The Jeep Wrangler is arguably older than anything beyond pickup trucks, tracing its roots to military 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. The current-generation Wrangler was introduced as a 2007 model.
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 four-door 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.
A new limited-production Wrangler Unlimited Dragon Edition joins the lineup for 2014, featuring black and bronze satin-gloss exterior and interior treatments. Jeep has reissued the Freedom Edition as a value-priced model.
Also new, the 2014 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon X promises added off-road capability, including a winch-capable bumper and wider rock rails. A newly available Trail Kit features two D-rings, a tow strap, gloves, and storage bag. Parking lamps and turn-signal indicators are now clear rather than amber. Sport models may now be equipped with a Uconnect touchscreen radio with hard-drive storage.
Heated leather upholstery is available for Wranglers. 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.
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've 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, for folks 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.
The standard soft top slides and folds horizontally on the roof, leaving the occupants further protected by door and window frames, augmented by 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.
In the popular two-door Wrangler, there's very little storage space behind the rear seat, so four people with four medium backpacks fills it to overflowing. But the rear seat can be removed, creating a voluminous 61.2 cubic feet of cargo space. That's the setup we like.
Less likely, the rear seat can be removed from the four-door Wrangler Unlimited making 87 cubic feet. But that doesn't make much sense, either. Wrangler Unlimited is best for parties of four. Our recommendation: Remove the rear seats in the two-door Wrangler, leave the rear seats in place in the four-door Unlimited.
Wranglers are available with all the electronic trimmings, including touch-screen navigation, but sunlight plays havoc with display readability and on a trail you're moving around too much to touch the screen accurately.
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.
Wrangler has little direct competition. A Mercedes G-Class has off-highway ability of an Unlimited, a more luxurious cabin, and costs three times as much. The only factory trail vehicles approaching a Wrangler are the Toyota FJ Cruiser or a Land Rover Defender 90.
The 2014 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 ($22,395) comes with cloth upholstery, Uconnect AM/FM/CD/MP3 six-speaker sound system, a 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 ($24,795) adds some conveniences to the Sport, including air conditioning, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, dark tint windows and 255/75R17 tires on aluminum wheels.
Wrangler Freedom Edition ($28,095) is based on the Sport S but with unique exterior and interior appointments, including a Mineral Gray grille, cloth/leather seats, power convenience group, body-color fender flares, door and instrument-panel grab handles, a Command-Trac transfer case, Alpine audio, and several appearance items. Jeep will donate $250 from each Wrangler Freedom III it sells to the United Service Organizations Inc. (USO).
Wrangler Sahara ($27,995) includes embroidered cloth seats, Alpine sound system with SiriusXM radio, keyless entry, power windows and door locks, 115-volt power outlet, cruise control, security system, fender flares, upgraded suspension, Sunrider top, tubular side steps, heated power mirrors and P255/70R18 tires on painted aluminum wheels.
Wrangler Rubicon ($30,895) 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/rear tow hooks, front and rear locking differentials, Dana 44 front and rear axles, 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 new Rubicon X edition ($30,895) includes a winch-capable bumper with foglamps, wider rock rails, and functional hood vents.
Wrangler Polar edition ($32,495) includes a Dual Top, power dome hood with polar landscape cowl decal, fender flares, Rubicon rock rails, 18-inch black aluminum wheels, leather-trimmed seats, instrument-panel and door grab handles, slush mats, a 2.72:1 transfer case, Dana 30 front axle, HD Dana 44 rear axle, Trac-Lok anti-spin differential, and other extra items.
Wrangler Unlimited four-doors are configured similarly, though not identically, to the respective two-door models.
Wrangler Unlimited Sport ($25,995) 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 Sport S ($28,595) and Freedom ($31,895) special editions parallel the two-door versions. So does the Wrangler Unlimited Polar Edition ($36,195).
Wrangler Unlimited Sahara ($31,595) has body-color fender flares, power heated mirrors, tubular side steps, remote keyless entry, power windows and door locks, SiriusXM radio, upgraded sound system, cruise control, leather-wrapped steering wheel, 115-volt outlet, and 18-inch painted aluminum wheels.
Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon ($35,770) comes with the same extra offroad equipment as the two-door Rubicon, plus all the power equipment of the Sahara. Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon X ($38,795) echoes the equipment of the Wrangler Rubicon.
Wrangler Unlimited Dragon edition ($36,295) features a black body and three-piece hard top, with bronze satin gloss details. Unique 18-inch five-spoke alloy wheels are matte black with a satin bronze outer edge.
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.