2015 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Review

Getting Dirty the Jeep Way

2015 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Review

I fell into a common trap with the last few Jeep Wranglers I’ve tested by focusing on their continued refinement and improved on-road manners instead of their go-anywhere capability.

FAST FACTS

Engine: 3.6 L V6, 285 hp, 260 lb-ft.

Transmission: Five-Speed Automatic

Fuel economy: 17 MPG City, 20 MPG Highway, 17.2 MPG Observed

Price: Wrangler Unlimited starts at $27,390 after destination, $41,665 as tested for loaded Sahara model

Not this time.

I’m not going to discuss the Wrangler’s wobbly steering, excessive wind noise or dive bar mechanical-bull-riding suspension. It’s time to take the Jeep where it’s meant to be: the mud.

When I told the folks at Jeep my plan, they asked me repeatedly to get it dirty. And instead of giving me an off-road special like the short-wheelbase Wrangler Rubicon, I got a long-wheelbase four-door 2015 Wrangler Unlimited Sahara to prove just how capable any Wrangler can be.

More spacious than a regular Wrangler, the monstrous Unlimited measures 173.4 inches in length, an increase of over 20 inches compared to the two-door model. Starting at a base price of $27,390 after destination charges the price jumps to $33,785 in Sahara trim. But my tester goes further.

SEE ALSO: 2014 Jeep Wrangler Sport S Review

After adding items like the Connectivity Group, Max Tow Package, heated front seats, automatic climate control, colored hardtop, Alpine sound system with navigation and a remote starter, the price jumped to $41,665. What do all these options have to do with off-roading? Not much, but it does make the Wrangler more comfortable when tackling the trails and the tow package does include shorter ratio 3.73 front and rear gears.

Starting Small

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I had a seriously sketchy road in mind, but before I decide to start small and test the Wrangler’s basics before jumping knee-deep into the muck.

First I went bombing through a grassy field. That’s almost an insult to the Jeep because any vehicle could probably make it across, but not like this thing can.

2015-Jeep-Wrangler-Unlimited-02.JPGThere’s a difference between surviving an excursion and relishing it. Fields can look smooth and flat, but they rarely are. Hidden in the green ground covering are pits, bumps and rocks.

Most vehicles will make it across a big open field, but the ride is unpleasant as the car bump stops, bottoms out and crashes over uneven surfaces. The Wrangler just laughs it off. As I cruise at 30 MPH over a dry unmaintained field, the Jeep’s suspension delivers a smooth, controlled ride. In fact, the drive here is more pleasant than some of the surrounding broken pavement roads.

Time for a Workout

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Next I took the Wrangler to a man-made moderate off-road course. Short in duration, the course is carved out of deep brush and is designed to test off-road prowess. First is a set of rollers set on a slight incline. Rollers are a series of metal tubes that freely roll within a frame. Think of them as industrialized versions of the bottle return rollers found at a local liquor stores or parcel rollers at shipping depots.

2015-Jeep-Wrangler-Unlimited-05.JPGBy placing both wheels from one side of the vehicle on these rollers, the side-to-side power distribution can be tested. If the vehicle lacks locking differentials or some form of a limited slip differential (LSD), the two wheels on the rollers will spin and the vehicle won’t move. My Sahara did not feature the optional rear LSD or the locking differentials found in the Rubicon and Willys Wheeler models.

SEE ALSO: 2013 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Review

But thanks to modern traction control systems, by using the Jeep’s brakes the Wrangler is able to send power to the wheels not on the rollers and advance forward. It’s not the best off-road setup by any means, but it works in a pinch.

Ground Clearance and Suspension Travel

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Next on the trail is a series of logs and man-made dirt mounds set strategically to test ground clearance and suspension travel. With the largest mounds measuring just over eight inches high, the Wrangler Sahara’s 10.2-inch ground clearance is never really put to the test, but the suspension did get a thorough workout. The mound placement from side to side are perfectly located to try and upset the Jeep’s suspension. Although the Wrangler was bouncing around on the course, it never slipped a tire, hesitated or tried to bump steer off the course.

Putting it all Together

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There is a road that I’ve been meaning to test for years, but I’ve never had the right vehicle to do it. It’s a dead-end with a posted warning that the surface is clay, the road is unmaintained and to use it at your own risk. Perfect.

