2013 Jeep Wrangler
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    2013 Jeep Wrangler Expert Review:Autoblog

    The following review is for a 2012 Model Year. There may be minor changes to current model you are looking at.

    New V6 Shows Us The Way Up The Mountain

    2012 Jeep Wrangler

    Despite the global economic crisis and the effect it's had on recreational vehicle sales, the Jeep Wrangler is doing better than ever in the icon's 70-year history, selling a record 14,355 units in July in the United States alone. That trend should lead to sales of more or less 150,000 units in 2011, with the added benefit of creating over 1,000 more jobs at the company's famous Toledo, Ohio plant as Fiat-Chrysler pushes to make the Wrangler an international hot seller.

    Even though the introduction of the four-door Wrangler Unlimited deserves much of the credit for this growing success (it now accounts for 60 percent of sales), we wanted to grab a two-door model, as it's the purest model in the line. If you want to know just how addictive really good off-roading can be, grabbing the short-wheelbase model is a no-brainer. Two-door Wrangler fanatics like us have willingly lived with the paved-road compromises inherent in a short wheelbase, ladder-framed, mountain-climbing dirt dog. But plans are afoot within Fiat-Chrysler to address these on-road issues as the next-generation Wrangler is readied for 2014 or so.

    We began our test drive on road in northern Oregon with a Wrangler Sahara painted Retina-Singe Blue with a matching removable hardtop. Once off in the woods, we switched to a red Wrangler Rubicon with an open soft-top – the best configuration we can think of as we prepare for the promised Apocalypse in 2012. (Hey, we saw the movie and Hollywood never lies.)


    2012 Jeep Wrangler front view2012 Jeep Wrangler rear view

    This latest Wrangler launched in 2007 with a traditionally skimpy interior treatment. Finally, for the 2011 model year, the cabin received a 21st-century upgrade to go with its best-in-class off-road reputation, a tacit (if belated) acknowledgement that around 80 percent of Wrangler owners don't do much more than drive their rigs on dirt roads.

    "If 2011 was all about the interior," Wrangler and Liberty chief engineer Tony Petit tells us, "then 2012 is all about the powertrain." And, indeed the driveline updates are clearly the biggest developments, because the Wrangler now gets a V6 that is worthy of it. Pulled from the Grand Cherokee, the new 3.6-liter Pentastar provides 40 percent more power and 10 percent more torque than the outgoing iron-block 3.8-liter boat anchor could ever muster. Plus, fuel mileage improves greatly (admittedly when driven timidly and on the road in particular) and the aluminum-block Pentastar weighs some 33 pounds less than that old 3.8. Though we wouldn't pick a Wrangler for high-speed runs, it's telling that while the old 3.8 in the two-door offered runs to 60 mph in well over ten seconds, Jeep says the 2012 Wrangler Sahara with 3.73:1 rear axle ratio can do the deed in just 8.5 clicks. We did a dry run with the 3.21:1 standard axle and even that got us there in 9.7 seconds.



    Jeep had a 2011 Wrangler Sahara two-door on-hand so that we could do back-to-back road runs against the 2012 model to feel the difference. After giving us this enlightened opportunity, we came away realizing that the 2011 with its heavy, 202-horsepower 3.8-liter V6 is a bit of a toad. Whereas this outgoing motor feels like it's pushing us as best it can with great effort, the 285-hp Pentastar V6's flatter 260 pound-feet of torque eagerly pulls us along and asks for more. Overtaking traffic is now a matter of simply depressing the pedal and gobbling, whereas the old motor requires a floor-punch and a crossing of the fingers since flooring it produces a lot of impressive noise but little added urgency. At 70 mph in top gear, the 3.8 is noticeably louder at 2,500 rpm, while the Pentastar sits calmly at 2,000 rpm. In towing, too, the two-door Pentastar's 2,000-pound maximum (3,500 lbs. in the four-door with 3:73 axle) doubles what the 3.8 can pull.

