January 16, 2014
2014 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara. Click image to enlarge
Review and photos by Justin Pritchard
Convertibles with six-speed manual transmissions, 285 hp V6 engines and all-wheel drive tend to get the salivary glands of many an enthusiast slobbering away on overtime – especially when said convertible wears a sticker that barely breaks twenty-three grand.
This delicious recipe for fun is offered by the Jeep Wrangler, which admittedly isn’t the go-to convertible for most convertible folks. But, this tried-and-true, tough-as-nails dirt-slinger commanded a starting price of just $22,195 at the time of writing – that, with Chrysler’s new Pentastar V6, more standard features than ever, and an interior that no longer looks and feels like it’s made of melted-down margarine containers.
Sure: Wrangler is far from sporty in the typical sense of the word. It’s technically four-wheel drive, not all-wheel drive. And it’s not built for feats of handling or acceleration. But for thousands of owners who wave at each other as they pass on the road and gather on off-road trails on weekends, Wrangler amounts to a hell of a deal on a go-anywhere, adventure-seeking, roof-optional ride that’s ready for just about any terrain, locale or weather.
Some housekeeping notes, now.
First, this isn’t a machine big on refinement. The doors have no pre-stepped hinges, since they’re removable. The footwells are tight up front, because of the transfer case hardware underneath bulging into the floor. The engine, despite being a modern new unit, is a bit gruff. Steering is vague and lazy and imprecise and can see Wrangler wander around its lane at speed a little.
And the wind noise at highway speeds is as close to being in a plastic-lined beer cooler at 120 km/h as I can imagine, thanks to the pull-off plastic roof panels. Plus, since there’s a two-speed transfer case with low-range for climbing stuff, the driver needs to engage four-wheel traction with a lever, rather than leaving it up to a computer algorithm.
Take that all to mean that if you’re after steering precision, automatic traction and a quiet and car-like ride, get a Tucson, or a CR-V or an Escape or any of the other crossover SUV models that ride on a car platform.
Conversely, if you’re ok with a bit of roughness around the edges in exchange for a machine built to tackle terrain where the market’s flood of jacked-up, car-based cute-utes dare not tread, you’re in the right place.
With a ladder-frame truck structure underneath, Wrangler is sturdy and robust when the going gets nasty – unlike many flimsy, car-based crossovers that feel like they’ll rattle themselves to bits.
Wrangler is, after all, trail rated – meaning it’s passed several key off-road tests as a seal of approval of its ready-and-willingness to tackle virtually any terrain. If you’re into hunting, fishing, exploring, hiking or just otherwise mucking around in the dirt like me, you’re well covered off. And, with steel bumpers, ground-clearance galore and nothing but solid steel underneath, you’ve got real confidence that you won’t lose a bumper, air-dam or plastic underbody panel if you go exploring a little.
So, if you actually need a vehicle that’s off-road capable, you won’t do much better than this.