- 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 2014 Jeep Wrangler can endure a daily commute, but it's truly happiest when it's off-road.
The 2014 Jeep Wrangler remains the only convertible SUV with traditional four-wheel drive on the market, and it's instantly identifiable. Its singular road presence comes not from its mechanicals but from its heritage as a World War II military vehicle that still colors it design and capabilities 70 years later. Today's version is substantially more pleasant to drive--and a great deal larger and more powerful--than the military Jeep that spawned it generations ago. But there's still the same off-road ability and visual presence, which together are a great part of its appeal.
Technically, sure, the Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet is an all-wheel-drive open-top vehicle too. But it's derived from a car-based crossover, doesn't have a separate chassis or rock-climbing chops--and it's far more at home ushering around middle-aged lady real-estate brokers than hauling, climbing, mudding, or towing, all of which the Wrangler seems to do with glee.
Jeep goes to great lengths to preserve the Wrangler's authenticity. You can still remove its top, completely, and flip down the windshield. The hinges are still exposed, attached to flat sheetmetal and a visual toughness that deliberately avoids soft curves or mass-market appeal. All over the world, its buyers wouldn't have it any 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.
A pair of models are available: the two-door Jeep Wrangler and four-door Wrangler Unlimited. Both are and far more comfortable than in the past, or than you'd guess. Either offers a choice of soft or hard tops, and either top can rightly be called one of the 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. 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 into a very capable off-roader. Jeep has improved its soft top design, 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 Wrangler. 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 16-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.
Refinement has been improved incrementally on the Wrangler in recent years, and last year's powertrain changes brought more of a transformation. The Wrangler no longer either keeps with the parts-bin look inside; instead its instrument panel is modern and curvy yet upright, with soft-touch materials provided in a few spots where they'll be noticed.
The lineup includes base Sport, popular Sport S, showy 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, Rubicon, or Moab form. 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 Jeep Wrangler has a base price of about $24,000, but those base prices can be misleading, 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 create a little anxiety if you're headed out to scrape against boulders and brush.
2014 Jeep Wrangler
An iconic shape keeps the Jeep Wrangler contemporary, no matter which year it is.
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 Wrangler has changed quite significantly in recent model years, with the drab, hard-plastic dashboard and trim of a few years ago now history, and instrument panels and door panels 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 new interior courtesy lighting underneath the instrument panel and in the cupholder areas.
From the outside, you still won't mistake a Jeep Wrangler for anything else–it wears a unique, rugged, iconic look that has heritage extending all the way back to the original Willys Jeep, and there's just nothing else that looks like it on the road today.
In this case, very little has changed about the Wrangler over the years. Its trapezoidal wheel flares, flat sides and seven-slot grille all remind us that this Jeep was originally designed in an era where sheet metal was harder to sculpt–and perhaps easier to pound back into its original shape. Meanwhile, 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. The Wrangler is ripe with military heritage and go-anywhere parentage.
2014 Jeep Wrangler
Its off-road capability is unquestioned, and even on-road behavior has been groomed for the current Wrangler.
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).
2014 Jeep Wrangler
Comfort & Quality
Noise levels are lower and the interior's nicer, but hey--it's still a Jeep.
The 2014 Jeep Wrangler is available as either a four-door Unlimited, or the more recognizable two-door model. 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 a military vehicle. 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 also don't have a foot rest on the far left, but the pedals are far enough part to allow shifting with larger shoes, or perhaps even hiking boots. The Wrangler also remains the only the vehicle on the market today that will allow you to fold the windshield forward.
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. Jeep keeps improving its soft top design, and the new body-color hardtop that was introduced on the Sahara last year has been expanded to the Rubicon.
Over the past couple of years Jeep has introduced a host of improvements to reduce noise, vibration, and harshness (NVH), and you'll find the new Wrangler far quieter inside if you've had any time with Wranglers of the past. 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 nearly always 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 short-wheelbase Wrangler models are slightly bouncier.
2014 Jeep Wrangler
Crash-test scores are among the lowest of today's passenger vehicles.
The 2014 Jeep Wrangler does a better job with family utility than you might expect, but there are still a few significant safety concerns.
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.
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 'moderate'--better, but still not top-notch.
One thing that may come to a surprise for some shoppers is that side-impact bags remain an option ($490) on the Wrangler Unlimited and aren't even available on the two-door Wrangler.
2014 Jeep Wrangler
A music hard drive and a Freedom Top are just two of the options we're glad to see in the latest Jeep Wrangler.
While the exterior of the Wrangler may suggest that it's totally rugged without much finesse, that's just not the case anymore. Today's Wranglers can be equipped with automatic climate control, navigation, and alloy wheels that look just as comfortable on the street as they do on the trails.
The Wrangler lineup is offered in four trims, including the base Sport, the popular Sport S, the Sahara, and the mega-capable Rubicon. The upper trims offer a variety of configurations and options, including a body-colored hardtop with removable panels. To that point, the Wrangler remains unique among the other SUVs in the market–it's the only SUV with a removable top and a fold-down front windshield.
A lot of thoughtful interior touches come standard, too. In addition to the new instrument panel and new look last year, the refresh included 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.
Standard equipment on even the Sport 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.
2014 Jeep Wrangler
Gas mileage is forgivably low for an off-roader, less acceptable for a five-passenger wagon.
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, it might be worth looking some of the crossovers on the market instead.
However, if you're willing to deal with the 17-city and 21-highway mpg, the Wrangler can take you beyond the paved roads in a way that most other SUVs just can't.