REVIEW: Jeep Wrangler still in a class by itself

The Jeep Wrangler is an iconic, legendary vehicle that has no direct competitors, though many companies have introduced so called “rugged” off-road vehicles in recent years.

With history going back all the way to the Second World War, this vehicle has seen it all. The Jeep Wrangler is one monumental vehicle that has created a truly amazing reputation for the Jeep brand – not to mention the thousands of loyal followers that are now part of the Jeep family.

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The closest competitor to the Wrangler was the Toyota FJ Cruiser, which has been discontinued for several years now. The Toyota 4Runner and even the Tacoma pickup could be considered rivals, but these vehicles don’t have removable doors or tops like the Jeep Wrangler, and they are larger and more upscale in comparison. It’s interesting that despite the increasing popularity of the Jeep Wrangler, other automakers haven’t been able to make a dent in the Wrangler’s territory. Perhaps when Ford introduces the new Bronco, it could be considered an alternative to the Jeep.

So how do you improve on something that is still selling so well? The Jeep brand – part of Fiat Chrysler Automobile group – took a two-prong approach: keep look of the new Wrangler (code named JL) as close as possible to the old version; and also don’t stop selling the older model (now referred as JK Wrangler). Unfortunately for buyers, this can be confusing as both the new JL version and the old JK version look so similar. But underneath the exterior, the new model boasts many extra components.

The biggest difference between the “new” and the “old” is in refinement. The old version lacked refinement and drove rough and tough. The new model is much smoother and modernized. The all-new Jeep Wrangler manages to maintain the legendary Jeep look and feel while providing a smoother driving experience and comfortable ride. And of course, the off-road capability hasn’t been sacrificed.

Design

Jeep knew to not mess with a good design, and for that reason the exterior has not been altered too much. The turn signals have been transferred from the front grille to the fenders, and the windshield has a more streamlined appearance when viewed from the side. While the windshield, sides and roof are still removable, for the first time a power-operated folding top is also available.

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The Wrangler is designed as an off-roader first and performance vehicle a distant second, prizing ground clearance over sharp cornering. photo Mike Wakefield, North Shore News

The JL version was designed with passenger comfort in mind, and the cabin is quite plush regardless of the trim levels. This being said, the rear seats can be somewhat uncomfortable.  Keyless ignition is now available, and the instrument panel includes a seven-inch or 8.4-inch touchscreen with the UConnect infotainment system. It is clear how much Jeep is striving to maintain an iconic look but also provide the newest technologies to make driving easier and more fun.

The Jeep Wrangler now offers all the latest safety equipment, infotainment system, and upscale luxury features like leather seats and Apple CarPlay. These advancements help bring the Jeep Wrangler into the modern era.

The cabin is still noisy, in part due to the unique configuration and ability to remove doors and windows.

Performance

The Jeep Wrangler JL’s primary engine choice is a 3.6-litre Pentastar V-6 engine that produces 285 horsepower and 260 foot-pounds of torque and features Engine Stop-Start (ESS) technology. The second choice is a 2.0-litre I-4 Turbo with eTorque that produces 270 h.p. and 295 foot-pounds of torque – it combines the traditional engine with a motor assist to give the vehicle extra oomph from standing start.

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Jeep is striving to maintain the classic, rugged look of the Wrangler’s cabin while also adding the latest technologies needed for a fun and comfortable ride. photo Mike Wakefield, North Shore News

Drivers have a choice of either a six-speed manual transmission or an eight-speed automatic with the V-6 unit. The towing capacity for the 2019 Jeep Wrangler is reasonable at 3,500 pounds (1,588 kilograms), though larger models like the 4Runner provide much more towing capacity.

The Jeep Wrangler comes in seven trim levels: Sport, Sport S, Rubicon, Unlimited Sport S, Unlimited Sahara, and Unlimited Rubicon. The Sahara trim level is considered the “luxury” level as it offers the most interior upgrades. The Rubicon is the top trim level for off-roading capabilities.

Even though the Wrangler has significantly improved ride and handling over its predecessor, it still feels a bit slow around tight curves and can deliver a bouncy ride. The acceleration is better than expected, but once again, the Jeep is designed to be an off-roader first and performance vehicle a distant second.

In comparison, the Toyota 4Runner – which hasn’t been updated in many years – feels much more luxurious with a softer ride, relaxed acceleration, and upscale features. The 4Runner is larger and roomier and for about the same price, offers a bit more value. Other crossovers and SUVs with a so-called “off-road” package, such as the upcoming Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-road, can be considered an indirect competitor but for all intents and purposes, these are not in the same category as the Jeep Wrangler.

But when you take the doors and the top off and fold down the windshield, you realize that there isn’t anything that comes close to the Wrangler. It truly owns its own market.

Summary

The Jeep Wrangler is breaking records and according to the parent company FCA, it continues to set an all-time high record for sales. The resale value of the Jeep Wrangler is very high as well, giving buyers further incentives to buy this vehicle. With the possibility of a plug-in electric vehicle and diesel powerplant in the near future, there are big things on the horizon for the Jeep.

And of course, the biggest recent news is the unveiling of the Jeep Wrangler pickup truck called the Gladiator. Already receiving rave reviews, the new for 2020 Gladiator is considered the “ultimate” truck with Wrangler-based features mixed-in with a pickup truck convenience. We look forward to driving the Gladiator and providing a review in the future.

The Jeep Wrangler JL is a niche vehicle but if the sales are anything like the beginning of 2019, they will continue to sell like hotcakes. The Jeep Wrangler starts from $35,195 for the Sport trim, and up to $49,995 for the Unlimited Rubicon.

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