Although the Wrangler Unlimited slips into the mid-size SUV class no one driving it would mistake the unique ride and driving style of the Unlimited for anything but a Jeep. The Wrangler, whether you pick the 2 door version or the 4 door Unlimited, refuses to sacrifice the off road capability that made it famous for creature comforts.
The 2017 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara edition that we road tested for a week never let us forget that it was a Jeep. Adhering to the basic body lines first seen in World War 2, the Wrangler sets your expectations. Entering the Wrangler through the clunky, sometimes hard to close doors, and climbing up into the driver’s perch to sit at a Wrangler only park bench angle behind a functional no thrills dash is the beginning of the Wrangler driving experience.
If you opt or the 6 speed manual transmission you will find a long throw shifter reminiscent of the 60’s. With the auto trans option you get a slightly out of date 5 speed. In either case it is behind the Pentastar V6 engine putting out 285 horsepower. All Wranglers are 4 wheel drive and the final drive options depend on the trim level chosen. The 3.21 ratio is standard in the Sport and Sahara models, with the 3.73 optional on those models and standard on the Rubicon. The Rubicon has the optional 4.10 gear set and the sturdier Dana 44 front drive axle. The higher gears in the Sport and Sahara make them more road friendly leaving the Rubicon to be the true off road monster.
Wrangler drives like a Jeep, rides like a Jeep
Driving the Wrangler Unlimited down the road is a bit different than your average sedan or SUV. The Wrangler in either 2 or 4 door version requires constant attention and minor correction. It is easily buffeted by cross winds and tends to follow every road crack. Road noise would be considered unacceptable in any other car. There is a lot of tire and wind noise and it gets more pronounced with speed. Stopping is adequate but not terribly aggressive. There are no safety features so common on most cars today like blind spot monitors, cross traffic alerts or active emergency braking. There isn’t even a back up camera.
The Unlimited is available with a soft top as standard or an optional removable hard top. The soft top is not very user friendly. The hard top comes with easily removable t-tops or can be removed completely by 2 people in just a few minutes.
Infotainment is sadly way behind the curve. The U-Connect has a small screen, horrible navigation graphics, no apps and no ability to sync a Bluetooth media player. You can sync a phone but the procedure is voice only and not at all intuitive. As mentioned there is no back up camera on any model either standard or as an option.
The 2017 Wrangler got very minor body changes. LED headlamps and fog lamps are standard on several models and optional on the rest. A cold weather package is available on a couple of models. Rumor has it that for 2018 the Wrangler family will get a major remake.
Fuel economy ratings are not great at 18 mpg overall and during the test we were able to duplicate that. The boxy body creates a lot of wind drag and the high gear ratios and dual sport tires do nothing to help economy.
The Wrangler is probably the best off road vehicle available for on the road use. Even the Sport models with the least optional equipment will go places few other cars can manage. When you move up to the Rubicon Hard Rock model and accessorize if properly it can follow a billy goat. For off roading you can select, hill decent, crawl mode, electronically locking differentials, Dana 44 axles with 4.10 ratios, electronically unlocking sway bars, winch ready bumpers, a low ratio transfer case and 32 inch tires. Right out of the box the Wrangler is ready to go off the pavement.
There are probably more aftermarket goodies available for the Wrangler than any other vehicle made. Whether you want to make your Wrangler more off road capable, or dress it up as a street machine you can find anything from lights and chrome to lift kits and huge wheels.
If you are looking for a commuter SUV I wouldn’t recommend the Wrangler Unlimited unless you understand that unlike most cars that are made for the road, then modified for off road the Wrangler is just the opposite. It is an off road vehicle modified to drive on the street.
If you have a use for the abilities of the Wrangler, in real life or just in your adventurous head, there is nothing else like it on the market.
The 2017 Jeep Unlimited Sahara edition we drove stickered at a base price of $34, 245 and with all the goodies added on was a bit over 42K. You can get into an Unlimited starting at $27,845 for the Sport and going up to the base of 42K on the Rubicon without options that can easily move it over 50K.
Reviewed on air April 1, 2017, click here to hear the full review