6 Things I Learned Driving the 2016 Jeep Wrangler

6 Things I Learned Driving the 2016 Jeep Wrangler

The Wrangler is Jeep’s most recognized most and capable model. 

This ready-for-anything vehicle can trace its lineage right back to the original military-grade Willys MA that debuted just in time for the Second World War. In fact, today’s model still features the same body proportions, is equipped with live axles at both ends, and has a spare tire mounted vertically at the rear, traits that go all the way back to 1941.

In case you have trouble with math (like I do), today’s Wrangler represents 75 years of heritage. Countless other automakers have come and gone in that time, but Jeep remains. It’s undoubtedly one of FCA’s strongest brands, with more than 865,000 units delivered in 2015.

SEE ALSO: 2016 Jeep Wrangler Willys Wheeler Review

I recently evaluated the 2016 Wrangler Unlimited Sahara, a mid-range four-door model, and I learned a lot about it during my stint in the driver’s seat. Accordingly, here are the six most important things I learned about Jeep’s ever-popular Wrangler.


6. Go-Anywhere Confidence

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With massive iron beams supporting it front and rear plus knobby tires, four-wheel drive and more ground clearance than the height of a 95th percentile toddler, this vehicle is designed to tackle the gnarliest off-road trails. It can go just about anywhere you want, every season of the year, and through any weather conditions. Capability is the name of the game here and the Wrangler excels where the pavement ends. Go ahead and get a little dirty, the Wrangler will laugh in your face and ask for more.


5. Chrysler’s Pentastar V6 is an ENGINEering Masterpiece

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I’m a big fan of Chrysler’s 3.6-liter Pentastar V6. This punchy engine works just as well in a Dodge Charger as it does in one of Ram’s pickups, it’s brilliant in the 200 sedan and even a Caravan. Predictably, it’s just as enticing when bolted under a Wrangler’s boxy hood. In this application, it delivers 285 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. Another benefit of the Pentastar is that it’s one of the smoothest running bent-sixes on the market today.


4. The Five-Speed Automatic Transmission Is Awful

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But for all of this engine’s refinement and power, it was paired with an antiquated five-speed automatic transmission in the Wrangler I tested. This gearbox is like a Throwback Thursday to the old DaimlerChrysler days, and that’s not something to celebrate. For the most part, this transmission behaved itself, but on random occasions, you could catch it off guard and it would slam into gear on upshifts. The available six-speed manual would have been much nicer.


3. It’s Quieter Than You Might Expect

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The Wrangler is impressively quiet underway. No, it’s not the most silent vehicle on the market, but when you consider that it has the proportions of an apple crate and stands as tall as a pickup truck, the fact that it doesn’t sound like a regional jet on takeoff leaves you scratching your head. Obviously, there’s no way to fool the slipstream; this rig will never compete with a Prius when it comes to aerodynamics, but engineers still did a damn fine job civilizing this ever-capable brute.


2. It Feels Rubbery

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Despite its whisper-like interior, the remainder of the Wrangler’s on-road behavior is a mixed bag … a colostomy bag. If there’s one word that sums up this vehicle’s driving experience, it would be rubbery. But this should come as no surprise, its tires have tall sidewalls and massive tread blocks, plus there are live axles at both ends. Simply put, this thing is not very enjoyable on the street.

Its steering is vague and as you turn, the body seems to roll a bit before the vehicle actually changes direction. The Wrangler’s ride is fairly bouncy and it always feels like there’s a lot of mass moving around underneath your feet. But none of this matters when you’re off-roading. The characteristics that make it drive poorly on the road make it more capable when the road ends.


1. There are Wranglers Everywhere!

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This is a purpose-built machine specifically designed to get you places few other vehicles ever could. Of course it’s not going to handle like an M3 on the street! I know that and so do you.

However, Jeep Wranglers are everywhere. The first day I took my loaner out for a spin I saw eight others on the road, the overwhelming number of which were four-door Unlimited models; it was unbelievable.

This, of course, means there are far too many poseurs out there commuting to work in these things rather than bashing rocks and slinging mud like the Wrangler’s designers intended, which is a laughable waste of capability. So here’s a helpful hint: If you live on a cul-de-sac or in a subdivision, you don’t need one of these machines; ditto if you think driving on wet grass constitutes off-roading. Save these vehicles for people who really use them.

Discuss this story on our Off-Road Forum

  • KnightShader

    Why do people care if someone off-roads in one or not? I do in both of mine, and those they replace, but I also use it as a Daily driver, and rent them on business trips too along with luxury sedans and sports cars, because it’s less about the vehicle than the driver.
    However people may want a Wrangler because they live north of Arizona or Florida and therefore want something that can handle the elements, yet at the same time, a convertible is nice when the whether is fine.
    I always find it odd that reviewers need to be un-original in commenting about the number of people driving Wrangler who aren’t hitting the trails, yet these same people don’t say to forgo a Corvette, or Aventador because they are never going on a Track day and in North America you can’t go faster than 75MPH (or are you saying you break the law and condone doing so just because you have a ‘sports’ car? ;-P ).

    The reality is that it’s likely that more of these Wranglers will eventually see the trail even in their second or third life, whereas it’s unlikely many sports cars with “corsa, race, track” settings will ever see any of those, and instead will simply be poser vehicles after their first owners have used them as daily drivers too.

  • Beedogz

    Plus, the Wrangler is towable 4 wheels down behind a motorhome. Great tow vehicle for full time RVers.

  • Scott

    All totally true. IMO, my Wrangler Unlimited Sahara is the most fun vehicle I’ve ever had (and I’ve owned a Supra, a Miata, and an RX-7). I’m not the only one. People ask me or comment about it at least once a week. And how many SUVs can be optioned with a manual transmission these days? Finally, there’s no better feeling than taking a drive on a warm spring or summer day with the top down and the doors off. It’s very therapeutic. Everyone should own one in their lifetime. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/3fec2d6d182934980350c101d5b1b29657a39e5111d042bc26c7b398c6efa44b.jpg

  • Wai Phung

    Decent article until the last paragraph, that was a DICK statement

  • Jon Austin

    These writers always seem to me to make the same tired, shopworn observations with what they apparently consider to be clever and interesting turns of phrase. “… more ground clearance than the height of a 95th percentile toddler” … seriously?

    As to his “findings,” I’m 3+ years into my 2013 Sahara Unlimited, with 38K miles behind the wheel, and I’ve never experienced anything other than smooth, reliable behavior from the automatic (the same one as in the ’16 model). Makes me wonder what he was doing with it during his review.

    Aside to KnightShader: come on down / over to Texas: we have at least one stretch of I-10 with an 80mph speed limit, and a 41-mile section of TX-130 (toll) where it’s 85mph! 🙂

  • Definitely go with the manual. I have one and love it.