2015-Jeep-Wrangler-Unlimited-21.JPGI picked a day with steady rain that transformed the clay road into a greasy muck. Puddles are I can see puddles ahead, but have no idea how deep they are. Sliding the 4X4 transfer case into four-wheel high, I ease onto the throttle and begin. At best I’m a novice off-roader with minimal experience and little coaching. With a steady throttle at all times, I recall what I’ve been taught and react appropriately as the Wrangler slides back and forth through the goo.

I used all 10.2 inches of ground clearance at certain points because some of the ruts were roughly a foot deep. The Wrangler’s differentials dragged through the sludge as the Bridgestone Dueler A/T tires clawed for traction. Mud flew everywhere and the road behind me looked like dual backhoes dug trenches, but the Wrangler soldiered on. Best of all, the Jeep is ready and willing to do it again and again.

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The Verdict

Even if the Wrangler is more civilized than it used to be and now features a 285 HP 3.6-liter V6 that is shared with a family sedan and a minivan, it’s still a purpose-built off-roader. Once you experience its go anywhere capability experienced, the urge to drive over everything is irresistible. Thankfully, it’s more than willing to oblige.

  • JeepGurl

    That ain’t off-roading!

  • YOYO

    Finally! Someone in the press has driven one of these Jeeps the way it was meant to be.

  • KnightShader

    While it might not be rock crawling and mud-bogging it is light off-roading that likely the majority of users will consider their toughest off-road task, which is still better than the majority of folks who review it and focus on 0-60 times and road noise (which isn’t noticeable to anyone not driving with the radio off).
    Sure all year I use mine literally driving up the side of mountains and across uncharted ‘roads’ not on my gps (even with backroads maps) as well as an alternate daily commuter on highways and sidestreets, but it’s still rare even for Rubicon owners to scratch their underarmour on anything more than a curb. But it’s nice to know that if you do need to go on a moon-scape muddy/gravel road, or cross a field to get to the secret vista or lake, that you can shift it into 4H and just point it an go. Of course I think tht should always be done with the roof down or freedom panels off… even if it’s just above freezing outside. 😉

    It is interesting that the Sahara has dropped the rear LSD as a standard feature and made it an option, but it seems like the appropriate choice now that thw Willys can absorb the space below the Rubicon for capability and the Sahara can be a plusher Sport model.

    I would love to see them maintain that split at the point in time in the future that they finally do decide to go with IFS (yeah there’s rumours but the more concrete info is about Aluminium rather than IFS) and thereby make the Sport & Sahara IFS, and keep the Willys and Rubicon/Hard Rock solid front/rear. Similar to this review an IFS Sahara will be more than capable for the average person who sees mostly pavement, and only sees ‘off-road’ on the way to the cottage or ski hill, but with a good Lil’ Blue style option, you could add that to the Sport/Sahara without compromising the Willy and Rubi.

    I would’ve love to have seen a river crossing in the review as it’s an entertaining experience for the uninitiated, but likely that’s a step to far for whomever lent you the vehicle, although a nice high degree incline is also an ineresting test on a moist day or with loose footing underneath.

    Get ’em dirty Danny !!

  • Mike Schlee

    Let me speak to Jeep. I know of a river!

  • craigcole

    Yes, BUT will it blend? Looks like you had some fun getting dirty!

  • Cleamer

    Seriously? You’re faulting the Sahara for not having lockers? A feature that model has never had for the past 20+ years? That’s like faulting a new non-GT Mustang for not having the V8.

    If you want lockers, that’s what the Rubicon is for. Besides, you didn’t do any wheeling that remotely required the use of them in the first place.

  • COjeeper

    Is this tester jk firecracker red or sunset orange pearl? It looks reminiscent of rock lobster… I hope this is not sunset orange.

  • stew7710

    The photos look do look like Rock Lobster Red, a 2013 color, but it does have the ’14+ clear blinkers. I look forward to the author’s clarification.

  • Earl B

    Does it still have the big boom box woofer in the rear cargo area limiting cargo space?
    The cargo are needs to be long enough for a 6foot person to stretch out in.

  • Mike Schlee

    It’s indeed Firecracker.

  • PN

    Very nice car, but let’s be honest. Nobody would like to be in a wrangler involved in a car accident. Fiat quality.

  • Auto Motive

    A decade old five speed tranny in a $40k plus vehicle is insane. Who would be a stupid ass to buy one? When the new aluminum bodied 9 speed auto tranny hits the waves next year it just may be the “one” to buy.

  • maserati123

    Sir, no one would use their money to fill all these options,but these guys did it because it is the company’s money.I am sure many of us woul not go for all of those options.But according to them it was worth it.Cool.Good to see FCA making a good vehicle.