“Iconic” is a word that is so overused that it is losing its value. That’s one reason you seldom see it here on Acarplace, no matter how many times its used by the PR folks. An icon is something so significant and unique that it becomes a symbol in and of itself. Icons are special: when you say everything is an icon, nothing is really an icon.
The Jeep Wrangler and its ancestors all the way back to the Bantam Reconaissance Car are among the very few automotive icons. The Willys MB and Ford GPW were icons of World War II: distinctly American, distinctive, exceptional and praised as one of the factors in the Allied victory. Over 70 years later, there’s still nothing like the Jeep. It has become the symbol of the freedom to go anywhere, to explore, to leave the hum-drum of the rat race behind.
And, unlike the similarly iconic Land Rover Defender or Toyota Land Cruiser, the two-door Wrangler starts at just over $23,000, including delivery.
I recently spent some time with a 2013 Jeep Wrangler Sport 4X4 in what Chrysler calls “Gecko Pearl Coast,” a vivid (virulent?) green that certainly is easy to spot in a crowded parking lot.
I’ve tried the Wrangler Unlimited, the four-door version, but this is the first time with the short wheelbase two-door since I drove a CJ-5 back in the American Motors days. And that one didn’t have any doors at all.
In a refreshing change of pace from the typical, top-of-the-line press vehicle, the Wrangler Sport is the base model with a starting price of $23,120 including a $925 destination charge. Of course, the review vehicle came very well-equipped with a laundry list of amenities, such as the $2,200 Customer Preferred Package, which adds air-conditioning and upgraded wheels and tires and leather on the steering wheel and shift knob. Then there was the $485 Connectivity Group, which includes Bluetooth, an electronic vehicle information center and a USB port, and the $795 Power Convenience Group with power windows, power door locks and heated mirrors. Add the tinted windows, Alpine sound system, the Sunrider soft top and an anti-spin differential and the final sticker price rose over $5,000 to $28,195.
In terms of what really matters on a Jeep, the 4X4 Wrangler doesn’t skimp. Next-generation Dana axles front and rear, skid plates, shift-on-the-fly four-wheel-drive and a host of other goodies are all part of the package.
One thing noticed upon entering the cabin: the Jeep really needs a step or a grab handle. A tubular side step is available from Mopar, but even a grab handle would help shorter people make graceful entries and exits. Higher trim levels, like the Sahara and Rubicon, get the side steps, they should come on the Sport, as well.
Jeep has come a long way since that CJ-5 in the mid-1970s, especially in terms of the interior. The seats are firm and supportive with decent side bolsters and the fit and finish are much-improved even over the Unlimited I drove a few years back.
The interior is utilitarian, as befits a vehicle with the Jeep’s mission in mind. The gauges and controls are well laid out and easy to master. Touch-screen addicts will be disappointed, but the systems worked fine and it was no problem to change A/C or heater settings or change stations on the Sirius XM radio with minimal distraction, a feature I really liked.
The Wrangler is officially a four-seater but it might be best to think of it as a two-seater with room for occasional passengers. With the long step up from the ground, getting into the back seat requires a few gyrations and the space available isn’t particularly generous, especially with a tall driver in front. In fairness, there’s no problem with headroom. Likewise, with four aboard, cargo space is limited, just 12.8 cubic feet behind the rear seats. However, with the seats folded down, the space grows to 55.0 cubic feet, more than enough for a weekend of camping, hunting, fishing or rock-climbing.
On the road, the Pentastar engine provided plenty of power for everyday driving: even passing on the highway wasn’t a problem. Of course, if you’re really looking for a comfy highway cruiser, the Wrangler probably isn’t going to be one of your top picks. The ride isn’t rough, but there’s no doubt that you’re driving a vehicle with solid axles and a short wheelbase. It’s also somewhat less than quiet in the cabin: the Jeep’s aerodynamics provide a fair amount of wind noise at highway speeds and road noise with the Goodyear Wrangler on/off road tires adds to the decibel level. Still, the Alpine Audio system is more than capable of holding its own.
As you might expect from a vehicle with Jeep’s aerodynamics and drivetrain, the Wrangler gets fairly mediocre mileage. The EPA says 17 mpg in the city, 21 on the highway and 18 mpg in combined city/highway driving.
While Houston offers very limited opportunities for offroad adventures of the Rubicon Trail or Moab variety, recent rains provided plenty of mud and a construction site provided some muddy hills and an opportunity to let the Wrangler show its stuff. While the tires didn’t have the aggressive tread that would be preferred for mudding, the Jeep had no trouble navigating the gooey gumbo. On drier terrain and dirt roads, the Wrangler was a blast. It really comes alive once you leave the pavement.
While bumping and bouncing across the countryside, the Jeep was rock-solid: no weird rattles, no squeaks. There’s definitely some pride in Toledo; the Wrangler was well-assembled and a real credit to the men and women of the Toledo South Assembly Plant.
One of my pet peeves about the Jeep Wrangler isn’t with the vehicle; it’s with reviewers that put it down for being primitive, harsh and unreliable. Taking the last point first, it doesn’t seem to be backed up by the facts. Ann Smith, who handles Quality issues for Chrysler Communications, couldn’t go into great detail but told me that real warranty claims for Wranglers are in line with those of other Chrysler Group vehicles.
As for primitive and harsh, the Wrangler is guilty as charged, at least to an extent. One doesn’t conquer the Rubicon Trail in a big comfy couch mounted on four marshmallows and the Wrangler, like all its predecessors, is designed to get you where you want to go – no matter how far from the beaten path that might be. Maybe instead of “primitive” and “harsh,” “basic” and “rugged” would be more suitable terms.
Perhaps basic and rugged are the keys to the Wrangler’s appeal and what make it one of the best-selling Chrysler Group vehicles. Just about everything one needs is included; just about everything that isn’t, isn’t. Between Jeep’s option list and Mopar’s catalog of aftermarket add-ons, the basic Jeep can be tailored to meet the challenges of any particular adventure.
People who understand the Wrangler certainly seem to like it; one only has to look at the awards the Wrangler has accumulated. Besides, how many other vehicles are available that can boast their design is battle-tested?
The Wrangler isn’t for everyone and doesn’t pretend to be. But if it’s for you, there’s nothing in the Jeep’s price range that even comes close.
An icon, indeed.
|2013 Jeep Wrangler Sport 4X4|
|Customer Preferred Package 23S||$2,200|
|Power Convenience Group||$795|
|Anti-Spin Differential Rear Axle||$295|
|Sunrider Soft Top||$400|
|Alpine Audio System||$395|
|Sirius XM Radio||$195|
|Fuel Economy, City mpg||17|
|Fuel Economy, Highway mpg||21|
|Fuel Economy, Combined mpg||18|
|Why we’d buy it||Fun to drive, well-built, plenty of power|
|Why we wouldn’t||Limited interior space for more than two; fuel economy|