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- It's the off-road champ
- Unique style, unique everything
- Strong, smooth V-6
- Carlike touches in cabin
- Rough ride
- Poor handling on pavement
- Steep prices for top editions
- Very poor safety ratings
- Fussy soft tops
The 2016 Jeep Wrangler build faithfully on the reputation and the look of the past, with just enough contemporary features and modern amenities.
The Jeep Wrangler is a throwback to the brand's earliest days as a military supplier. Whether by chance or by design, the purpose-build off-roader has endured decades and has become one of the brand's best-selling vehicles. There are few things on the road that look like a Wrangler; its boxy shape shares the aerodynamic properties of a barn door.
Jeep has managed to keep this model's authenticity not just by preserving its ability, but in maintaining all sorts of details that you might not have otherwise thought could carry over to the present day. The door hinges are still exposed, attached to flat sheet metal that pointedly avoids mass-market appeal. And you can still completely remove its top and doors and flip down the windshield. Jeep is proud to say that the Wrangler Unlimited is the only four-door convertible SUV, which is admittedly a small market.
The 2016 Wrangler remains 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.
A few years ago, the Wrangler gained some serious hardware upgrades—in the form of Chrysler's latest 3.6-liter V-6, plus a new (well, a sturdy Mercedes-Benz hand-me-down) 5-speed automatic. A 6-speed manual is still offered, too, but the V-6 and automatic combination are a smooth, willing pair, capable of dashing 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. Dull, but sturdy recirculating-ball steering gear is one point to criticize if you tend to keep to streets and highways, and the ride quality still isn't great.
If you head to the trail—and just about any trail, with the Wrangler—the sacrifices might feel well worth it. 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 that's been subbed in as well—like an electronic sway-bar disconnect that allows dramatic off-road wheel articulation (and stable grip in extraordinary situations) without cutting into its stability on the road.
The new Wrangler is more refined now, and it's a dramatic transformation. The Wrangler has shed its cheap, plastic roots in favor of a modern instrument panel that is curvy and upright, with soft-touch materials in a few, key ares. Don't be fooled: even the new Wranglers can be hosed down after a raucous ride outside.
Two body styles are available: the two-door Jeep Wrangler and four-door Wrangler Unlimited. They offer a choice of soft or hard tops, or a package that includes both—for those who want to switch back and forth, depending on the season. Though easily penetrated by road and wind noise, they can completely open the cabin, making the Wrangler a true convertible SUV. Fans of T-tops will like the Freedom hardtop, which has removable roof panels for a semi-open-air experience that requires less futzing. The soft top is still a complex, multi-hand operation, even though Jeep has improved its soft top design in recent years.
The lineup includes base Sport, fancier Sahara, and an 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.
For 2016, the feature and special-edition rejiggering continues a bit—with a new Wrangler Black Bear edition with off-road rock rails, a Sunrider soft top, Mineral Gray bumper treatment, Silent Armor tires, and more.
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, 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. But do beware that prices for a well-equipped Unlimited Rubicon can pass the $45,000 mark; at that price, will you be OK putting it through the paces, and getting it scratched and dented?
Two-door Wrangler models with the 3.6-liter V-6 are rated at 17 mpg city, 21 highway, 18 combined with either the manual or automatic. Step up to the larger Wrangler Unlimited and those ratings drop slightly to 16/21/18 mpg for the manual and 16/20/18 mpg for the automatic.
2016 Jeep Wrangler
The Jeep Wrangler blends the traditional with a dash of the contemporary, in a way that no other vehicle does.
The lineage of the Jeep Wrangler is unparalleled. Few vehicle have such an unmistakable look, as the years and decades roll on. Extra styling doesn't help when the going gets tough, you see, as straight stretches of sheet metal are simply easier to repair.
Yes, the current Wrangler looks a whole lot like the Wranglers that came before it, and the older Jeeps that came before that. It's ripe with military heritage and go-anywhere parentage, and there's just nothing else that looks like it on the road today.
