The Wrangler doesn't drive like a vintage off-roader. Rather, its modern Pentastar V-6 and A580 five-speed automatic transmission have helped this Jeep make tremendous leaps and bounds in the drivability category–especially on the highway.
The 3.6-liter 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 new transmission–a heirloom from older Mercedes-Benz models–it shifts smoothly in light to moderate acceleration.
The Pentastar as all the requisite low-end torque needed for hardcore off-roading, but 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.
The manual transmission in the Wrangler is reminiscent of the 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 low 4.10:1 ratio is still available in the Rubicon.
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 lacked feedback or road feel. The Wrangler's tall tire sidewalls also tend to get in the way of responsiveness on curvy roads.
Suspensions are built for off-road toughness, with a live axle front and rear layout, including 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.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.
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).