"Quite simply, if the Wrangler can't get you there, hire a helicopter," Edmunds.com says of the Jeep Wrangler. Experts have no qualms about recommending the Wrangler for boulder-crawling, mud-bogging, or any other off-road adventure. On-road, it's another story.
"The Wrangler is not everyone's cup of jittering tea," admits Lawrence Ulrich at The New York Times, despite his soft spot for the Wrangler he once owned. "The ride is noisy and jouncy, it's a taxing climb in and out and the reliability record is poor." It's also clumsy to handle, hard to see out of, easy to break into and pricey at the pump, experts say, with subpar crash scores, an underpowered engine and underpowered brakes. If you want a tough off-roader that won't punish you on-road, critics say, get a 2010 Toyota 4Runner (Base MSRP: $27,500 to $39,800) instead.
A lot of what makes the Wrangler so iconic also makes it a royal pain as a daily driver, reviewers say. You can remove its doors to see off-road obstacles (or look macho, critics point out), but the attaching straps won't hold them open if you're parked on a hill. The standard soft top has zippered windows -- convenient for thieves, reviewers say -- and the optional hard top is a hassle to take on and off. The windshield also folds down, "which is good for catching bugs in your teeth and hunting the occasional water buffalo," Edmunds.com remarks.
Subpar safety and reliability
The Wrangler's engine manages to be both sluggish and thirsty in tests. The 202-horsepower, 3.8-liter V6 comes with a six-speed manual transmission or optional four-speed automatic. Expect 15 mpg city/20 mpg highway/17 mpg combined with rear-wheel drive and the automatic, losing 1 mpg highway with four-wheel drive.
The Wrangler comes in two body styles: the two-door Jeep Wrangler (Base MSRP: $21,165 to $28,775) and four-door Wrangler Unlimited (Base MSRP: $23,410 to $32,050). Most come with four-wheel drive, although the Unlimited is available with rear-wheel drive. Both are offered in three trim levels: Sport, Rubicon and Sahara. All come with a soft top or an optional hard top.
The entry-level Wrangler Sport (Base MSRP: $21,165) comes with cloth seats, a folding, removable rear bench and a CD stereo with auxiliary jack. Air conditioning is optional. The Unlimited Sport (Base MSRP: $23,410 to $24,585) makes air conditioning standard and adds a 60/40 split rear seat and a bigger gas tank, and it makes power windows and locks, keyless entry and an alarm optional. The Sahara trim (Base MSRP: $26,255 to $28,905) makes these options standard and adds a few more features, including bigger 18-inch wheels, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, cruise control and an upgraded stereo with satellite radio.
The best trim for off-roading is the Wrangler Rubicon (Base MSRP: $28,775 to $32,050), reviewers say, with its electronically locking front and rear differentials; special tires and low-range transfer case; stronger front axle; rock rails and a feature that can disconnect the stabilizer bar. The Rubicon also gets cruise control, the leather-wrapped steering wheel and an upgraded stereo with satellite radio.
The two-door Jeep Wrangler holds four passengers, while the four-door Unlimited can seat five. Testers say the two-door Wrangler's backseat is cramped and hard to access, but there's room for adults in the four-door's backseat, although the bottom seat cushions are short and unsupportive. Cargo space is bigger in the four-door, too: 46 cubic feet behind the rear seats or 82 cubes with them folded, versus 17 and 61 cubic feet, respectively, in the two-door.
Crash safety lags behind other SUVs. The removable side doors do a lousy job protecting passengers in tests: Without optional side airbags, the two-door Wrangler rates "Poor" in side crashes at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, and the four-door rates Marginal. Both body styles are judged "Marginal" in rear crashes. The four-wheel-drive Wrangler is also more likely to roll over than many other SUVs, earning 3 stars out of 5 in government tests (the rear-wheel-drive Wrangler gets 4 stars). Its roof strength -- important for protecting occupants in a rollover crash -- has not been tested. The Wrangler does get the highest ratings in all frontal crash tests, and it includes front airbags, antilock brakes and electronic stability control.
Reliability is poor in one major owner survey. The 2010 Jeep Wrangler carries a three-year/36,000-mile basic warranty and five-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty.
Edmunds.com provides the most comprehensive look at the Jeep Wrangler in all of its body styles, commenting on both on- and off-road ability. ConsumerReports.org and The New York Times both test one Wrangler version each, and Autoblog.com thoroughly tests the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon off-road. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety conducts the most thorough crash testing of both the two-door and four-door Wranglers; government crash testing at SaferCar.gov omits the important side crash test. Kiplinger.com rates the Wrangler's resale value, and FuelEconomy.gov rates its fuel consumption.
The Jeep Wrangler is as "unstoppable" off-road as it is impractical on-road, editors here say: Wrangler drivers can enjoy go-anywhere freedom and a macho image, but they have to put up with a long list of problems.
Review: 2010 Jeep Wrangler Review, Editors of Edmunds.com
This test pits the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon against the Hummer H3T on a muddy, rocky, rutted canyon trail near Death Valley. Both handle every obstacle with no problem, but the Jeep lets occupants feel closer to the terrain, while the Hummer is more comfortable inside.
Review: Autoblog Comparo: Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon vs. Hummer H3T, Jonathon Ramsey, June 30, 2009
ConsumerReports.org includes the Jeep Wrangler in its master SUV ranking chart. SUVs are ranked mostly by on-road performance, safety, reliability and fuel economy, although editors do test the Wrangler off-road.
Review: Jeep Wrangler, Editors of ConsumerReports.org
4. The New York Times
A former Wrangler owner himself, Lawrence Ulrich enjoys the old-school ambience and true off-roadability of the 2010 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon. Still, he notes its poor reliability and noisy, jittery ride, and he says he would never pay $36,000 for one.
Review: A Very Old-School SUV with Useful New Tricks, Lawrence Ulrich, March 4, 2010
5. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
The two-door Jeep Wrangler without optional side airbags is the worst-performing small SUV in IIHS crash tests. It earns the highest rating of "Good" in frontal crash tests, but rates only "Marginal" in rear crashes and "Poor" in side crashes. Its rollover roof strength has not been tested.
Review: Small SUVs, Editors of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
6. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
The four-door Jeep Wrangler without optional side airbags ranks near the bottom of this midsize SUV chart. It rates only "Marginal" in side and rear crash tests. It does earn the highest rating of "Good" in frontal crashes, but its rollover roof strength has not been tested.
Review: Midsize SUVs, Editors of IIHS.org
The Jeep Wrangler's government crash scores are mixed. It earns the highest 5-star ratings for frontal crash protection, but it has not been side-crash tested. As for rollover resistance, the rear-wheel-drive version earns a class-consistent 4 stars, but four-wheel-drive Wranglers rate only 3 stars.
Review: 5-Star Safety Ratings, Editors of SaferCar.gov
The Jeep Wrangler wins Kiplinger.com's Best Resale Value award among truck-based SUVs. This short write-up also praises its low base price and insurance costs.
Review: Best Resale Value: Truck-based SUVs, Editors of Kiplinger.com, March 2010
The Jeep Wrangler falls near the bottom of this chart, which compares 2010 SUVs by fuel economy. The Wrangler delivers an estimated 17 mpg combined, regardless of drive system or transmission.
Review: 2010 Sport Utility Vehicles, Editors of FuelEconomy.gov