The 2017 Jeep Wrangler is a unique off-roader bolstered by the freedom of open air driving. Its aging design is a throwback to the past, but it offers 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-built off-roader has endured decades and has become one of Jeep's best-selling vehicles. Offered in Sport, Sport S, Sahara, and extreme off-road Rubicon models, the Wrangler combines an throwback design with a smattering of modern amenities.
As Jeep readies a the next-generation Wrangler, likely for the 2018 model year, the 2017 model gets very minor updates. Changes consist of available LED headlights and fog lights and a new Sport S model in place of the numerous special edition models from last year. A Cold Weather group is now offered for the Sport S and Rubicon models.
We give the Wrangler an overall rating of 4.8 out of 10. The Wrangler does one thing better than just about any vehicle on the planet—off-roading—but doesn't do anything else particularly well, whether it's ride, handling, or safety.
Styling and performance
There is nothing on the road that looks 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.
All Wranglers are powered by Chrysler's 3.6-liter V-6, backed by a 6-speed manual or an optional Mercedes-Benz hand-me-down 5-speed automatic transmission. The V-6 and automatic make a smooth, willing combination capable of dashing to 60 mph in as little as 7.7 seconds. There's surprisingly strong passing pep, and revs are kept low.
Two-door Wranglers 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.
If you keep to the streets and highways, you may be annoyed by the dull, but sturdy recirculating-ball steering, the bouncy ride, and the copious body lean.
If you head to the trail, the sacrifices might feel well worth it. The tough body-on-frame chassis and solid front and rear axles continue to establish the Wrangler as one of the most capable off-road SUVs, 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.
Interior, safety, and features
The 2017 Wrangler remains a bit crude, but considering where it came from, and where it can take you, it is fairly livable compared to past generations. 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, though; it can still be hosed down after a raucous ride outside.
Two body styles are available: the two-door Wrangler and four-door Wrangler Unlimited. They offer a choice of soft or hard tops. Though easily penetrated by road and wind noise, they can be removed to 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 tops are still complex, multi-hand operations, and the Sunrider top has a flip-back open-air sunroof feature.
Passengers will prefer the extra rear seat space of the Wrangler Unlimited and those who need to carry stuff will like its extra cargo capacity.
On the safety front, the Wrangler performs poorly in the tests conducted so far. Without all the official data in, the Wrangler is already one of the lowest-rated vehicles for crash-test performance, and there's nothing in the way of advanced safety technology.
As for features, the Jeep Wrangler Sport model is quite basic, without power windows or air conditioning. Move up the lineup to get those features, plus, alloy wheels, automatic climate control, heated seats, satellite radio, and leather upholstery. You'll have to go to the options list for air Bluetooth, navigation, and towing and trim packages. There are a lot of configurations, but 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?