With its trapezoidal wheel flares, flat sides, and seven-slot grille, the 2016 Wrangler reminds us that 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 the fold-down windshield, the removable doors, and the external door hinges.
Yet the deference to heritage hasn't stopped the designers from having a little fun with the details, though. Some models even have that Willys silhouette painted in the wheel pockets. As well, a Willys silhouette is part of the windshield's edge mask, and there are little Jeep icons in lighting elements.
Over the years, it's the interior of the Wrangler that's changed most—and mostly, that's a good thing. The drab, hard-plastic dashboard and trim of a few years ago are now history, elbow rests and other areas have soft-touch padding, and there's now interior courtesy lighting underneath the instrument panel and in the cupholder areas. The look and feel is way more sophisticated while keeping the brief, upright, and businesslike look of the dash. Instrument panels and door panels are now nicely contoured, while trims have been freshened and given a bezel or machined look.
2016 Jeep Wrangler
The latest Wrangler pulls off its expected acrobatics off-road, while being better than ever on-road.
The look of the 2016 Jeep Wrangler isn't all that different than the Jeeps of decades ago; yet in performance and driving manners—and general drivability—this Jeep is worlds apart.
All Wranglers are now powered by a 3.6-liter V-6, which makes about 40 percent more power and 10 percent more torque than the engine it replaced several model years ago. It's now rated at 285 horsepower and 260-pould-feet of torque.
With its current 5-speed automatic—a (very good) hand-me-down from older Mercedes-Benz models—it shifts smoothly in light to moderate acceleration, but musters a firmer shift feel when you're driving it hard. A 6-speed manual is still available as well, and reminiscent of that in Jeeps of yore; its 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.
The gear ratios are very tall regardless of whether you choose the automatic or the manual; for instance, a base automatic Wrangler only has to shift once to 60 mph with the 3.21:1 ratio. The low 4.10:1 ratio is still available in the Rubicon off-road model.
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.
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.
The V-6 has all the requisite low-end torque needed for hardcore off-roading, and that's really something that's been missing since the days of the 4.0-liter straight-6. The Wrangler accelerates all the way to the redline without any vibrations or roughness—and it's surprisingly quick, at about 8.4 seconds to get to 60, while two-door Wranglers can get there in 7.7 seconds.
This is all relative, of course. In the Wrangler, as with other back-to-basics cars like the MX-5 Miata, you don't need to be going absurdly fast to have fun.
The Wrangler's dull recirculating-ball steering still leaves lots to be desired, despite the charms of the powertrain and the overall package. 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.
2016 Jeep Wrangler
Comfort & Quality
Noise levels are better, and the cockpit is more comfortable than you might expect; but keep in mind it's Jeep's most rugged model.
There are essentially two different packages for the 2016 Jeep Wrangler; it's offered either as a four-door Unlimited, or the more recognizable two-door model—no, it's not the Limited, just the Wrangler.
In both cases, you get two rows of seating; but in the Wrangler Unlimited is 20.6 inches longer, giving it more cargo space and rear leg room than the two-door version.
The back of the Wrangler Unlimited is spacious enough for adults, and the seats are bolstered enough for long hauls, or off-roading duty. The 116-inch wheelbase of the Wrangler Unlimited helps the SUV feel spacious and capable in equal turns.
The new Wrangler is more refined now, and it's a dramatic transformation. The Wrangler has shed its cheap, plastic roots in favor of a modern instrument panel that is curvy and upright, with soft-touch materials in a few, key ares. Don't be fooled: Even the new Wranglers can be hosed down after a raucous ride outside.
A few years back, 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. While that remake still holds up well, 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 with a windshield that can fold forward and out of the way.
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. It can also be removed entirely for large items. 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.
Over the past couple of years Jeep has introduced a host of improvements to cut noise and vibration, 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.
