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2013 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara - Rocky Mountain Review By Dan Poler

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By Dan Poler
Rocky Mountain Bureau
The Auto Channel

Of late, “SUV” has become something of a dirty word. In a segment that started with heavy-duty truck-based vehicles using body-on-frame construction, now we see car-based, on-road vehicles which eschew the SUV nameplate in favor of the more modern, politically correct “Crossover.”

One vehicle has bucked this trend and in doing so has found significant success. Despite all of the changes in this segment, the Jeep Wrangler stands just about alone as a true function-over-form Sport Utility Vehicle.

Our 2013 Jeep Wrangler came as an Unlimited Sahara trim – unlimited meaning stretched from the typical Wrangler configuration by a little more than 20 inches to accommodate four real doors and a usable back seat. The Sahara trim represents the luxury trim for the Wrangler – if there is such a thing – adding a variety of nice-to-have features including 18-inch alloy wheels, upgraded suspension, hood insulation, running boards, automatic headlamps, body-colored fender flares and an upgraded sound system in addition to making standard some features provided as options on lesser trims, including power mirrors, power locks and windows, satellite radio, and a leather wrapped steering wheel.

While there’s no mistaking the boxy shape of a Wrangler, the Sahara is perhaps the most attractive trim coming with body-colored fender flares. Our tester sported an optional three-piece hard top in body-color as well, making for a nice-looking package – no big black swaths of hard plastic on the exterior as found on lesser trims.

Inside, the Wrangler has grown up, sporting features like automatic climate control, power windows, locks, and mirrors, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, and a surprisingly good stereo which includes a basic GPS navigation system. The front seating position is high, commanding an excellent view, although seats are soft almost to the point of discomfort. The rear bench seat provides for three passengers, although two is a more realistic bet; legroom is decent, although taller passengers may find for a head-bumping experience given the Wrangler’s low headroom, particularly for entry and exit.

In 2012, the Wrangler received Chrysler’s 3.6-liter Pentastar engine, and our tester was so equipped. Mated to a 5-speed automatic transmission and putting out 285 hp, this engine has proven to be an excellent addition to the Wrangler. Whereas previous Wranglers have struggled at highway speeds, the Pentastar shines, easily propelling the nearly 4,300-lb vehicle as needed. Given the various insulation applied to the Wrangler as well as its hard top, conversation at highway speeds is no longer a struggle, either. We returned a reasonable 19 mpg in mixed driving.

In addition to improved performance from the Pentastar engine, the added length of the Unlimited configuration and the upgraded suspension of the Sahara trim do a great job of smoothing out the road. Make no mistake – you won’t forget that you’re driving a Wrangler – but whereas a pothole might have in the past caused the vehicle to bounce hard, the configuration we tested was much more pleasant to deal with and was easy to control on the road. The Wrangler represents one of the only vehicles we’ve seen in a very long time still using a solid-live axle setup, as most manufacturers have gone to four-wheel independent suspension as an alternative.

Off the beaten path, no one matches the off-road chops of the Wrangler. Here in the Mountain West, the only requirement for access to the many passes and we have at higher elevations is clearance to accommodate the length, width, and ground clearance of the vehicle; the Wrangler will handle the rest. Because most of our favorite trails are snowbound this time of year, we didn’t get a great chance to go off-roading, however we did play with the Wrangler on fresh and packed snow and ice and found it to handle admirably. Although 4-wheel drive is no substitute for common sense, the Jeep handled all conditions we could throw at it predictably and with confidence.

One area where the Wrangler does not shine as brightly is in safety. Although equipped with standard ABS, traction, and stability control, because the Wrangler’s doors and roof are removable it does not fare as well in side-impact tests, although it did very well in the IIHS frontal-offset impact test.

Overall, we like where Jeep has taken the Wrangler. The vehicle has managed to add modern-day conveniences without sacrificing its heritage, and we look forward to seeing more of them on the roads.


2013 Jeep Wrangler Sahara Unlimited
Price as Tested: $37,600.00
Engine Type: V6 24-valve VVT
Engine Size: 3.6-liter
Horsepower: 285 @ 6,400 RPM
Torque (lb-ft): 260 @ 4,800 RPM
Transmission: 5-Speed Automatic
Wheelbase / Length (in): 116 / 173.4
Curb Weight (lb): 4,269
Pounds per HP: 14.97
Fuel Capacity (gal): 22.5
Fuel Requirement: Regular unleaded
Tires: Bridgestone Dueler A/T; P255/70SR18 (including full-size spare)
Brakes: Ventilated disc 
Suspension, front/rear: Solid live axle / Solid live axle 
Ground clearance (in): 10.2
Drivetrain: Four-wheel drive
EPA Fuel Economy - MPG
city / highway / observed: x / y / 19
Towing capacity (lb): 3,500
Base Trim Price: $31,195.00

Options and Charges

Connectivity Group: $485.00 (Uconnect® voice command with Bluetooth®; tire pressure monitoring display; electronic vehicle information center, remote USB port)

Slush Mats by Mopar®: $95.00

5-Speed automatic transmission with hill descent control: $1,125.00

Anti-spin differential rear axle: $295.00

Body-color 3-piece hard top: $1,795.00 (delete sunrider soft top, freedom panel storage bag, rear window defroster, rear window wiper/washer)

Uconnect® 430N CD/DVD/MP3/HDD/NAV: $1,035 (40GB hard drive with 28GB available, SiriusXM travel link with 1-year subscription, 6.5-in touch screen display, GPS navigation)

Remote start system: 495.00

Delivery: $925.00

Price as tested: $37,600.00