This legendary and iconic 4x4 needs no further presentation. Everyone knows what the Jeep Wrangler is and looks like. Heck, it might as well just be called Jeep, period.
As you’ve probably heard, a completely new generation is on the way for 2018, but in the meantime, the old Jeep Wrangler continues to break sales record. That’s even the case in the U.S. where FCA surpassed the 200,000-unit plateau last year.
A big reason for the Wrangler’s popularity is the variety of models and trim levels available. On top of two wheelbases (standard and long a.k.a. Unlimited), buyers have a remarkable selection of equipment to choose from. One of the latest additions to the lineup should make purists jump with joy since it pays tribute to the original Willys-Overland Jeep.
The 2016 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Willys Wheeler finds itself halfway between the base Wrangler at $27,495 and the top-of-the-line Unlimited 75th Anniversary Edition at $44,490. Could it also be the one with the best value? Just make your way through this review to get the answer.
It doesn’t get more Jeep than that!
At first glance, all you’ll see is the same macho look as the rest of the Wrangler family, but if you pay more attention, you’ll notice a few unique design cues such as the gloss black grille with black-painted Jeep logo or the vintage-style “WILLYS” decal on the hood.
There’s more, mind you. The superb 17” gloss black alloy wheels are wrapped in BFGoodrich off-road tires, and a keen eye will spot an amusing detail on the side of the rims: a Jeep Willys silhouette. In the back, the “4 Wheel Drive” decal on the rear door is another nod to the model’s glorious past. While a removable Sunrider soft top comes standard, Canadian weather conditions mean you should probably get the Freedom Top hard top for $1,150.
The Tank Green exterior of my Unlimited Willys Wheeler tester (other colours are also available) added the perfect final touch. This is one SUV no neighbour will want to mess with.
While more refined than in the good ol’ days, the interior of the 2016 Jeep Wrangler remains a place where comfort really takes a back seat. First of all, the tight door openings make access difficult, especially in the back. The tall step-in height doesn’t help, either. Fortunately, mine included tubular side steps, which are well worth the $200 extra.
Don’t look for heated seats or a 10” touch screen with Apple CarPlay; otherwise you’ll be disappointed. What’s more, the Wrangler continues to make do with an obsolete 5-speed automatic transmission, and the parking brake is of the classic, hand-controlled type instead of a button (not a bad thing per se). On the flip side, you’ll find the control for the rugged Command-Trac part-time, shift-on-the-fly 4x4 system next to the shifter.
The driving position is good despite the non-telescoping steering column and the fact that the seats are nowhere near as comfortable as those in a Chrysler 300 sedan. Rear-seat occupants have it even worse. At least cargo space compares favourably to the competition. Oh, I forgot to mention: The power window controls still reside in the middle of the dashboard.
Driving a Jeep is… different
Once behind the wheel of the 2016 Jeep Wrangler, you’ll be reminded very quickly that lateral visibility isn’t its forte. Furthermore, the sound of the 3.6L Pentastar V6 from a cold start is reason enough to use restraint, while the 5-speed slush box affects performance by a not-so-negligible margin. If you know how to drive with three pedals, sticking with the standard 6-speed manual transmission will provide more thrills and save you money at the pump.
Around town, the Wrangler’s ride is stiff and bouncy, and the lack of noise insulation (blame the removable top) adds to the unpleasantness. The steering is vague (don’t enter a corner too hard!), and the brakes demand some getting used to. In other words, there are much more compliant and comfortable ways to drive on beaten asphalt these days.
Where a truck like the 2016 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Willys Wheeler excels, however, is in impossibly challenging conditions. There is just no better SUV at tackling sketchy terrain and overcoming obstacles, although the Toyota 4Runner and some Land Rovers could give the Jeep a serious run for its money. A burly chassis, generous ground clearance, competent 4WD system, and Dana 44 rear axle elevate this pavement-imperfect vehicle to the status of near-perfect off-roader. It’s no wonder aftermarket companies love the Wrangler so much: Fans will happily shell thousands of dollars to jack the suspension or install extreme tires. Sky’s the limit!
My verdict on the Wrangler
The decision to buy a Jeep Wrangler is heavily based on emotions. When compared with more regular, down-to-earth utility vehicles, it loses a lot of points in the comfort, amenities, and fuel economy departments. If it’s your first Jeep, make absolutely sure it’s the one you want and need before signing on the dotted line.
On the other hand, there’s nothing quite like the Wrangler for having a blast in the mud, through rock gardens, and down slippery trails. That’s why it has such a mega cult following. The next-generation model will be faced with the very difficult task of improving on all aspects of the Wrangler while retaining its many lovable quirks.