The 2016 Jeep Wrangler build faithfully on the reputation and the look of the past, with just enough contemporary features and modern amenities.
The Jeep Wrangler is a throwback to the brand's earliest days as a military supplier. Whether by chance or by design, the purpose-build off-roader has endured decades and has become one of the brand's best-selling vehicles. There are few things on the road that look like a Wrangler; its boxy shape shares the aerodynamic properties of a barn door.
Jeep has managed to keep this model's authenticity not just by preserving its ability, but in maintaining all sorts of details that you might not have otherwise thought could carry over to the present day. The door hinges are still exposed, attached to flat sheet metal that pointedly avoids mass-market appeal. And you can still completely remove its top and doors and flip down the windshield. Jeep is proud to say that the Wrangler Unlimited is the only four-door convertible SUV, which is admittedly a small market.
The 2016 Wrangler remains a bit crude, but considering where it came from, and where it can take you, the Wrangler is now livable, thanks to vital changes made over the past few model years.
A few years ago, the Wrangler gained some serious hardware upgrades—in the form of Chrysler's latest 3.6-liter V-6, plus a new (well, a sturdy Mercedes-Benz hand-me-down) 5-speed automatic. A 6-speed manual is still offered, too, but the V-6 and automatic combination are a smooth, willing pair, capable of dashing to 60 mph in a much faster 8.4 seconds for the Wrangler Unlimited, or 7.7 seconds for the two-door model. There's surprisingly strong passing pep, and revs are kept low. Dull, but sturdy recirculating-ball steering gear is one point to criticize if you tend to keep to streets and highways, and the ride quality still isn't great.
If you head to the trail—and just about any trail, with the Wrangler—the sacrifices might feel well worth it. 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 continues to wow, with lots of clearance, a rugged underbody with protective skid plates, and terrific boulder-scrambling prowess. There's some modern technology that's been subbed in as well—like an electronic sway-bar disconnect that allows dramatic off-road wheel articulation (and stable grip in extraordinary situations) without cutting into its stability on the road.
The new Wrangler is more refined now, and it's a dramatic transformation. The Wrangler has shed its cheap, plastic roots in favor of a modern instrument panel that is curvy and upright, with soft-touch materials in a few, key ares. Don't be fooled: even the new Wranglers can be hosed down after a raucous ride outside.
Two body styles are available: the two-door Jeep Wrangler and four-door Wrangler Unlimited. They offer a choice of soft or hard tops, or a package that includes both—for those who want to switch back and forth, depending on the season. 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. The soft top is still a complex, multi-hand operation, even though Jeep has improved its soft top design in recent years.
The lineup includes base Sport, fancier Sahara, and an off-road-focused Rubicon. Across the upper trims there's a wide range of choices in top configurations—including a body-color hardtop now offered in Sahara and Rubicon form—as well as a bunch of appearance packages that go by names like Freedom, Willys Wheeler, and Hard Rock.
For 2016, the feature and special-edition rejiggering continues a bit—with a new Wrangler Black Bear edition with off-road rock rails, a Sunrider soft top, Mineral Gray bumper treatment, Silent Armor tires, and more.
Wrangler models can be equipped with air conditioning, navigation, automatic climate control, and streetwise alloy wheels, even Alpine speakers. Its utter flexibility, along with those options and others like Bluetooth connectivity, music storage, Sirius Satellite Radio, heated seats, automatic climate control, and a hard-core off-road package have us still quite amazed at all that's offered—more than any other off-roader. But do beware that prices for a well-equipped Unlimited Rubicon can pass the $45,000 mark; at that price, will you be OK putting it through the paces, and getting it scratched and dented?
Two-door Wrangler models with the 3.6-liter V-6 are rated at 17 mpg city, 21 highway, 18 combined with either the manual or automatic. Step up to the larger Wrangler Unlimited and those ratings drop slightly to 16/21/18 mpg for the manual and 16/20/18 mpg for the automatic.