Off Road: Confidence is the name of the game. Notably, the Mud Terrain tires employ jagged sidewall treads, enabling escaping of even greasy mud ruts, should you get sucked in. The rear locking differential kicks in smoothly, no input needed, should the rear tires start running out of bite. Using two-wheel drive with the locking Dana rear axle and Mud Terrain ties, Wrangler Willys has more traction on offer than any number of soft-roader cute-utes, without even engaging its four-wheel drive.
Then, a manly lever-tug calls 4-HI into action, doubling traction. The 4-LO range is another tug away, for full traction, with more climbing and pulling power. Switching modes is slower and more labour-intensive than the dial selector in the Trailhawk, but a more positive action results. Ground clearance, and approach and departure angles are all generous, and in cases where they aren’t, skid plating and rock rails versus muck and turf and rocks is the result. With Wrangler Willys, there’s no oil-pan roulette on rough terrain.
Most notable? The off-road ride quality. Surfaces, mostly rocky in nature, which coax harshness, noise and a considerably more delicate feeling from beneath the Trailhawk, don’t faze the Willys. Though the off-road ride can become hilariously jouncy at times, at no point does Wrangler ever feel or sound like you’re hurting it – and that’s confidence you can take to the bank.
Performance and Driveline: Much of the time, Wrangler Willys’ big V6 is lazy, the throttle feels like it’s connected to a pail of coleslaw, and overall responsiveness, partly thanks to the five-speed automatic transmission, is on par with a hung-over teenager at 8 am. That is, unless you give the throttle a proper smasheroo, where it downright hauls ass thanks to the better part of 300 hp. Most of these horses prefer to hide in the background most of the time, but it’s nice to know they’re there, even if the engine is a little hoarse at times, and nothing to listen to. Crawling and climbing, it’s all about versatility: and the big Pentastar has torque aplenty for effortless low-speed slogging.
Notably, the Trailhawk offers the smaller 3.2 L V6 and nine gears (four more than Wrangler). It’s got the sweeter sounding, more responsive under-hood setup. Wrangler highway cruising mileage landed at around 12.3 L/100 km on my watch, towards a test average of just over 15 L/100 km, which is expectedly thirsty.
Final Thoughts: This machine is the best match for an enthusiast shopper, aspiring or otherwise. Wrangler is tougher on fuel, considerably noisier, and full of foibles – though it feels considerably more durable and solid in the rough stuff, more confidence-inspiring on a purely mechanical level, and a more serious overall package in the dirt. There’s lots to be said for its standard-equipment convertible roof and six-speed stick, too. I actually have friends actively cross-shopping a Willys against a Mustang Convertible as a fun family weekend-adventure machine. Though the Trailhawk is a nicer machine to drive the majority of the time, when absolute confidence is the priority in an off-road setting, as well as a healthy dose of fun-in-the-sun, Willys Wheeler is the one.
Overall Value: Very impressive, and even more so if you’ll actually use the Wrangler Willys Wheeler for its intended purpose.