The current Wrangler looks a whole lot like the Wranglers that came before it, and the older Jeeps that came before that. It's ripe with military heritage and go-anywhere parentage, and there's just nothing else that looks like it.
The lineage of the Jeep Wrangler is unparalleled. Few vehicle have such an unmistakable look. Extra styling doesn't help when the going gets tough, you see, as straight stretches of sheet metal are simply easier to repair.
With its trapezoidal wheel flares, flat sides, and seven-slot grille, the 2017 Wrangler reminds us that Jeep was designed with function at front of mind. The fold-down windshield, removable doors, and external door hinges are as old as Jeep itself.
Yet the deference to heritage hasn't stopped the designers from having a little fun with the details. A Willys silhouette is part of the windshield's edge mask, there are little Jeep icons in lighting elements, and some models have that Willys silhouette painted in the wheel pockets.
Over the years, it's the interior of the Wrangler that's changed most, and that's mostly a good thing. The drab, hard-plastic dashboard and trim of a few years ago are now history, elbow rests and other areas have soft-touch padding, and there's interior courtesy lighting underneath the instrument panel and in the cupholder areas. The look and feel is still brief, upright, and businesslike. The instrument panels and door panels are nicely contoured, and details are outfitted with bezels or given a machined look.
In our new ratings system, we give the Wrangler a 7, adding points for its unique exterior and its iconic shape. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The 2017 Jeep Wrangler cuts an iconic figure, and mixes it with elements of the contemporary.
The Wrangler's driving character is a mixed bag. On the road, it is one of the most raw, archaic, and sloppy vehicles on the market. Take it off to the trail, though, 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 continue 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, you can start the Wrangler in gear, with your left foot off the clutch (provided you have 4-Low engaged). This basically uses the starter to get the car going, and is especially useful on an incline when you want to start in gear and manage the brakes to avoid rolling backward.
Sloppy moves with modern power
Newbies to Jeep's tougher side will find the Wrangler quite noisy, hard-riding, jiggly, and floppy. The tall ride height makes it lean in turns and bounce up and down over bumps. There are 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. Keep in mind that two-door Wrangler models are slightly bouncier because of their shorter wheelbase.
The Wrangler's dull recirculating-ball steering leaves lots to be desired. Turn-in is crisp enough, but the steering has a "dead zone" of sorts and universally lacks feedback or road feel. The Wrangler's tall tire sidewalls also tend to get in the way of responsiveness on curvy roads. The good news is that it's very easy to place on tight trails, and the turning radius is very tight.
All Wranglers are powered by a 3.6-liter V-6. A modern engine in an old architecture, it is rated at 285 horsepower and 260-pound-feet of torque.
The V-6 has all the requisite low-end torque needed for hardcore off-roading, as well as plenty of usable power for the street. The Wrangler accelerates all the way to the redline without any vibrations or roughness. It's fairly quick, too, with the 0 to 60 mph run taking 7.7 seconds in two-door Wranglers with the automatic.
This is all relative, of course. In the Wrangler, as with other back-to-basics cars like the MX-5 Miata, you don't need to be going absurdly fast to have fun.
The 5-speed automatic—a (very good) hand-me-down from older Mercedes-Benz models—shifts smoothly in light to moderate acceleration, but musters a firmer shift feel when you're driving it hard. A 6-speed manual is available as well. Even with its long throws, long pedal travel, and touch of vibration, it offers greater control over what the Wrangler is doing, but with a little extra work along the way.
The gear ratios are very tall regardless of whether you choose the automatic or the manual; for instance, a base automatic Wrangler only has to shift once during a 0 to 60 mph run with the 3.21:1 ratio. A low 4.10:1 ratio is available in the Rubicon off-road model.
All things considered, we rate the Wrangler a 4 for performance, adding a point for off-road prowess and subtracting points for on-road handling and ride quality. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The Wrangler is an off-road acrobat, but on the road the ride is jiggly and the handling is slow-footed.
The 2017 Jeep Wrangler is offered with two or four doors. In both cases, you get two rows of seating, but the four-door Wrangler Unlimited is 20.6 inches longer, giving it more cargo space and rear leg room than the two-door version.
