An off-road icon with no real rival in today’s marketplace, the 2017 Jeep Wrangler nonetheless offers many of the modern-day comfort and technology features found on similarly sized – but less trail-friendly – SUVs from other automakers. Overall, it’s a surprisingly civilized vehicle that never quite lets you forget its rugged off-road roots.
The Wrangler lineup includes standard two-door and four-door Unlimited models, which are offered in Sport, Sport S, Sahara and Rubicon trims. Numerous special-edition models are available that are based on these core trims. A V6 is the only engine offered, and it can be paired to a standard six-speed manual or optional five-speed automatic transmission.
For 2017, the Wrangler introduces a new Rubicon Recon special-edition model that offers improved off-road capability thanks to features such as an upgraded front axle and enhanced rock rails. All Wrangler models add new optional LED headlights and fog lights. A new Cold Weather package has also been introduced, and it features remote start, and engine block heater and heated seats.
More than 75 years after the first Jeeps were produced for World War II, the 2017 Wrangler displays an immediate, unmistakable family resemblance to the originals. It’s evident in the classic seven-slot grille and rounded headlights up front. It’s also present in the prominent front and rear bumpers, massive wheel flares, soft and hard removable tops and old-school off-road cues such as exterior hood latches. Another retro touch is the Wrangler’s mast antenna. The Wrangler’s doors can be removed, and the front windshield can be folded for serious open-air driving.
In real-world testing, the front two panels of our Wrangler Unlimited Sahara’s three-piece hardtop were simple to take off and replace. They’re lightweight and storable in a soft bag that fits in the rear cargo hold. (Winter weather discouraged us from removing anything else.) Access to that cargo space comes from a flip-up rear glass and a swing-out tailgate on which the spare tire is mounted.
Standard for the Wrangler are 16-inch painted steel wheels, and 17- and 18-inch alloy designs are offered. Also available are exterior features like heated mirrors, side steps and the previously mentioned LED exterior lighting. Jeep has a variety of special-edition packages for the Wrangler, too, and these bring their own unique exterior styles cues.
On our Wrangler Unlimited Sahara, with its 18-inch wheels and 9.7 inches of ground clearance, the side steps were a significant advantage.
The Wrangler’s roof systems have a major impact on the cabin. For one thing, they require thick roll bars for protection against rollovers, and those bars become an unavoidable part of the interior scenery. The lack of sound insulation as compared to a traditional roof further means a somewhat noisier driving experience. On the other hand, headroom in our test vehicle was impressive, even with the top on, and the relatively tall greenhouse helped with outward visibility. However, rear visibility was hampered by the motor for the rear-glass wiper.
The front seats in the Wrangler were designed to be supportive and comfortable off-road, and they show the same characteristics in routine driving. A folding and removable bench seat is standard in the Wrangler, while the Wrangler Unlimited has a folding rear bench with a 60/40 split and self-articulating outboard headrests. Those headrests fold out of the way when the rear seats are folded, so they don’t have to be removed. Our Wrangler Unlimited Sahara came with a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and it was also equipped with optional heated front seats and leather upholstery. Oddly, power-adjustable front seats aren’t available on any Wrangler model, nor is a heated steering wheel.
The Wrangler can fit 12.8 cubic feet of gear behind its rear seats and 56.5 with the rear bench folded. With the rear bench removed, the Wrangler’s total cargo capacity is 61.2 cubic feet. Maximum cargo capacity for the Wrangler Unlimited is 70.6 cubic feet, besting the 63.5 cubic feet you’ll get with the brand-new 2018 Chevrolet Equinox.
The rough-and-ready vibe from the Wrangler’s cabin is enhanced by bolted-on design elements and in-floor drain plugs that can be removed, with the carpets, when post-trail cleaning is needed.
The standard powertrain for the 2017 Wrangler and Wrangler Unlimited yokes together a 3.6-liter V6 engine and a six-speed manual transmission. A five-speed automatic transmission is available. In either case, that engine provides 285 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque, which is noticeably more than in models like the Nissan Rogue. About the same size as our Wrangler Unlimited, the Rogue peaks with 176 horsepower.
The Jeep’s output and five-speed automatic transmission were good for brisk acceleration in our test vehicle, although the Wrangler Unlimited’s fairly heavy curb weight and off-road-focused suspension had their effect on handling. From a practical standpoint, drivers will no doubt find the Wrangler to have a harsher, less refined ride than a mainstream vehicle. Still, the Wrangler’s road manners are agreeable enough to allow it to be a practical daily driver for many people.
Fuel economy may be more of an issue. EPA grades for the Wrangler are 17/21 mpg city/highway with both transmissions, and the Wrangler Unlimited is rated at 16/21 mpg with a manual transmission and 16/20 mpg with an automatic. The vehicle we tested, with the latter transmission, returned about 17 mpg in mixed driving.
The Wrangler shines in off-road performance. A part-time four-wheel-drive system with a shift-on-the-fly transfer case is standard for all Wrangler and Wrangler Unlimited trims, and all models with automatic transmissions have standard hill-descent control. The Wrangler Rubicon then can add upgraded axles, front and rear locking differentials and a disconnecting front sway bar for extreme terrain.
Towing capacity for the Wrangler stands at 2,000 pounds, while Wrangler Unlimited models can tow up to 3,500 pounds.
The 2017 Wrangler and Wrangler Unlimited can provide all of the basics in terms of infotainment equipment, as well as a superior sound system. Eight speakers are standard for the radio, and owners also benefit from CD/MP3 playback capability, a USB port and an auxiliary input jack.
Our Unlimited Sahara model had the Wrangler’s top-of-the-range optional setup with navigation, a 6.5-inch touch screen, a 40-gigabyte hard drive, Bluetooth, voice recognition and a complimentary subscriptions to SiriusXM Satellite Radio (one year) and SiriusXM Travel Link (five years). Also on board was the premium audio system for the Wrangler, complete with 552 watts of power and Alpine speakers (including a weather-resistant subwoofer). This uplevel system sounded great from the front seats, but two of the rear speakers are mounted on the Jeep’s upper roll bars, where they can be too close for comfort for some back-seat occupants.
Safety technologies are limited for the Wrangler lineup. Typical systems such as anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control, multi-stage front airbags, and hill-start assist are standard, but seat-mounted side airbags are optional, and common tech resources such as a rearview camera are unavailable.
The off-road capability of the Wrangler and Wrangler Unlimited comes at a premium. The first has an MSRP of $23,995, and the second starts at $27,895, not including a $995 destination charge. SUVs of roughly the same size, like the Honda HR-V and CR-V, are roughly $2,500 less expensive, even when configured with all-wheel drive to match the four-wheel-drive Jeeps.
Moreover, despite that price differential, the Wrangler and Wrangler Unlimited don’t offer the full range of technologies that customers expect of nearly all vehicles today. Remember, power seats and a rearview camera were missing from our Sahara trim despite its MSRP of $45,045. The Jeep value proposition comes into play primarily for owners who will be taking advantage of the Wrangler’s off-road hardware. That’s not available from other mainstream automakers at any price.
Buyers who you prioritize carlike fuel economy, a quiet cabin and the industry’s most popular safety measures are not likely candidates for either the Wrangler or the Wrangler Unlimited. These Jeep vehicles have become increasingly competent on the pavement in recent years, and they boast a number of comfort cues, but they remain truly at home off the beaten track. It’s drivers who venture there – or want the confidence of knowing they can – who will discover a clear-cut advantage in the Wrangler duo.