SPECIFICATIONS MODEL: Jeep Wrangler Sport 4WD ENGINE: 4.0-liter inline six HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 181 hp @ 4,600 rpm/220 lb-ft @ 2,800 rpm TRANSMISSION: Five-speed manual WHEELBASE: 93.4 in. LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 155.4 x 66.7 x 69.6 in. STICKER PRICE: $24,105
The Wrangler is a rough-riding sport utility vehicle, with the emphasis on sport. There's really not a lot of utility in a vehicle that has only two doors and the spare tire blocks the back door. But it's a sporty vehicle that can handle almost anything the road (or off-road) has to offer and spit it back out.
Out Wrangler was equipped with a 4.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine that delivered 195 horsepower. This was plenty of power for the light Wrangler, especially when combined with the five-speed manual. The engine was noisy (very noisy) and required keeping the radio volume on high most of the time. The shifter was also noisy and "clunked" every time I shifted gears. I liked the shifter - it was easy to find the gears and spaced so that there was enough space between the gear ratios to make a difference. But the entire vehicle was noisy, which made the driving experience tiring.
I have driven (and been driven in) Wranglers in extreme off-road situations. At the Jeep 101 experience, you can take a Wrangler on a specially prepared course to test its mettle. So I have had the opportunity to drive the Wrangler over rocks, through mud, up steep inclines and back down the other side, and on log bridges. In 4WD Low and in first gear (or Low on an automatic) you don't notice the noise of the vehicle because you're spending so much time getting it to avoid the obstacles. It's only in situations where you'd expect the Wrangler to be relatively civilized that it isn't.
Once you get into the Wrangler, the seats are comfortable and there's plenty of rear-seat legroom for passengers back there. The problem, for someone my age, is getting in the Wrangler. You must step up, and there's an extra three or four inches to get over the sill. This little added obstacle must also be negotiated when you're exiting the vehicle, something my wife and I always forgot. So we bumped our shoes and boots against the side of the Jeep almost every time we wanted to get out, and several times nearly fell on our faces getting out.
With the square, military-style Wrangler you know where the fenders are at all times. There's excellent vision all around the vehicle, even with the optional hard top. We've driven rag top Wranglers and the hard top is definitely a plus, especially on cold winter days. The top was part of a $1,395 package that also included roll-up windows, glass windows, and a rear window wiper/washer. This package was part of the total of $3,700 in options on our test vehicle that raised the sticker price from a base of $18,460.
The Wrangler's wartime reputation is legend. What I'm continually amazed by is that, like the old VW Beetle, the essential character of the Wrangler hasn't changed much over the years. The headlights have gone from round to rectangular to round again. A lot of safety equipment has been added, like dual airbags, four-wheel ABS brakes, and a padded "sports bar" that serves as a fair roll bar in emergencies. Of course it's not called a roll bar because then some idiot would hurt himself (or herself) and find a good lawyer.
Wranglers are fun vehicles. They're not practical vehicles. At my stage of life, I'm looking for a bit more practicality in my fun vehicles. But the Wrangler has a ready audience and clientele among younger buyers. It's relatively inexpensive (without all the options) and it is fun to drive. Just keep it away from the old folks.