    One Jeep representative told us that the configuration of the Pentastar 60-degree V6 with its lower backpressure exhaust is going to be an aftermarket sweetheart thanks largely to the easier mounting of any forced-induction performance bits. The alternator is now mounted up top and faces toward the back. This is a new Pentastar setup required by packaging dimensions, and a full-face air-conditioning compressor has been introduced, significantly upgrading the Wrangler's ability to cool itself quickly under the boiling dusty sun.



    Of course, another key component to making all of this civility possible is the new five-speed W5A580 automatic transmission, also borrowed from the Grand Cherokee. The difference is both tremendous and immediate, with a much more useful spread of gears versus the less robust four-speed auto box in the 2011. Engineer Petit reminds us that the retired four-speed transmission was originally built for transverse-engine application and was reworked to fit the north-south orientation without being significantly strengthened. The new five-speed has been engineered from the get-go for north-south placement and is, in Petit's words, "strong as an ox." While the four-speed constantly kicks down to find more help under stress, the five-speed setup with its greater horses and torque just holds its gears more readily.

    Our only small critique is that the departing four-speed D-2-1 console gate kept the gearlever effectively locked in place to prevent it being unintentionally nudged into shifts by errant legs and whatnot, and we liked that feature. The new five-speed lever's gate allows left-right "manual" shifts, which are fun to do in general, but we had two occasions where unintentional downshifts were caused by right-seat passenger left knees – not exactly an ideal situation. However, the overall improvement by giving the Wrangler a grownup five-speed auto cannot be denied. Among other things, it makes 70-mph asphalt cruising at 2,000 rpm a reality.

    2012 Jeep Wrangler instrument panel2012 Jeep Wrangler gauges2012 Jeep Wrangler dashboard storage2012 Jeep Wrangler dashboard

    We can say that pretty much everything else remains the same with this legend, and that's fine by us. We can even announce that the base price remains the same as on the 2011 for the high-volume Sport trim at $22,045 for the two-door with six-speed manual and $25,545 for the Unlimited four-door. Both Sahara and Rubicon trims add roughly $300 to the base sticker.

    Oh, yeah, and the six-speed manual, lest we forget, has been given a longer 0.797:1 overdrive top gear to make highway driving more acceptable. This is, by the way, the first time a manual has been mated to the Pentastar. This is an exciting development, but you may choose to boo and hiss us, because by the end of our day driving the new five-speed auto and existing six-speed manual, we had to admit that we would choose the new automatic to mate with the Rubicon's 4.10:1 standard axle ratio – even if traversing the Wrangler's namesake Rubicon Trail. We know, we know, believe us. Shower us in your ridicule and call us duffers, but the auto box with its specifically enhanced oil cooling is exceptional. Will the six-speed manual go away for good someday? We asked, and the general consensus among Jeep bosses and Jamboree-hardened volunteers was that Wrangler will always have a manual available for the purists who just gotta have one, but it didn't sound like they personally married to the idea.



    For the burly-as-all-get-out mountain top circuit we drove on, the Rubicon with that standard final ratio, newly beefed-up auto shifter, 4:1 Rock-Trac transfer case, electronically detachable sway bars, and fully locking front and rear live axles is just the best thing since hard-boiled eggs in brine, Cletus. The need to lock the front axle is only there really when those giddy left-right-left-right nose fwumps start happening for the off-roader magazine covers. The articulation from our two-door's short 95.4-inch wheelbase along this tortuous trail was vintage Jeep Wrangler, and the Rubicon-standard BFGoodrich Mud-Terrain T/A tires (LT255/75 R17 111/108Q M+S) performed in the dry loose stuff as promised while mated to the gas-charged shocks.

    Now, too, Rubicon owners cannot only get the body-color hardtop enjoyed by Sahara trim buyers, but they can also opt for the less steep 3.73:1 axle ratio only with the automatic. There must be demand out there, probably for those who do a bunch of road driving while desiring the cachet of that Rubicon badging. There's a flavor for every taste.


