changed much, thankfully the Wrangler doesn't drive like a vintage off-roader. A modern V-6 and newer automatic have helped this Jeep make tremendous leaps and bounds in the drivability category–especially on the highway.
The 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 produces about 40 percent more power and 10 percent more torque than the engine it replaces, and it's now rated at 285-hp/260-pould-feet. And, with its current automatic transmission–an heirloom from older Mercedes-Benz models–it shifts smoothly in light to moderate acceleration. A six-speed manual is still available as well, and reminiscent of that in Jeeps of yore–long throws, long pedal travel, and a little vibration offer greater control over what the Wrangler is doing, but with a little extra work along the way. Regardless of whether you choose the automatic or the manual, the gear ratios are very tall in the high range–an automatic model with the base 3.21:1 ratio, for example, only needed to shift once on the way up to 60 mph. A tall 4.10:1 ratio is still available in the Rubicon.
The Pentastar has all the requisite low-end torque needed for hardcore off-roading, something that's been missing since the days of the 4.0-liter straight-six, and it also accelerates all the way to the redline without any vibrations or roughness. The Wrangler is surprisingly quick, too–the Unlimited four-door models only take about 8.4 seconds to get to 60, while two-door Wranglers can get there in 7.7 seconds.
Although the powertrain is charming, the Wrangler's dull recirculating-ball steering still leaves lots to be desired. Turn-in is crisp enough, but the steering has a 'dead zone' of sorts and universally lacks feedback or road feel. The Wrangler's tall tire sidewalls also tend to get in the way of responsiveness on curvy roads. The good news is that it's very easy to place on tight trails, with the steering compensating for the drag of big tires on sand, mud, or rock.
Among useful quirks, like only a handful of off-road-focused vehicles today, you can start the Wrangler in gear, with your left foot off the clutch (provided you have 4-Low engaged). This basically uses the starter to get the car going, and is especially useful on an incline when you want to start in gear and manage the brakes to avoid rolling backwards.
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. There's some modern technology to supplement the traditional four-wheel-drive system, too--like an electric sway-bar disconnect that permits impressive wheel articulation without making the on-road experience too floppy.
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.
2015 Jeep Wrangler
Comfort & Quality
The cockpit's better and noise levels are lower but, after all, it's a Jeep.
The 2015 Jeep Wrangler is available as either a four-door Unlimited, or the more recognizable two-door model. Both have two rows of seating. The Wrangler Unlimited is 20.6 inches longer, giving it more cargo space and rear legroom than the two-door version.
With its 116-inch wheelbase, the Wrangler Unlimited feels like a pretty spacious mid-size utility vehicle inside. There's enough room for full-size adults in the back, and the seats are bolstered now in a way that makes riding in the back a little more comfortable, especially for off-roading adventures.
In 2012, Jeep upgraded the Wrangler's interior pieces to make it feel more like a proper road-going SUV and a little less like something out of a military fleet. Some of those charming, old school nuances remain–for better or worse–like the exterior-hinged doors that are stopped only by a pull-strap. Manual-transmission models don't offer a foot rest on the far left, but the pedals are far enough apart to allow shifting with larger shoes or boots. The Wrangler also remains the only the vehicle on the market today that will allow you to fold the windshield forward and out of the way.
Over the past couple of years Jeep has introduced a host of improvements to reduce noise, vibration, and harshness (NVH), and anyone with experience in older models will find the new Wrangler far quieter inside. It's more tolerable for commuters than it used to be, for sure. There's a little more gear whine and road noise if you opt for the manual transmission, but considering the sharp-edged exterior there's not all that much wind noise, even at 70 mph.
Ride quality is still not one of the Wrangler's more charming features--it's firm, quite busy, and there are usually plenty of secondary motions, so you're always well aware of the road surface. This is one of the few vehicles (other than heavy-duty pickups) that still offers a live front axle; larger bumps met mid-corner, for instance, sometimes produce a full-frontal shudder. The two-door Wrangler models are slightly bouncier because of their shorter wheelbase.
The removable tops are one of Jeep's best features; 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.
Cargo space is quite generous in the Unlimited, and acceptable in two-door models. The rear seat can be folded down, but it doesn't create a flat load floor when collapsed. You can also remove it entirely if you don't need it or have large items to carry. Access to the rear is via a swing-out tailgate and either a top-hinged glass panel or zippered plastic rear window--or neither if the top is completely removed.
2015 Jeep Wrangler
The Wrangler's crash-test scores are truly disappointing.
The 2015 Jeep Wrangler hasn't done too well in the crash tests it's been subjected to, which is a result of its tall, top-heavy design. It lacks advanced-safety features, but we don't think too many Wrangler buyers are interested n them, and it is at least easy to see out of with few obstructions.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) only gives the wrangler a score for rollover resistance--three stars out of five. It has not put the Wrangler through any of its crash tests.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) hasn't rated this Jeep very well, and this is what's most concerning: The two-door Wrangler is rated 'good' for frontal impact, 'moderate' in the seat-based rear-impact test, and just 'poor' for side impact. Four-door Wrangler Unlimited models have the same frontal and rear ratings, but they get side-impact scores of 'marginal'--better, but still not top-notch. The two-door has also been tested in the new small overlap front test,scoring 'marginal' here as well.
There are more than just a couple safety features built into the Wrangler–stability control and anti-lock brakes, Hill Start Assist for manual-transmission models and Trailer Sway Control for towing.
One thing that may come to a surprise for some shoppers is that side-impact bags remain an option ($490) on both the Wrangler and Wrangler Unlimited. They are seat-mounted units in both cases.
2015 Jeep Wrangler
Make sure our Wrangler has the Freedom Top, the most American-sounding option ever.
While the Wrangler still looks like a throwback to early Jeeps, the options list, especially on the interior, is thoroughly modern. Today's Wranglers can be equipped with power windows, automatic climate control, navigation, and alloy wheels that look just as good on the street as they do on the trails.
The Wrangler lineup is offered in three main trim levels, including the base Sport, the Sahara, and the mega-capable Rubicon. Within each trim are packages that thoroughly change the content and appearance, each coming with its own name. The upper trims offer a variety of configurations and options, including a body-colored hardtop with removable panels.
Standard equipment includes 16-inch painted steel wheels, an eight-speaker sound system, satellite radio, cloth seats, the six-speed manual, skid plates, fog lamps, tow hooks, a compass, and even an outdoor temperature gauge. Options include Bluetooth connectivity, navigation, and power windows and door locks.
The 2015 Jeep Wrangler starts just over $23,000, but it climbs easily from 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 top $40k--a price point that could create a little anxiety if you're headed out to scrape against boulders and brush.
Changes for 2015 include the usual new paint colors and trim packages--Rubicon Hard Rock replaces Rubicon X and has a new look; Willys Wheeler and Freedom editions return--as well as a new standard eight-speaker audio system, a new nine-speaker system that includes a subwoofer, a package that bundles black 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.
2015 Jeep Wrangler
If you're using it off-road, the Wrangler's gas mileage looks reasonable. Context is everything.
Fuel efficiency is neither a strong suit nor a priority for the Wrangler, thought it's better now than it has been in the past. If EPA numbers are a concern for you and you're just interested in all-wheel drive, it's worth looking at a crossover instead.
The Wrangler's 3.6-liter V-6 is rated at 17 mpg city and 21 highway for two-door models with either the stick or automatic. For the larger Wrangler Unlimited, those ratings drop slightly to 16/21 mpg for the manual and 16/20 mpg for the automatic. If you're willing to deal with the extra fuel costs, the Wrangler can take you up and down trails that most other SUVs just can't.