The Jeep Wrangler is arguably older than anything beyond pickup trucks, tracing its roots to field duty 70 years ago. Wrangler has been modernized with a contemporary engine, electronics inside and underneath, and the body panels are now artfully curved for stiffness while appearing flat.
However, the Wrangler remains the most maneuverable and trail capable vehicle from a showroom and will go places most owners don't dare drive. Or hike. If you're not used to hanging in your seatbelt like a puppet you have no idea what one can do.
Still trail capable but not so maneuverable is the Wrangler Unlimited. There are enough differences between Wrangler and Wrangler Unlimited that a mere two- or four-door reference wouldn't do it justice. The delta in wheelbase (the distance from front wheel center to rear) is similar to that between a regular cab and crew cab pickup.
Heated leather upholstery is available for Wrangler. You can swap the doors to half-size and fold down the windshield (though it's quite a chore) or power up the windows to indulge in climate control. No Jeeper ever had it quite like this.
All Wranglers are powered by Chrysler's 24-valve 3.6-liter V6, here rated at 285 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. There's a choice of 6-speed manual or 5-speed automatic transmission. A Wrangler gets away from a stop with no problem but falls off the acceleration curve as it runs into aerodynamic resistance at highway speeds.
But if you buy a Wrangler for highway cruising you missed the point. Indeed, they will travel the Interstate with a modicum of comfort and civility but that's not what they're built for. Wranglers are better suited to all-weather urban runabouts, those living on a beach or off the grid or beaten path, or for those whose idea of a freeway is a fast section of dry wash or graded dirt run in 2WD. You can also use a Wrangler as a dinghy to tow behind your motorhome.
The soft top that comes standard slides and folds horizontally on the roof, leaving the occupants further protected by door and window frames, although there's already a rollbar. The removable hardtop comes off in three pieces, a pair of T-tops with a sunroof over the rear seat. With T-tops removed, at 65 mph the buffeting grates on you; but with the top on, it feels smooth at 75 and beyond.
In the popular two-door Wrangler there's very little storage space behind the rear seat, so four people with four medium backpacks is filled to overflowing. You wouldn't do any better with four people and luggage in a Mini, which is only 5 inches shorter. But if it's just you and some stuff, the rear seat can be removed, creating a spacious 61.2 cubic feet of cargo space; that's the configuration we prefer. Less likely, the rear seat can be remove from the four-door Wrangler Unlimited, making 87 cubic feet.
Wranglers are available with all the electronic trimmings, including a touch-screen navigation, but sunlight plays havoc with display readability and on a trail you're moving around too much to touch things accurately. At least the USB port means music without discs or tapes getting dusty.
We've driven Rubicons on their namesake trail, Oregon's Tillamook Forest, Michigan dunes and all the best (worst) stuff Moab has to offer, in far more comfort than Wranglers of old. If you don't want to build your own Jeep for trail use try a Rubicon. The Jeep warranty is probably better than your local 4x4 shop.
Wrangler is not built for gas-mileage. Typically it averages in the teens and doesn't change much between daily driving and long highway runs.
The current-generation Wrangler was introduced as a 2007 model. 2011 brought a refined interior. The 2013 Wrangler gets an improved soft top but carries over largely unchanged. Also new for 2013 is a Badge of Honor program in which you earn famous-trail badges (Rubicon, Hell's Revenge, etc.) by completing them.
Wrangler has little direct competition. A Mercedes G-Class has off-highway ability of an Unlimited, more luxurious cabin and costs three times as much. You might also argue a Power Wagon and Raptor as Unlimited challengers. For factory trail vehicles the only things approaching a Wrangler are Toyota's FJ Cruiser and 4Runner, Nissan's Xterra or a 15-year-old Land Rover Defender 90.
The 2013 Jeep Wrangler two-door and Wrangler Unlimited four-door each come in multiple trim levels: Sport, Sport S, Sahara, Rubicon and assorted special editions. They all use the award-winning Chrysler 3.6-liter Pentastar V6, making 285 horsepower. All Wranglers come standard with four-wheel drive and 6-speed manual transmission, with 5-speed automatic available.
