Auto Review: The Wrangler soldiers on

By Bill Heald - ReminderNews
Featured Article - posted Thu., Jan. 3, 2013
- Contributed Photo

If you’ve been a regular reader of this column, you’ve no doubt noticed that I’m always harping on about how manufacturers love to create completely new versions of older models, often enacting dramatic changes. In the case of the SUV genre, we’ve seen most of the breed evolve from rugged, truck-based utility vehicles to machines capable of light off-road work but improved on-road manners and refinement, thanks to moving to a car-based chassis. But there have been a few exceptions from this evolutionary rule, and perhaps the most successful has been the venerable Jeep Wrangler.

Few automobiles have a more familiar profile, for in terms of overall shape (and especially the grill), the look goes back to the 1940s and WWII. The small SUV has likewise stayed true to its roots in a mechanical sense, with robust, body-on-frame construction and rugged live-axle suspension components. The original two-door convertible design is still quite intact, although Jeep has increased its range of Wrangler vehicles to include the four-door Unlimited variant. But the core Wrangler values are still intact, while at the same time the company has been smoothing the rough edges and refining the vehicle’s road manners without compromising performance in the outback.

The new Wrangler rides on a tight, 95-inch wheelbase and still has removable doors and a choice of several hard and soft tops to tailor the vehicle to your open-air desires. There are also three trim grades: Sport, Sahara and Rubicon. The lone engine is a 3.6-liter, 285-horsepower V6, and the transmission choices include a six-speed manual and five-speed automatic. The part-time 4WD transfer case includes 2WD High and 4WD High and Low settings, with the Rubicon model getting a more rugged version for tougher rock-climbing. Our Sahara model had the automatic gearbox (and the optional Sunrrider convertible soft top), and acceleration was brisk, while the V6 and the drivetrain overall was fairly quiet and refined. Off-road, the engine proved to be ideally tuned for slow-speed work, and while (despite the clear improvements) the Wrangler is still not the most enjoyable vehicle on dry pavement, it still excels in rough going. The firm suspension that can be really busy on the highway is ideally suited for trail work, as is the lighting-quick steering and excellent ground clearance. The tight turning radius is likewise a boon to getting around in tight quarters, especially in the woods of Connecticut.

The compact dimensions that make for such a potent adventure vehicle limit the room for passengers and cargo, but the seating that is there is reasonably comfortable. The fabric on the Sahara is stout and durable, and the driver discovers a rather satisfying analog instrumentation that may not be the latest tech, but works wonderfully well. That said, the optional Uconnect System has a touch screen for radio and navigation operations, thus blending the old with the new in a very logical way.

The 2013 Jeep Wrangler Sahara 4X4 is EPA rated 17 MPG city/21 highway and has a base price of $27,695. With options, our MSRP came to $32,610.

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