Two Jeeps, two ways! Today’s fun comparison highlights the similarities and differences between two of Jeep’s most capable mid-$30,000 off-roaders: the hot-selling Cherokee Trailhawk, a versatile off-roader designed for your 9-5, and the Wrangler Willys Wheeler, which combines numerous off-road hardware tweaks into a high-capability, low-cost mud-slinger for thousands less than the top-dog Wrangler Rubicon.

Here are two machines that are Trail-Rated, priced similarly, ready for adventures over various mucks and turfs, and which pack more capability than many owners will ever use. They’re both very similar, and very different, at the same time.

Which one is best? That depends on how you’ll use it, and what you’ll use it for. Here’s the sticky.

2016 Jeep Wrangler Willys Wheeler
Base Price: $37,385
Price as Tested: $44,380

The Gist: Built on Wrangler’s Sport package, the Willys Wheeler upgrade commands $2,900 in exchange for a full suite of off-road hardware – including Rubicon-spec shocks, a Dana locking rear differential, rock rails, Mud Terrain tires and more. Base-for-base, in four-door Unlimited guise, Willys comes in some $4,000 less than a Rubicon. That’s plenty of dinero left for a healthy trip to the Mopar catalog, or a few sick-ass light-bars and some other goodies. Look for two or four doors, standard four-wheel drive and six-speed stick, and a standard convertible top – making it a bit of a family adventure sports car.

Interior and Features: Everything you need, nothing you don’t: That’s the Willys Wheeler mantra when it comes to accoutrements. If you haven’t visited a Wrangler lately, the added premium materials, effective use of contrasting colour and texture, and abundance of graphical Easter Eggs that nod to the Wrangler’s heritage will delight. The tester packed the premium Alpine stereo (highly advised), and offered full power accessories, cruise, steering-wheel mounted controls, and Bluetooth. Entry and exit are a bit clumsier than the Trailhawk, with doors that aren’t step-hinged, and a hop up or down required to board and exit. Rear seat accommodations can be cramped around the craniums of taller adults (thank the roll bar), though the fold-flat rear seats and box-shaped cargo hold team up for generous cargo hauling, especially if you’ve got your gear packed into square bins. Drivers sit up high, with a commanding forward view from behind a thin dash.

On Road: Keeping context in mind is important when reading a Wrangler review: this is an off-roader that can tackle highway use, and not vice versa. Many Wrangler drivers happily accept a ride that’s often rigid, jouncy and jarring – though relatively compliant on smooth highways. Soccer moms will find it rough, while enthusiasts love how it feels tough, durable and truck-like. The Mud Terrain tires are quieter than expected, especially since they wouldn’t look out of place on a piece of landscaping equipment. Still, Wrangler’s wind noise levels at highway speed are huge. Outward forward visibility (using your actual eyeballs) is the better of the two, though, at a similar price point, Trialhawk has a full network of safety sensors to compensate for reduced manual outward visibility. Both are light in the steering department and easy to park, though ultimately, Wrangler falls far behind Trailhawk for handling, noise levels, at-speed stability and overall handling precision.

Connect with