    We then entertained some curious talk with engineer Petit and Ray Durham, Jeep's vehicle line executive for rear-wheel-drive SUVs, on how the legendary ladder steel frame, live-axle, short-wheelbase with high ground clearance tradition might evolve in the future. Because the interior is finally as it should be and the powertrain is well handled, that leaves the underpinnings to be brought into the 21st century without ruining the recipe. Can even the two-door Wrangler somehow find an adaptive multi-setting suspension that works with (or can completely detach from when required) the current basic setup that makes trail crawling so much fun? Will the recirculating-ball steering rack with 3.3 turns lock-to-lock that works so well get replaced by a rack-and-pinion system as most larger trucks have already done? All of this is apparently up for discussion within Jeep R&D, and a much-updated next-gen Wrangler would not at all surprise us now.

    Over the road, the Wrangler should really offer a solution to make things less jittery and less slosh-y in the curves – at least as an option. The steering could also do with some further electro-hydraulic style sophistication, purists be damned (just a little) – its looseness at 60 mph and above is a bit too nostalgic for us to enjoy for longer drives.



    The Wrangler team got all of this improved performance from the Pentastar plus per-gallon mileage that cracks the 20-mpg barrier on the base Sport and Sahara editions with the 3.21:1 axle ratio and six-speed manual. The EPA rating for the two-door now reads 17 mpg city and 21 mpg highway, or 16/21 for the four-door. Add a turbocharger or supercharger and we predict you could get even more from it. Add direct injection and per tank range would get much better, too, and CO2 numbers would decrease as well. Get all of this and a 2.8-liter CRD diesel and, wow, now we're talking.

    Like we said, it's all on the table for the next generation Jeep Wrangler. For now, however, we'd be lying if we said we weren't thoroughly pleased after attacking the mountain with this icon's newly fortified Pentastar V6 and properly engineered five-speed automatic. Bring on the apocalypse.

    Rubicon 10th Anniversary and Moab Editions join lineup.

    Introduction

    The Jeep Wrangler is arguably older than anything beyond pickup trucks, tracing its roots to field duty 70 years ago. Wrangler has been modernized with a contemporary engine, electronics inside and underneath, and the body panels are now artfully curved for stiffness while appearing flat. 

    However, the Wrangler remains the most maneuverable and trail capable vehicle from a showroom and will go places most owners don't dare drive. Or hike. If you're not used to hanging in your seatbelt like a puppet you have no idea what one can do. 

    Still trail capable but not so maneuverable is the Wrangler Unlimited. There are enough differences between Wrangler and Wrangler Unlimited that a mere two- or four-door reference wouldn't do it justice. The delta in wheelbase (the distance from front wheel center to rear) is similar to that between a regular cab and crew cab pickup. 

    Heated leather upholstery is available for Wrangler. You can swap the doors to half-size and fold down the windshield (though it's quite a chore) or power up the windows to indulge in climate control. No Jeeper ever had it quite like this. 

    All Wranglers are powered by Chrysler's 24-valve 3.6-liter V6, here rated at 285 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. There's a choice of 6-speed manual or 5-speed automatic transmission. A Wrangler gets away from a stop with no problem but falls off the acceleration curve as it runs into aerodynamic resistance at highway speeds. 

    But if you buy a Wrangler for highway cruising you missed the point. Indeed, they will travel the Interstate with a modicum of comfort and civility but that's not what they're built for. Wranglers are better suited to all-weather urban runabouts, those living on a beach or off the grid or beaten path, or for those whose idea of a freeway is a fast section of dry wash or graded dirt run in 2WD. You can also use a Wrangler as a dinghy to tow behind your motorhome. 

    The soft top that comes standard slides and folds horizontally on the roof, leaving the occupants further protected by door and window frames, although there's already a rollbar. The removable hardtop comes off in three pieces, a pair of T-tops with a sunroof over the rear seat. With T-tops removed, at 65 mph the buffeting grates on you; but with the top on, it feels smooth at 75 and beyond. 