The back of the Wrangler Unlimited is spacious enough for adults, and the seats are bolstered enough for long hauls, or off-roading duty.
Cargo space is quite generous in the Unlimited, and acceptable in two-door models. The rear seat can be folded down, but it doesn't create a flat load floor when collapsed. It can also be removed entirely for large items. The two-door has 56.5 cubic feet of space with the rear seat in place and folded, but it has only 12.8 cubic feet of space with the rear seat up. Those numbers increase to 71.6 and 31.5 cubic feet, respectively, in the Unlimited, which obviously make it more useful.
Access to the rear is via a swing-out tailgate and either a top-hinged glass panel or zippered plastic rear window—or neither if the top is completely removed.
The removable tops are one of Jeep's best features; though easily penetrated by road and wind noise, they can completely open the cabin, making the Wrangler a true convertible SUV. Fans of T-tops will like the Freedom hardtop, which has removable roof panels for a semi-open-air experience that requires less futzing. Removing the soft top is a complex, multi-hand operation.
A few years back, Jeep upgraded the Wrangler's interior pieces to make it feel more like a proper road-going SUV and a little less like something out of a military fleet. While that remake still holds up well, 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 don't offer a foot rest on the far left, but the pedals are far enough apart to allow shifting with larger shoes or boots.
The Wrangler has also shed its cheap, plastic roots in favor of a modern instrument panel with some soft-touch surfaces in a few, key areas (though plenty of plastics remain). Don't be fooled: Even the new Wranglers can be hosed down after a raucous ride.
The last update introduced a host of improvements to cut noise and vibration, While it is more tolerable than it used to be, it is still quite raw and is one of the louder vehicles on the market. 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.
We rate the Wrangler a 4 for comfort and quality. We give it a point for the interior space of the Unlimited, but subtract points for overall interior quality and cabin noise. Still, many Wrangler buyers will find its quirks to be positives. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
A very basic vehicle, the Wrangler's interior is spartan but easy to clean and it lets in a lot of noise.
Let's get this out of the way: If top crash-tests and occupant safety are your priority, then you're in the wrong place. The Jeep Wrangler hasn't fared well in crash tests, and with its tall, top-heavy design, it's clear that heritage and off-road prowess take precedence over security and family-vehicle pragmatism.
The 2017 Wrangler hasn't been fully crash-tested, but it hasn't changed significantly from last year and this generation of Wrangler has done poorly in crash tests. In IIHS testing, the two-door Wrangler received the top "Good" for moderate frontal impact, but it got a "Marginal" in the small overlap frontal test and in the seat-based rear-impact category, and just "Poor" for side impact. Four-door Wrangler Unlimited models received "Good" scores in front-crash tests, but they got somewhat better side-impact scores of "Marginal."
From the NHTSA, the Wrangler earned a low score for rollover resistance—three stars out of five—but it has not been subjected to the other tests.
The Wrangler continues to lack advanced-safety features. Hill-start assist is standard for manual-transmission models and trailer sway control is standard on all models.
The only standard airbags are the mandated dual front bags. Side-impact front bags remain an option on both the Wrangler and Wrangler Unlimited, except on the base Sport trim level where they're not even optional. They are seat-mounted units in both cases. We can think of no other vehicle that doesn't make them standard short of a forklift or a Radio Flyer wagon.
Visibility can be challenging with the top up, and there's no standard rearview camera system. As the typical Wrangler owner would retort, it's easy to see out, provided you remove the top.
The lack of available safety features and the poor NHTSA ratings drop the Wrangler's safety rating to a 2. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Don't look to the 2017 Jeep Wrangler for top-notch crash-test ratings or the latest safety features.
The 2017 Jeep Wrangler is offered in two-door Wrangler and four-door Wrangler Unlimited body styles, each in four models: Sport, Sport S, Sahara, and mega-capable Rubicon. Each of these models dramatically changes the content and appearance. Despite its throwback feel, Jeep sprinkles in modern amenities and offers a wide array of option packages.
