When an athlete is at the top of his or her game, there is often little that can be done to improve performance, short of some bionic enhancement, which is usually fictional, or by steroids, which is dangerous and illegal.
In some ways, the Jeep Wrangler was in that same situation. As the world’s most recognized vehicles and certainly one of the most capable and accomplished off-road vehicles in the world, Wrangler was at the top of it game. To make a significant improvement would require a substantial change. And, that’s exactly what the Jeep team did.
A few years back, Chrysler, the owner of Jeep, made a major investment to develop a new V-6 engine to be used in Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Ram vehicles.
The result is the new 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 engine. First used in the all-new Jeep Grand Cherokee, introduced in 2010, the sophisticated V-6 engine is rated at 285 horsepower and 260-lb.ft. of torque. That’s up 83 horsepower from the previous 3.8-liter engine. The engine made the prestigious Ward’s 10 Best Engines for 2011.
With the new engine, Wrangler’s on-road performance improved by about 25 percent producing at 8.4-second 0 to 60 mph acceleration time, and the EPA gives it a 17 mpg city and 21 mpg highway rating, which is 2 mpg better than the old engine.
There is also a new five-speed automatic transmission replacing the previous four-speed. The five-speed is smoother and when combined with the new engine eliminates the problem of unwanted shifts as the transmission hunts for the best gear. The transmission gearing not only helps improve fuel economy but it improves performance with a wider range of gear choices. For off-road, first gear is lower providing a lower overall crawl speed and more climbing power. For owners who prefer total control, the wrangler is also one of the only off-road vehicles still offered with a six-speed manual transmission.
The new drivetrain almost feels like the new Wrangler got a bionic injection making it much more responsive on-road, but also giving it extra power for the tough off-road demands that the Wrangler is so famous for.
Wrangler is still built with a body-on-frame construction with a front and rear five-link suspension system, live axles, electronic lockers, and an available Electronic Sway-bar Disconnect System to give the suspension even more range.
We won’t pretend to understand all the intricacies of the advanced drivetrain systems that make the Wrangler such a superior off-road machine. All we know is that we drove the new Wrangler through an off-road course especially prepared by a group of Jeep driving instructors and it was amazing. We drove over rocks and logs, through deep holes and up steep slopes and back down. We literally could not have walked through the area, and we didn’t think we could drive through it, but we did, with hardly the spin of a wheel. We’ve both done quite a bit of off-road driving, but this was the most challenging courses we’ve driven, and it appeared to be simple for the Jeep.
The Wrangler may have a strong resemblance to the original Jeep, but it takes advantage of the latest technologies to make it safer and better. Standard equipment in the new Wrangler includes electronic stability control, Trailer-sway Control, electronic roll mitigation, traction control and Hill-start Assist
As the original Jeep with a history going back to World War II, the Wrangler image has changed little, with the last major exterior change in 2007. At that time, the four-door Wrangler Unlimited was added to the lineup and it became a major success. All the Wrangler models are distinguished by their round headlights, seven-slot grille, removable doors with exposed hinges, fold-down windshield and removable tops. The Jeep looks rugged and is rugged. The Wrangler is also available with half doors or full doors and a choice of hard, soft or dual tops. A body colored hardtop was offered on some versions in 2011 to add a more sophisticated and premium look, and the option was expanded to other versions for 2012
The Wrangler and Unlimited have spacious interiors with five-passenger seating plus a large cargo area, which can expand when the rear seat is folded. With the rear seat folded, the two door will carry about 61.2 cubic feet of cargo and nearly 87 cubic feet in the Unlimited.
The interior received a major upgrade and redesign in 2011 adding upgraded materials and more upscale appointments to appeal to a broader market. New appointments included features like automatic temperature controls, heated seats and steering wheel controls.
The Wrangler comes in two body styles, the two-door original Wrangler and the four-door Unlimited with each available in three trim levels Sport, Sahara and Rubicon. The Wrangler Sport has a base price of $22,845, including the destination charge, and the Rubicon pricing starts at $30,795. The Unlimited Sport starts at $26,345 and the Rubicon at $34,370. A fully loaded Unlimited Rubicon can run just over $42,000 when all the options like navigation, media center, heated leather seats and dual top are added.
Driving both on a variety of paved and unpaved roads in the Coast Range west of Portland, we experienced a much smoother and sophisticated Wrangler than we had previously. It’s just like the new Wrangler is bionic or on steroids.