    In the popular two-door Wrangler there's very little storage space behind the rear seat, so four people with four medium backpacks is filled to overflowing. You wouldn't do any better with four people and luggage in a Mini, which is only 5 inches shorter. But if it's just you and some stuff, the rear seat can be removed, creating a spacious 61.2 cubic feet of cargo space; that's the configuration we prefer. Less likely, the rear seat can be remove from the four-door Wrangler Unlimited, making 87 cubic feet. 

    Wranglers are available with all the electronic trimmings, including a touch-screen navigation, but sunlight plays havoc with display readability and on a trail you're moving around too much to touch things accurately. At least the USB port means music without discs or tapes getting dusty. 

    We've driven Rubicons on their namesake trail, Oregon's Tillamook Forest, Michigan dunes and all the best (worst) stuff Moab has to offer, in far more comfort than Wranglers of old. If you don't want to build your own Jeep for trail use try a Rubicon. The Jeep warranty is probably better than your local 4x4 shop. 

    Wrangler is not built for gas-mileage. Typically it averages in the teens and doesn't change much between daily driving and long highway runs. 

    The current-generation Wrangler was introduced as a 2007 model. 2011 brought a refined interior. The 2013 Wrangler gets an improved soft top but carries over largely unchanged. Also new for 2013 is a Badge of Honor program in which you earn famous-trail badges (Rubicon, Hell's Revenge, etc.) by completing them. 

    Wrangler has little direct competition. A Mercedes G-Class has off-highway ability of an Unlimited, more luxurious cabin and costs three times as much. You might also argue a Power Wagon and Raptor as Unlimited challengers. For factory trail vehicles the only things approaching a Wrangler are Toyota's FJ Cruiser and 4Runner, Nissan's Xterra or a 15-year-old Land Rover Defender 90. 

    Lineup

    The 2013 Jeep Wrangler two-door and Wrangler Unlimited four-door each come in multiple trim levels: Sport, Sport S, Sahara, Rubicon and assorted special editions. They all use the award-winning Chrysler 3.6-liter Pentastar V6, making 285 horsepower. All Wranglers come standard with four-wheel drive and 6-speed manual transmission, with 5-speed automatic available. 

    The Freedom Top, a three-piece modular hard top, is available for all models. The Wrangler Sport is available in right-hand drive for rural mail carriers. We don't find ourselves saying that in many reviews. 

    Wrangler Sport ($22,195) comes with cloth upholstery, Uconnect AM/FM/CD/MP3 six-speaker sound system, Sunrider soft top, removable doors, roll-up windows, fold-down windshield, folding rear seat, black fender flares, halogen headlamps, fog lamps, swing-back mirrors, tow hooks, part-time 2-speed transfer case, skid plates, and Goodyear Wrangler P225/75R16 tires on steel wheels with matching full-size spare. No air conditioning, power windows, cruise control, 115-volt power outlet, or side steps. 

    Wrangler Sport S ($24,495) adds some conveniences to Sport, including air conditioning, Sentry key, dark tint windows and 255/75R17 tires on aluminum wheels. The Freedom special edition ($27,995) adds to Sport S cloth/leather seats, power convenience group, Bluetooth, USB and some other minor accessories. 

    Wrangler Sahara ($27,795) adds keyless entry, power windows and door locks, 115-volt power outlet, cruise control, Alpine sound system with XM radio, body color fender flares, security system, upgraded suspension and Sunrider top, tubular side steps, heated power mirrors and P255/70R18 tires on painted aluminum wheels. 

    Wrangler Rubicon ($30,595) prioritizes trail use over luxury. It has most of the standard Sahara comfort and convenience things (though power windows and keyless entry become optional), while adding rock rails, front and rear locking differentials, Dana 44 front axle, disconnecting front stabilizer bar, 4.10:1 axle ratio (manual), Rock-Trac transfer case with 4:1 low range, and BF Goodrich Mud-Terrain LT255/75R17 tires on painted aluminum wheels. 

    The Moab edition ($32,995) includes graphics, Mopar bumpers (winch-capable front) and rock rails, a limited-slip rear differential (locking differential optional), upgraded soft top, heated front seats, leather and 245/75R17 all-terrain tires. 

    The Rubicon 10th Anniversary edition ($35,995) combines power conveniences, red-stitched leather upholstery, heated seats and multifunction display with Rubicon running gear. It also gets steel front winch-mount bumper with removable end pieces, steel rear bumper and tire carrier, heat extractor power dome hood, rock rails, red tow hooks and the largest tires on any Wrangler, aggressive LT265/70R17E on unique wheels. 

    Wrangler Unlimited four-doors are configured similarly, not identically, to the two-door. 

    Wrangler Unlimited Sport ($25,695) has removable doors, roll-up windows, black fender flares, halogen headlamps, foglamps, soft top, air conditioning, 60/40 split rear seat and cruise control. 

    Wrangler Unlimited S ($28,195) and Freedom ($31,295) special editions parallel the two-door versions. 

    Wrangler Unlimited Sahara ($31,295) adds body color fender flares, power heated mirrors, tubular side steps, remote keyless entry, power windows and door locks, XM radio, upgraded sound system, cruise control, leather-wrapped steering wheel, 115-volt outlet, and 18-inch painted aluminum wheels. 

    Wrangler Unlimited Moab ($36,495) gets the same improvements as the two door. Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon ($34,095) comes with the same extra offroad equipment as the two-door Rubicon, plus all the power equipment of the Sahara. The fully loaded Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 10th Anniversary ($39,495) is equipped similarly to the two-door. 

    Optional on all Wranglers: automatic transmission, trailer tow, stereo and navigation upgrades on upper trims, front side-impact airbags, Uconnect voice command with Bluetooth, smokers' pack and a Freedom Top three-piece hard top in black or color-matched. Some offer automatic climate control, leather, remote start and cosmetic upgrades. 

    Safety equipment on all models includes electronic stability control with roll mitigation, hill start assist, trailer sway control, all-speed traction control, ABS with brake assist and dual frontal airbags. 

    Walkaround

    The 2013 Wrangler looks like a Jeep, and when that can't be said, it's time to worry. It may be the most recognizable vehicle in the world. Even the Unlimited four-door, whether hard top or soft top looks like a Jeep. Round headlamps, seven-slot grille, separate fenders, removable doors (half-doors are optional), and fold-down windshield are all proven Jeep cues. However, if you look for the flat panels of earlier Wranglers and CJs you won't find any; every piece of sheetmetal, and the windshield are slightly curved here. Meanwhile, the Wrangler Unlimited is the only four-door 4x4 convertible on the market. 

    The soft top slides and folds horizontally on the roof, leaving the occupants further protected by door and window frames, although there's already a rollbar. For 2013, the soft-top is easier to lift, though still more work than any convertible car, and some versions have a premium soft-top that borders on a headliner. 

    The hardtop is optional (price dependent on finish); it comes off in three pieces, like a pair of T-tops in front and a sunroof over the rear seat. We spent a summer day on Jeep trails in the Northwest in a Wrangler Rubicon with all three parts removed, and it was fabulous. 

    The soft top remains the sportiest in appearance and isn't much louder on the highway. We think the hard top is better for urban warriors, hunters, fishermen or other outdoorsmen because it provides better security for your outdoor gear in shopping center parking lots against thieves and better security for your food in camp against bears. Can't decide? Want both? The Dual Top option allows buyers to get both. We'd likely spring for Dual Top. 

    Paint colors include bright Crush Orange, Gecko Green and Rock Lobster Red, alongside more traditional colors for those who want to blend into the environment, whether suburban or bucolic. 

    If you like some of the body accessories fitted to the special edition models, many of those bits are available from Mopar, Chrysler's in-house parts division. They won't be cheap compared to the aftermarket, but the fit is guaranteed, there are no warranty issues, and your dealer might mix it in with your deal. 

    New for 2013 is a Badge of Honor program in which you earn famous-trail badges (Rubicon, Hell's Revenge, etc.) by completing them. We had some issues with an early app because, among other things, many of these trails are nowhere near cell service. 

    Interior

    The Wrangler interior was upgraded with new seats and better ergonomics for 2011. Who expects heated leather seats in a topless Jeep? On the other hand, they are easy to wipe off, and staying warm with the top down in the Rockies on a cool, sunny day is not the worst idea. 

    We lived in a hardtop Wrangler for a week and it was all good, comfort-wise. With the top off there was a lot of wind buffeting in the back seat, but aside from that the Wrangler 'is more comfortable than my Jetta,' said our passenger, riding shotgun on rocky trails for a day. 

    We've driven a Wrangler Unlimited Sahara. It's roomy and comfortable and, even with leather, still every bit a Jeep. Good rear legroom, easy to climb in and out. The rear 60/40 seat folds or can be removed to create 87 cubic feet of cargo space, comparable to a Toyota 4Runner. 

    The center console makes a good armrest, though its height means you have to raise your elbow when using the shift lever. Power window switches are centered in the dash between omni-directional vents. Other controls are grouped around the radio or touchscreen entertainment head, on the stalks, steering wheel spokes, and ahead of the shifter. Bouncing around with your hand on the shifter is not only discouraged for the transmission, you readily get bumped into the switches, and hazard flashers look silly on the trail. 

    There's very little storage space behind the Wrangler's rear seat, so four people with four medium backpacks is filled to overflowing. But if it's just you and some stuff, the rear seat can be removed, creating a spacious 61.2 cubic feet of cargo space. 

    The Media Center options have their downsides, and if you go offroad or take the top down much, you won't like them. The touch screen is invisible in the sun. In a bouncing Jeep it's not easy to land your finger where you want it, even trying to tune the radio. A Jeep needs knobs you can grab. The 6.5-inch screen is reasonably large, but with some functions less than half of the screen is used, tiny little radio words, the other 60 percent says JEEP. 

    The navigation system in the Media Center is fairly simple in its display. It didn't make any errors on the routes we programmed, although finding the button to enter a destination was maddening. We suggest you skip the Media Center, be satisfied with six speakers in the standard sound system, and get your own GPS for navigation. It's a Jeep-like choice. 

    Driving Impression

    We got opportunities to gather driving impressions in a number of Wranglers, from the Unlimited in SUV-like surroundings, to the Rubicon on rock-climbing trails, and the Sport on fast backroad two-lanes at night. 

    The Wrangler Unlimited Sahara, ours resplendent in rich brown with dark leather, is almost astonishingly smooth and quiet, totally civilized, thanks hugely to the 3.6-liter V6 engine. The 5-speed automatic is well-behaved, and doesn't hunt for gears; it uses the gear it's in. It was designed for use with Chrysler's 5.7-liter Hemi engine, now refined for the Pentastar V6, but still Jeep-like industrial strength. Most Wrangler Unlimiteds can tow 3500 pounds, others are rated to tow 2000 are are the two-door Wranglers. 

    The Unlimited corners well, and head sway on weaving roads is light. You can only do so much with a solid axle and tall body, countered by a stability and vertical climbing friendly long wheelbase like that of a short-bed, regular cab full-size pickup. 

    The Unlimited's 116-inch wheelbase is 10 inches more than a Nissan Xterra. What's good on the highway is not the best for maneuverability and the Unlimited doesn't turn nearly as well as a Wrangler. It also drags high points earlier, the Unlimited's breakover angle no better than a Land Rover LR2 cute ute. The twitchy handling that lingers in the Wrangler because of its short 95-inch wheelbase is not present in the Wrangler Unlimited. The first pleasant surprise of the Unlimited: it doesn't feel like a Jeep. 

    With 285 horsepower you think a Wrangler should feel more powerful, and accelerate faster. We ran a lot of high-speed two-lane miles, and our Wrangler had to work, using momentum to pass. Weight and aerodynamic resistance take their toll, and with a Rubicon four-door heavier than a 470-hp Dodge Charger and sleek as a phone book, acceleration rates quickly fall off as speed increases. Most mud- and all-terrain tires aren't designed for West Texas or Montana speeds, either. 

    For serious trail adventures the Rubicons are ideal, but we got a Moab Unlimited through Elephant Hill (rated 5 on a 1-10 scale) on street tire pressure with no issues. As things get nastier in a Rubicon you push a button to disconnect the splined front stabilizer to allow more lateral articulation at the wheels. If it gets worse, press another button to lock the rear differential, and if gets harder still, lock the front differential as well. 

    In many low-speed trails the best technique is to take your feet off the pedals and just steer. At idle in Low Range, a Rubicon powers up and over obstacles that would totally stop most vehicles; even though torque peaks up at 4800 rpm, it plugs along like a tractor. This is because of the Rubicon's unique transfer-case low-range gearing of 4:1. With a manual transmission in first gear the overall gear reduction is 73:1 (53.6:1 automatic), as opposed to 10:1-12:1 in the average car, for maximum torque at baby-crawling speeds. 

    Our Rubicon scarcely broke a sweat over rocky trails that would turn back all but the ruggedest and hardest-climbing of vehicles. We ran support for a 50k trail run in the Columbia River Gorge, over two 3500-foot peaks in Washington's Cascades, and it was a hard 12-hour day. 'In my old Jeep, I would have been in misery, dying to get out,' said our navigator. 'But I could ride all day in this Jeep.'

    On the highway at 70 mph the Wrangler can be a bit twitchy. Hopping out of an Unlimited as we did where the twitchiness is absent, the twitch in the short-wheelbase Wrangler is heightened. But as soon the driver adjusts, the turns and corrections come more smoothly. When the Wrangler is pointed straight and steady, it stays that way. Much of this is relative to tires and pressure; a 10th Anniversary's E-rated tires would work on a 3/4-ton pickup truck. 

    There's a big difference in how stable the Wrangler feels with the top on and off, but little change in actual stability. With T-tops removed, at 65 mph it beats you up; but with the top on it feels smooth at 75 and beyond. 

    Keep in mind that the Sport, Sahara and Rubicon models have different tires, shock absorbers, and gearing and this changes their character significantly. On the highway or the trail. Choose your Wrangler for the type of driving you'll be doing. 

    The Wrangler is no gas-mileage champ. Wrangler is EPA-estimated at 17/21 mpg City/Highway; Unlimited is rated 16/20 mpg. Expect teens on the pavement and down below 5 mpg on the trail or sand dunes. Our Unlimited did 18 mpg on mostly pavement, a Rubicon 10th Anniversary was averaging 11 mpg over a 70-mile pavement drive and 9 hours on the trail. Of course, fuel economy on the trail will be poor in any car. 

    The 6-speed manual transmission, German-made, isn't as easy to drive as the 5-speed automatic, American-made. The 6-speed has relatively long clutch and shift travel for a car but typical for a truck. Your driving style will affect economy far more than choice of transmission, but the manual is less-expensive and has a far superior crawl ratio for trail use. 

    Summary

    The Jeep Wrangler is surprisingly smooth and sophisticated, given its amazing off-road capability. Wrangler Unlimited delivers a smooth ride and secure handling. Soft top is sporty, hard top is practical; we like both. We recommend the Unlimited for families; off-road capability is nearly the same. Singles and couples might want to go for the traditional two-door, however. 

    Sam Moses filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com after his test drives of several Wrangler models in the Pacific Northwest. 

    Model Lineup

    Jeep Wrangler Sport ($22,195), Wrangler Sahara ($27,795), Wrangler Rubicon ($30,595), Wrangler Unlimited Sport ($25,695), Wrangler Sahara ($31,295), and Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 10th Anniversary ($39,495). 

    Assembled In

    Toledo, Ohio. 

    Options As Tested

    leather, heated front seats ($1,100), Connectivity Group with Bluetooth ($495), Power Group ($795), black 3-piece hardtop ($895), Media Center with navigation and touch screen ($1,035). 

    Model Tested

    Jeep Wrangler Rubicon ($30,595). 

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