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2016 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited 75th Anniversary Edition Review By Steve Purdy

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Review by Steve Purdy
The Auto Channel
Michigan Bureau

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We’re just a few weeks home from a spirited trek through a Jeep trail in Southern California with my son Phil and long-time friend Phillip, both of whom are off-road enthusiasts, though for different reasons. Friend Phillip lives in the Mojave Desert and his stock Wrangler allows him to go anywhere he likes in search of desert aesthetics and discovery. Son Phil, a career Navy guy in San Diego, has a 2009 Wrangler Unlimited with a bunch of aftermarket extras like front sway bar disconnects, huge winch, fording stacks and a few other goodies. He mostly loves the adventure of it all and he found us a nice Jeep trail to Idlewild where we challenged his Wrangler enough to give us a heightened appreciation of this tough, sturdy, no-nonsense off-roader. You can read about our Mojave adventure HERE

Our test truck this week here at home is the 2016 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited 4X4 75th Anniversary Edition. That’s essentially an Unlimited Sahara with celebratory cosmetics. And, this thing is loaded. Starting out at $33, 695 we have over fourteen grand in options with a final bottom-line price on the sticker of $48,530. The basic, stripped down Wrangler Unlimited begins at $27,695. (The “Unlimited” model designation, by the way, means four doors.)

In terms of its overall vehicular character the Jeep Wrangler has no real competition in the U.S. market. The closest thing to direct competition was the Toyota FJ that went away a few years ago, and while the FJ was quite a competent off-roader it couldn't go as many places or do as many tricks as the Wrangler. It seems just wrong to lump Wrangler in with the more conventional small SUVs and crossovers. Other military-style small off-roaders are built around the world but we get none of those here.

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While design and technology have evolved over time the Wrangler’s essential style and character have remained the same since Willys-Overland and Ford began making the small, “general-purpose truck utility 4X4” during WWII that became a civilian workhorse after the war. The idea, then and now, is all about a vehicle that will go anywhere without a lot of embellishment. Wrangler is celebrating its iconic heritage with concept vehicles and this special 75th Anniversary Package.

The 3.6-liter V6 under the old-fashioned hood with the hard rubber hold-down straps feels rather tepid under most conditions, in spite of a strong 285 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. But, speed and acceleration is not what this thing is all about. The EPA estimates we can get about 16-mpg in the city, 20 on the highway and 18 combined using regular fuel. Depending on your driving style and conditions these numbers are reasonable. With an 18.6-gallon fuel tank we have a decent cruising range.

Handling and road manners also are outside the Wrangler’s skill set. The recirculating ball steering feels, as one of our colleagues put it, “like rice pudding.” At 70 miles/hour on the freeway you’ll think you’re driving a truck, and I guess in some ways you are. But take this baby off road and she’ll wow you like no other. With over 8 inches of ground clearance, live axles front and rear, low range, more suspension travel (even without disconnecting the sway bars) than anything but a Hummer H1, and big knobby tires, you can go anywhere and scare the pants off your passengers you like.

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This Wrangler Unlimited’s cabin emphasizes function over form, though the form ain’t bad. Once you’ve opened the removable lightweight door with cool exposed hinges then climb up high into the cockpit, over the deep sill you can slide into the leather seats and feel like you’re ready to challenge any conditions you may encounter or seek out. In addition to the conventional shifter ahead of the console a second shift lever sticks up to control low range and 4-wheel drive. Vertical surfaces house a wide variety of knobs, buttons, toggles and screens. A sturdy grab bar faces the passenger for those times when white knuckles might be called for. Varied storage slots, bins and trays help us keep track of our stuff. The high quality materials, fit and finish, particularly in this high-end, leather-rich model, surprised me. This model even has drain plugs in the floors so you can hose it out after a day of mudding.

We were also surprised, I’ll admit, at the quietness of the cabin at highway speeds. Noise from the aggressive tire treads barely make their way inside and wind noise is minimal particularly considering the Wrangler’s disdain for aerodynamics.

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Generous rear seating for three easily converts to extra cargo area by dropping the rear seatbacks. The rear cargo deck includes limited storage underneath including nests for detached door hinges. The full-size spare wheel and tire mount nicely on the outside of the stubby, sturdy tailgate.

The full-frame Wranger Unlimited has a standard towing capacity of 2,000 pounds but with the proper optional equipment that number goes to 3,500 pounds.

There is a certain prestige to owning any Wrangler. It makes a statement that its owner values adventure over comfort and convenience. While you can get a measure of civility with leather, premium audio and a variety of other tweaks the Toledo, Ohio-built Wrangler remains the most off-roady thing you can buy here in the U.S.

© Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved

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