But again, this is all relative. Newbies to Jeep's tougher side will find the Wrangler quite noisy and hard-riding; and ride quality itself is still not one of the Wrangler's more charming features. There are 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.
Keep in mind that 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. 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.
2016 Jeep Wrangler
The 2016 Jeep Wrangler has some truly poor crash-test ratings.
Let's get this out of the way: If top crash-tests and occupant safety are your priority, then you're in the wrong place. The 2016 Jeep Wrangler hasn't fared well in crash tests, and with its tall, top-heavy design, it's clear that heritage and off-road prowess took precedence over security and family-vehicle pragmatism.
The Wrangler continues to lack advanced-safety features; but we don't think that's going to turn off very many Wrangler shoppers. Stability control and anti-lock brakes are standard, as is 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.
Visibility can be challenging with the top up, and there's no rearview camera system. As it is—and as the typical Wrangler owner would retort—it's easy to see out, provided you remove the top.
The IIHS hasn't rated the Wrangler well. The two-door Wrangler is rated "Good" for frontal impact, "Marginal" in the small overlap frontal test and in the seat-based rear-impact category, and just "Poor" for side impact. Four-door Wrangler Unlimited models have the same frontal and rear ratings, but they get somewhat better side-impact scores of "Marginal."
In NHTSA, the Wrangler earns a low score for rollover resistance—three stars out of five—while it has not put the Wrangler through any of its other crash tests.
2016 Jeep Wrangler
The Freedom Top is a great option; but don't expect too many modern conveniences here.
Jeep has done a great job in keeping the feature list for the 2016 Wrangler thoroughly modern, despite the throwback look and feel.
Wrangler models can be equipped with power windows, automatic climate control, navigation, and alloy wheels. The lineup is offered in three main trim levels, including the base Sport, Sahara, and mega-capable Rubicon. Each of these models dramatically changes the content and appearance.
Standard equipment includes 16-inch painted steel wheels, an eight-speaker sound system, satellite radio, cloth seats, a 6-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.
Upper trims of the Wrangler offer a variety of configurations and options, including a body-colored hardtop with removable panels.
Last year the Rubicon Hard Rock replaced the Rubicon X and brought a new look; Willys Wheeler and Freedom editions added 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.
For 2016, the feature and special-edition rejiggering continues a bit—as is customary on the Wrangler. The Wrangler Black Bear edition joins the fray and includes a "heritage" Wrangler hood decal, off-road rock rails, a Sunrider soft top, Mineral Gray bumper treatment, Silent Armor tires, and black tail-lamp guards, among other additions.
Pricing is something to keep in mind. While the entry price for the 2016 Jeep Wrangler is a tantalizing $24,000 or so, it quickly climbs from there, as Sahara and Rubicon models cost many thousands more, and you'll want a number of options to make the off-road package (and appearance) complete. Top Unlimited Rubicon models, loaded up with options such as leather seats, remote start, automatic climate control, premium audio, and infotainment upgrade can easily blow past $45,000—one that could make those inevitable boulder bashes and trail abrasions a little more painful.
2016 Jeep Wrangler
Context really is everything. The Wrangler is thirsty, but it's unparalleled off-road.
For most shoppers who would consider a Wrangler, fuel efficiency is simply not a priority.
Well, it's not a strong suit for the Wrangler anyhow; but it is a bit more fuel-efficient than it was several years ago, before it was given an upgrade to its current V-6 engine.
For two-door Wrangler models with the 3.6-liter V-6, it's rated at 17 mpg city, 21 highway, 18 combined with either the manual or automatic. Step up to the larger Wrangler Unlimited and those ratings drop slightly to 16/21/18 mpg for the manual and 16/20/18 mpg for the automatic.
Fuel economy can be a deal-breaker for the Wrangler. 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. If those EPA numbers are a concern for you and you're just interested in all-wheel drive, it's worth looking at a crossover instead.