We rate the Wrangler a 7 for features. Starting at 5 we add a point each for the array of models offered and the available customization options. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Base Sport models are rather spartan. Standard equipment includes removable front doors, a folding soft top, fog lamps, reversible floor mats, cloth upholstery, a fold-and-tumble rear bench seat (Wrangler), a 60/40-split folding rear seat (Wrangler Unlimited), an eight-speaker AM/FM/CD sound system, satellite radio, a 12-volt power outlet, an auxiliary input jack, a USB port, a compass, and an outdoor temperature gauge.The Wrangler Unlimited also gets air conditioning.
Standard off-road features include hill-start assist, skid plates for the fuel tank and transfer case, one rear and two front tow hooks, and Jeep's Command-Trac part-time four-wheel-drive system with a shift-on-the-fly transfer case.
The Sport S models add air conditioning (Wrangler), a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and 17-inch alloy wheels.
Sahara models get automatic headlights; upgraded cloth upholstery; power windows, heated mirrors, and locks; remote keyless entry; an auto-dimming rearview mirror; satellite radio; side steps; and 18-inch wheels.
The Rubicon models ratchet up the off-roading prowess even further, with a heavy-duty front axle, a 4.10:1 rear axle ratio, locking front and rear differentials, disconnecting front sway bars, the Rock-Trac four-wheel-drive system with low-range gearing, rock rails, and 32-inch off-road tires on 17-inch alloy wheels.
Those who want even more capability should check out the Rubicon Recon, a late-introduction variant of the regular Rubicon. It gets a modest suspension lift and a beefed up front axle. Jeep says it's ready for 35-inch tires without any modifications, which is hugely impressive.
Most buyers will want to add options. A Power Convenience group includes power locks, heated mirrors, and windows; remote keyless entry; and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. A Connectivity group adds an electronic vehicle information center, voice control, a tire-pressure monitoring display, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. A Cold Weather Group includes an engine block heater, remote starting, Mopar slush mats, heated front seats, BF Goodrich KO2 tires, and the equipment from the Power Convenience group.
A Trailer Tow group adds a class II hitch receiver and a 4-pin adapter, while a Max Tow package adds those features plus a 3.73 (or 4:10 for Rubicon) axle ratio.
An LED Lighting group adds LED fog lamps and headlights.
Three Mopar appearance packages are offered with either chrome or black themes, and a Mopar Premium Sound and Leather package adds a 115-volt power outlet, heated leather front seats, and an Alpine nine-speaker audio system.
Stand-alone options consist of front side airbags, satellite radio, a wi-fi hotspot, a 552-watt Alpine audio system, Bluetooth with voice controls, leather front seats, automatic climate control, half doors, a limited-slip rear differential, and lower axle ratios.
Two upgrade radios are offered, one with a 6.5-inch touchscreen, and the other with that screen plus, a navigation system, a 40-gigabyte hard drive for music storage, and satellite radio with SiriusXM Travel Link.
In addition to the standard soft top, buyers can opt for the Sunrider soft top with a flip-back sunroof feature, and the three-piece modular Freedom Top hardtop with a rear wiper washer and a rear defroster.
Pricing is something to keep in mind. While the entry price for the 2017 Jeep Wrangler is a tantalizing $25,000 or so, it quickly climbs from there, as Sahara and Rubicon models cost many thousands more, and you'll want a number of options to make the off-road package (and appearance) complete. Top Unlimited Rubicon models, loaded up with options such as leather seats, remote starting, automatic climate control, premium audio, and navigation can easily blow past $45,000, which can make those inevitable boulder bashes and trail abrasions a little more painful.
Jeep does a good job of offering a Wrangler for every taste, and the Freedom Top is a great option, but there aren't many modern amenities.
Shoppers considering a Wrangler want the off-road ability, the convertible top, or the tough styling. They are usually not concerned with fuel economy, and that's good because the Wrangler doesn't perform well at the pump.
EPA fuel economy ratings put the two-door Wrangler at 17 mpg city, 21 highway, 18 combined with either the manual or automatic transmission. For the Wrangler Unlimited, those ratings drop slightly to 16/21/18 mpg for the manual and 16/20/18 mpg for the automatic.
We give the Wrangler a 5 out of 10 for fuel economy. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Poor fuel economy is a trade-off for the Wrangler's off-road capability.