I’ve never owned a Jeep Wrangler, but I’m always tempted. The more that Jeep keeps tweaking the Wrangler, the more tempted I get. The 2016 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited 75th Anniversary Edition very nearly ticks all of my boxes.
It starts with styling. The exterior of the Wrangler has been a near-constant for years, with just a few changes here and there. The basics have remained the same, from the seven-bar grille to the level fender tops to the big flat hood. Headlight shapes have morphed from round to square to round again. The 75th Anniversary Edition comes with cool badging and graphics.
Two major features have made the Wrangler more appealing and more usable on an everyday basis. The Unlimited part of things is the big one. The four-door variant first appeared as a 2007 model, and along with two additional doors it has a longer wheelbase than the standard Wrangler. Off-road, this presents a compromise, as it has a worse breakover angle and turning radius. But on-road, the Unlimited’s longer footprint makes it much more stable and inspires more confidence. Unlike the standard Wrangler, the Unlimited isn’t twitchy, and doesn’t feel like a quick change of direction at speed might upset its apple cart.
And speaking of speed, that brings us to the other major feature upgrade that I appreciate. For most of its history, the Wrangler has derived its power from a straight-six engine. The torque characteristic of this workhorse made it great for off-roading, but it was honestly a dog on the road. In 2012, Jeep gave Wrangler the 3.6-liter PentaStar V6 engine, and purists howled – but the dog was dead, and a new beast was born. Finally, Wrangler could merge onto crowded highways without holding up traffic. It was transformed.
Some may quibble with the additional interior amenities, like power windows and door locks, a steering wheel with integrated audio buttons and cruise control. Wrangler’s interior is almost civilized, which doesn’t hurt at all.
Wrangler still has a horrible canvas top that’s impossible to retract and put back up without a manual. It still rattles like a Tonka truck, and blows all over the road like a kite.
Despite its flaws and throwback technology, Wrangler is still cool. And that’s why it remains popular among off-roaders – and people who just want to look like them.
Photos (c) Jason Fogelson