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2014 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Altitude Review

2014 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Altitude Review (select to view enlarged photo)

By Steve Purdy
Michigan Bureau

Of all the cars I’ve driven recently this one is the most about “driving,” providing a much more tactile and directly personal experience behind the wheel. It’s the very antithesis of sophistication and it’s the embodiment of purposeful design.

2014 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Altitude Review (select to view enlarged photo)

The Jeep Wrangler, including this four-door Unlimited Altitude, eschews modernity in so many ways it becomes rather like driving a car from the past. Open the undamped door and climb high over the sill into the seat and we’re in a cabin where vertical surfaces and functionality trump aesthetics and convenience. A truck-like shifter sticks out of the floor. Nearby the transfer case lever waits to be jammed into or out of position. Simple controls and a small navigation screen don’t confuse us.

Head out the driveway and we’re taken back in time as well. Steering is vague and takes some effort. When we shift from gear to gear with the long shifter we can feel the mechanical linkage in each of the six forward gears and even feel the gears engage and disengage. The sound and feel remind us we’re in a serious mechanical piece of sporting equipment. The ride is stiff and the cabin is noisy. Just the way it should be.

Compare that to just about any other vehicle today, even one with off-road cred, and you’re in two different worlds. We love the Jeep’s world.

2014 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Altitude Review(select to view enlarged photo)
2007 Jeep Wrangler Sahara Unlimited
Although we didn't have an opportunity this time around to explore the Jeep's off-road capabilities we have done so before. (See our 2006 story A Mojave 4x4 Mystical Tour In A 2007 Jeep Wrangler Sahara Unlimited which challenged the Rocky Gap Road behind Red Rock Park near Las Vegas. We also regularly put it through its rough and tumble paces at the Chrysler Proving Grounds in Chelsea, MI during the annual all-product day and at the Midwest Auto Media Association Spring Rally where a couple of off-road courses are part of the routine at Road America. I’ll just say again that the only vehicle with more off-road capability is the long-out-of-production Hummer H1.

The 4-door, 5-passenger Wrangler Unlimited comes with either a soft or hard top, both removable, neither easily removable. The former (I know from experience) is complex, convoluted and frustrating; the latter (I understand from reading other reviews) is heavy and a two-person job. Our test car has the hard top, but not having any help I decided not to experiment with it.

The designers and engineers have managed to update the Wrangler over the years without loosing its minimalist character. Now we get power windows, locks and mirrors, AC, keyless entry, steering wheel audio controls, and lots of other stuff that would have been unthinkable a few years ago. Our test car is the Sahara 4X4 “Altitude Edition,” a cosmetic package available across the Jeep lineup.

2014 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Altitude Review (select to view enlarged photo)

Powering the Wrangler is Chrysler’s Pentastar 3.6-liter V6 that is good for 285 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. The four-wheel drive components along with the high/low range transfer case and off-road rated suspension conspire to make it feel considerably less powerful than the same engine in other Chrysler Corporation applications. Though if you punch it aggressively you can manage a decent 0-to-60 mph time. The solid front and rear axles – both by Dana – are heavy duty. Four-wheel drive engagement can be done on the fly. That solid frame, tough suspension and strong powertrain are good for a decent 3,500 pound towing capacity as well.

2014 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Altitude Review (select to view enlarged photo)

All that unique under-structure makes for a unique experience behind the wheel. The suspension has lots of travel but is quite stiff. Those factors combined with a relatively sort wheelbase makes for a jumpy ride. Handling in normal driving around town and on the highway is, to put it kindly, quirky. When you get off into the sand, onto the rocks and through the woods it shines with competence and confidence. You’ll expect to scrape the undercarriage way before you do since the ground clearance is so amazing. The specialized suspension articulation allows it to climb with ease over rocks, logs and whatever obstacles you encounter.

The EPA rates the Toledo-built Wrangler Unlimited at 16 mpg in the city, 21 on the highway and 18 combined using regular fuel. We were easily within that range this week with a mixed city/highway/country road experience. It has a 22-gallon fuel tanks for a decent cruising range.

Enhancing the Wrangler’s off-road capability are skid plates protecting the transfer case and fuel tank. Lots of accessories are available on the aftermarket including other skid plates.

2014 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Altitude Review (select to view enlarged photo)

Base price shows $31,995 and includes those features above plus leather seats, accent stitching, auto-dimming mirrors, tilt steering wheel, Uconnect apps system, Alpine premium audio, 18-inch off-road tires, polished silver wheels, tubular side steps and a bunch of other stuff. The Altitude Package costs $3,500 and includes Bluetooth hands-free connectivity, rear window washer/wiper, painted aluminum wheels, the Electronic Vehicle Information System, and lots of special trim inside and out. An upgraded Uconnect system with 40G hard drive and 6.5-inch screen and GPS navigation costs an extra grand. Including the destination charge we’re looking at $37,930 on the sticker’s bottom line.

Jeep’s new vehicle warranty covers the Wrangler for 3 years or 36,000 miles and the powertrain for 5 years or 100,000 miles.

As a nod to modern technology our Wrangler is equipped with electronic stability control, roll mitigation, hill assist and trailer sway damping. But we did not have hill descent control, which has become common (and a needed option) on many off-road aspirants.

Why do so many suburbanites buy these beefy and capable off-roaders and seldom, if ever, put them to their intended use? Good question. (Ed. Note I believe they never go out of their way to learn how to use those truly exciting capabilities.)

It is valuable though I suppose, to believe that you have the ability to dash off into the wilderness if you ever want to and be able to dash back.

ęSteve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved