I’ve tested the Jeep Wrangler many times over the years and I always walk away with one distinct impression: this is a near-perfect vehicle for people who live much of their lives outdoors.
After spending the past week driving a 2016 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon during a snow-filled weather system, I’ll also expand that endorsement: the Jeep Wrangler is a near-perfect vehicle for people who live most of their winters on icy, snowy roads.
Here are five reasons why this classic rock crawler with its timeless design is so enjoyable and also the world’s best convertible SUV.
Reason #1: It’s a Jeep Thing, for Crying Out Loud
“It’s a Jeep thing,” purists say when describing how they rationalize an old-school design with roaming steering, lots of freeway noise, less-than-perfect safety ratings and fewer luxury features than many other SUVs.
People either get the allure of the Jeep. Or they don’t. There isn’t much middle ground. I live in Utah, home state to Moab, the mecca of off-road driving. Lots of people I know “get” the “Jeep thing.” They own Jeeps. They love Jeeps. They customize their rides and take on terrain no one in their right mind would ever consider in virtually any other SUV. Some of these people buy Jeeps to use them as God intended. Off road and rugged. Others buy them because they look cool and they want to gain some mojo from this machine.
Indeed, Jeeps do look cool with their iconic design and throwback style. They’re ridiculously customizable, with roofs and doors that are fairly easy to remove for the ultimate in top-down, getting-back-to-nature driving. If you can live in a mindset that regularly suspends practicality for fun, the Jeep Wrangler is arguably the perfect vehicle to own and drive.
Reason #2: 2016 Jeep Wrangler Lets You Go Anywhere at Any Time
Four-wheel drive is standard on the 2016 Wrangler and Jeep assumes you’re going to use it. Frankly, if you plan to drive your Jeep primarily on paved, plowed roads in mostly dry conditions, choose the Jeep Cherokee or Jeep Grand Cherokee, instead. They both offer more dynamic steering, better fuel economy, and a better ride.
You choose the 2016 Jeep Wrangler because you’re likely to strike out on an adventure at any time. My test model, the impressively capable Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Hard Rock, featured everything you need to make spontaneous off-road adventures as easy as a trip to the local Starbucks.
Starting from bottom to top, the Rubicon features 17-inch black wheels, black rims, and tires that are 32-inches wide. You get Next Generation Dana 44 heavy-duty front and rear axles, a rear stabilizer bar, a front sway bar that disconnects electronically, a skid plate that protects your transfer case and rock rails below the doors that help protect your paint job. If you’re a four-wheeling fan, you understand all these small details help improve this Jeep’s off-road capability. The Rubicon Hard Rock also features a domed hood that earned its fair share of compliments.
Reason #3: 2016 Jeep Wrangler Features Powerful V6 Engine
I remember being stunned the first time I compared the old Wrangler engine (a 3.8-liter V6 that produced 202 horsepower and 237 pound-feet of torque) to the new-for-2012 3.6-liter V6 engine that produces 285 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. The performance, the acceleration, the engine note, they were all so much better, I was genuinely shocked.
The old engine was adequate at slow speeds off road but was an underpowered screamer on the freeway. Today’s engine handles freeway speeds with ease and fuel economy is improved. The old engine managed 15 mpg around town and 19 on the highway. The Pentastar V6 averages 17 mpg in city driving and 21 mpg on the highway for a combined 18 mpg average. My mix of city and highway driving netted 16.5 mpg.
Reason #4: A Civilized Interior
If you seek a luxury vibe in your Jeep, the Grand Cherokee is surprisingly plush. You won’t find that level of luxury in the Wrangler, but you also won’t find anything resembling a bare-bones Jeep of yesteryear. Choose the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon and air-conditioning is standard, a leather-wrapped steering wheel that includes buttons on the backside of the wheel that let you control volume and tune the stereo is also standard. Jeep’s last-generation Uconnect system is available and though it pales in comparison to the new version of Uconnect and its 8.4-inch screen, it still works well enough to connect your phone and stream audio or phone calls via Bluetooth.
All Wranglers include an eight-speaker stereo system, though I enjoyed the nine-speaker Alpine system in my tester. Heated, leather-appointed seats are also available and were deeply appreciated on a sub-freezing morning following a snowstorm. It’s all quite civilized and fairly comfortable. What’s not comfortable is trying to enter or exit the rear seats through one of the two doors. If you regularly plan to ferry rear-seat passengers in your Wrangler, choose the four-door Wrangler Unlimited instead. Much easier to enter and exit and it seats up to five passengers instead of the maximum of four in the two-door Wrangler.
Reason #5: The Only Convertible SUV
Here’s something that may not initially occur to you but it’s one of the reasons why the Wrangler is so much fun. This ridiculously capable vehicle is also the only convertible SUV you can buy. You can search far and wide but you simply can’t find another car or SUV that lets you go anywhere and virtually any time with the top off. In fact, you can go anywhere at any time with the top and the doors off.
If you want to get as close to the wild as possible, without ever leaving your seat or removing your hands from the steering wheel, try the Jeep Wrangler. The Freedom Panel Hard Top is remarkably easy to remove — just adjust a few latches, remove a few screws and disconnect the wiring harness and you’re ready for adventure with the wind blowing in from the top and sides of your 2016 Jeep Wrangler.
The Right Vehicle for a Certain Type of Driver
The Wrangler makes sense for a targeted group of drivers — people with a sense of adventure who love hills, rocks, sand, snow and mud more than a winding road or a racetrack. If you’re one of those people, the Wrangler calls your name. If you’re four or five of those people, let me recommend the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited and its four doors and ability to seat five. For purists, however, the two-door Jeep Wrangler is best when you leave the blacktop behind and ride off into the sunset, confident that your 2016 Jeep Wrangler can handle just about anything you throw at it.
I tested the 2016 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Hard Rock model and this five-word-named Jeep is the most expensive in the Wrangler lineup with a starting price just under $38,000. My well-equipped model topped $43,000 after a number of off-road and comfort features were added to the mix. If that’s out of your budget, don’t despair. The base model Wrangler Sport starts at $23,895. Step up to each level and the Wrangler features improve, whether those are luxury features or improved four-wheel-drive settings. With 10 available Wrangler models, choosing the right Jeep is relatively easy and surprisingly affordable.
2016 Jeep Wrangler photo copyright Waterdog Media, Inc.