2013 Jeep Wrangler Sahara Unlimited

There’s no doubt the current Wrangler, internally known as the JK series, is the best of its long and illustrious breed. And it is incredibly fun on a test drive. But is it something you can actually live with?

As a one-time Jeep CJ owner, that was the question at the forefront of my mind when a pinot noir-colored Sahara model with matching hardtop and fenders—which really changes the overall look, compared to ones with those parts finished in rough gray plastic—was dropped off for my use. Despite its more refined-appearing body, the Wrangler still appeared thoroughly off-road capable, and neat detailing like the exposed door hinges echoed nicely the tough vibe of my ’83 model.

Likewise the inside the Sahara was trimmed out very well, with well-assembled plastics and comfy seating for four people. The amount of onboard tech—40GB hard drive, navigation, climate control, Bluetooth and remote start—would put luxury cars of twenty years ago to shame, and the quiet, almost refined way the Jeep drove made it feel a million years removed from my own beast.

In fact, on smoother roads I could forget almost entirely I was in a box-framed, live-axled machine, as the solid structure and careful sound deadening meant it was quiet and relaxing. The 285hp, 3.6-liter V6 makes this latest Wrangler the fastest one ever, yet also the most fuel efficient, with EPA ratings and real world numbers on par with many modern crossovers. And though it is smooth at the top end, you never really need to flog this 24-valve engine, since its 260lb-ft of torque (ably distributed by a smooth shifting 5-speed auto or 6-speed manual) means decent urge is always just a toe-prod away.

The longer wheelbase of the Unlimited model helped the ride quality, but even in two-door form (reviewed here) the Wrangler is able to roll over most road roughness without causing your fillings to rattle loose, and with a decent-sized cargo area behind the rear seat, it is pragmatic as well. The climb in and out is about the most difficult thing about owning this Jeep.

Over the week, the thought occurred to me that the Jeep Wrangler is America’s answer to the MINI: an iconic, heritage-laden vehicle brought completely up to date by careful design and development. Like that English car, it is about the most demographically non-specific vehicle imaginable. You never know who might step out of one; they are equally embraced by men and women, and a Wrangler’s owner may be middle-class or very wealthy—there’s just no way to know, based on what they’re driving. That cant be said of many cars, trucks or SUVs.

As the week finished it became clear that the Wrangler’s off-road prowess (rarely exploited by most owners) doesn’t cause it to grow wearisome in typical commuting, and the very unique character it exudes makes daily driving that bit less anodyne. It also helps explain why this is Jeep’s best selling vehicle. That the Wrangler also holds its value better than most vehicles it competes with makes it that much easier to justify as a purchase.

EPA ratings: 16/20; 18mpg combined
Price as tested: $37,600
Here is what Jeep has to say about the Wrangler.



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