Like the Mazda Miata, the Wrangler is an unlimited fun machine. It’s a vehicle everyone needs to drive at least once in their lives. Nothing on the market gives the same raw, utilitarian feeling. I’ve driven several versions of the Jeepiest Jeep and one thing is always true: I feel like a kid again within minutes of getting behind the wheel.
|Engine: 3.6L V6 makes 285 hp, 260 lb-ft of torque. |
Transmission: Six-speed manual.
Fuel economy: 17 MPG city, 21 MPG highway. 18.1 MPG observed average.
Price: Starts at $23,390 after destination charges. Our Sport S model came to $28,645 as tested.
It’s a Jeep Thing
And it may be that youthful feeling that has given this Jeep one of the largest diehard fan bases in the entire automotive world. Owners of Wranglers live and breathe Jeeps. They’re part of secret society that gives each other the “Jeep wave” as they pass by on the street.
Officially on sale since 1987 as a replacement to the Jeep CJ, the Wrangler’s lineage dates back to World War II. Sticking to these roots, it is still equipped with solid axles and a low speed transfer case. Since owners love to modify and accessorize their Jeeps with a seemingly unlimited array of aftermarket accessories, lower trim models are popular.
Keep it Simple
Sure it’s possible to outfit a Wrangler with navigation, an Alpine audio system and locking Dana differentials front and rear, but where’s the fun and originality in that? For $23,390 after destination charges, a base 2015 Wrangler Sport can be purchased with a six-speed manual transmission and a 3.6-liter V6 making 285 hp and 260 lb-ft. of torque. This price point means puny 16-inch wheels and open differentials, but it’s a blank canvas for the true Jeep enthusiast to begin adding items like lift kits, 32-inch mud tires, rugged locking differentials and winches.
SEE ALSO: 2013 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Review
The Sport comes standard with a soft top roof although you can pay $995 for the hardtop as a standalone option. With side windows that can be unzipped from the outside, a soft top Wrangler is as secure as sending your banking information through an email claiming you won an offshore lottery. This means valuables need to be removed from the Jeep at all times or kept in the lockable center console and/or glove box.
Power Options Need Not Apply
With no power windows, power locks and power mirrors, a Jeep owner’s favorite pastime of removing the side doors is an easy task since there is no wiring to worry about. Rear seat passengers have ample space thanks to 35.6 inches rear legroom and unlimited headroom when the top is down. The rear seats can also be removed to offer 61.2 cubic feet of cargo space or 56.5 with them folded but still installed. With passengers in the back, that space diminishes to just over 17 cubic feet.
The Wrangler features a flat, high-mounted dash that puts all the controls well within reach of the driver. My test vehicle isn’t the absolute base model as it’s the Sport S version optioned with the connectivity group, a 3.73 rear axle ratio (3.21 is standard), the Mopar black appearance group and a more premium soft top roof. This brings the price up to $28,645 after destination charges, which is quite an increase from the base model, but a lot of these options could easily be left off of the build sheet.
Big Tires, Solid Axles
The Sport S model also upgrades the base 16-inch steel wheels to aluminum 17-wheels wearing wider 255/75R17 rubber. Although not much of a difference in performance is felt on road, these tires do give the Jeep a proper aggressive stance for those owners not ready to upgrade their Jeep into a mud bogger quite yet.
With two solid axles and a rugged off-road suspension, ride comfort is not a priority. The Wrangler bounces down the road with the suspension bounding and rebounding over the smallest of pavement imperfections. Particularly rough roads can get the vehicle sufficiently upset to start wagging its tail involuntarily.
The current six-speed manual transmission is a much more refined unit than found in previous Wranglers, but still very agricultural in its operation. Throws are long, engagement rubbery and all actions need to be made slow and deliberately. Once in gear, the shift lever shakes like an addict in withdrawal. Sometimes when reaching for fifth gear, I’d push the lever over too far towards reverse.
The Wrangler has never been a pillar of fuel efficiency and the latest model is no different. Despite improvements made to bump up fuel economy, the Wrangler is still officially rated at 17 MPG in the city and 21 MPG on the highway. During my week with the vehicle I averaged an as expected 18.1 MPG.
SEE ALSO: 2016 Jeep Wrangler May Ditch Solid Axles
For a 3,760-lb. vehicle as aerodynamic as an office building, that isn’t too bad. Designed for tackling off-road trails, this Jeep is not at home on the highway. Wandering worse than a conversion with someone suffering from ADHD, the Wrangler requires full attention when piloting it at speed to keep it in a straight line. Wind noise also becomes excessive above 60 MPH as the air relentlessly slams into the flat front windshield.
The Wrangler is especially quirky and that’s a big part of what makes it appealing. Jeep owners are proud to mount stickers on their rides declaring “it’s a jeep thing you wouldn’t understand”. Even though I’m not an owner, I fully understand the affection people have for these unrefined off-roaders. They’re unique vehicles with go anywhere capabilities that promise freedom and a good time.