The Freedom Top, a three-piece modular hard top, is available for all models. The Wrangler Sport is available in right-hand drive for rural mail carriers. We don't find ourselves saying that in many reviews.
Wrangler Sport ($22,195) comes with cloth upholstery, Uconnect AM/FM/CD/MP3 six-speaker sound system, Sunrider soft top, removable doors, roll-up windows, fold-down windshield, folding rear seat, black fender flares, halogen headlamps, fog lamps, swing-back mirrors, tow hooks, part-time 2-speed transfer case, skid plates, and Goodyear Wrangler P225/75R16 tires on steel wheels with matching full-size spare. No air conditioning, power windows, cruise control, 115-volt power outlet, or side steps.
Wrangler Sport S ($24,495) adds some conveniences to Sport, including air conditioning, Sentry key, dark tint windows and 255/75R17 tires on aluminum wheels. The Freedom special edition ($27,995) adds to Sport S cloth/leather seats, power convenience group, Bluetooth, USB and some other minor accessories.
Wrangler Sahara ($27,795) adds keyless entry, power windows and door locks, 115-volt power outlet, cruise control, Alpine sound system with XM radio, body color fender flares, security system, upgraded suspension and Sunrider top, tubular side steps, heated power mirrors and P255/70R18 tires on painted aluminum wheels.
Wrangler Rubicon ($30,595) prioritizes trail use over luxury. It has most of the standard Sahara comfort and convenience things (though power windows and keyless entry become optional), while adding rock rails, front and rear locking differentials, Dana 44 front axle, disconnecting front stabilizer bar, 4.10:1 axle ratio (manual), Rock-Trac transfer case with 4:1 low range, and BF Goodrich Mud-Terrain LT255/75R17 tires on painted aluminum wheels.
The Moab edition ($32,995) includes graphics, Mopar bumpers (winch-capable front) and rock rails, a limited-slip rear differential (locking differential optional), upgraded soft top, heated front seats, leather and 245/75R17 all-terrain tires.
The Rubicon 10th Anniversary edition ($35,995) combines power conveniences, red-stitched leather upholstery, heated seats and multifunction display with Rubicon running gear. It also gets steel front winch-mount bumper with removable end pieces, steel rear bumper and tire carrier, heat extractor power dome hood, rock rails, red tow hooks and the largest tires on any Wrangler, aggressive LT265/70R17E on unique wheels.
Wrangler Unlimited four-doors are configured similarly, not identically, to the two-door.
Wrangler Unlimited Sport ($25,695) has removable doors, roll-up windows, black fender flares, halogen headlamps, foglamps, soft top, air conditioning, 60/40 split rear seat and cruise control.
Wrangler Unlimited S ($28,195) and Freedom ($31,295) special editions parallel the two-door versions.
Wrangler Unlimited Sahara ($31,295) adds body color fender flares, power heated mirrors, tubular side steps, remote keyless entry, power windows and door locks, XM radio, upgraded sound system, cruise control, leather-wrapped steering wheel, 115-volt outlet, and 18-inch painted aluminum wheels.
Wrangler Unlimited Moab ($36,495) gets the same improvements as the two door. Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon ($34,095) comes with the same extra offroad equipment as the two-door Rubicon, plus all the power equipment of the Sahara. The fully loaded Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 10th Anniversary ($39,495) is equipped similarly to the two-door.
Optional on all Wranglers: automatic transmission, trailer tow, stereo and navigation upgrades on upper trims, front side-impact airbags, Uconnect voice command with Bluetooth, smokers' pack and a Freedom Top three-piece hard top in black or color-matched. Some offer automatic climate control, leather, remote start and cosmetic upgrades.
Safety equipment on all models includes electronic stability control with roll mitigation, hill start assist, trailer sway control, all-speed traction control, ABS with brake assist and dual frontal airbags.