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Jeep Wrangler: Aging Well with Modest Change

By Sue Mead, May 11th, 2013

"What's your favorite car?" I'm often asked this question, having driven thousands of new cars and trucks over the past 25 years. I like many new vehicles but really enjoy revisiting the ones that have been around as long as I've been doing this job. Such is the case with the 2013 Jeep Wrangler, now in its fourth generation.

Everyone seems to know the legendary Jeep. The name is one of the most recognized brands in the world. The Wrangler debuted in 1987 as a truly sparse and utilitarian Jeep. Today there are base models and fully-loaded versions with creature comforts and top in-car technologies, as well as longer wheelbase models that hold more people and gear.

The Jeep Wrangler and Wrangler Unlimited are available in four models: Sport, Sport S, Sahara and Rubicon, as well as special edition models. Prices start at $22,195 for the two-door models; $26,295 for the four-door Unlimited models; while the Rubicon special edition starts at $34,095. I just spent the week with the 2013 Wrangler Unlimited Moab Edition 4x4 loaded with optional equipment priced at $43,320.

You might say the face of the Wrangler got "Botox," as the recent makeovers softened the Jeep face and made smoother edges and angles of this boxy SUV. Remaining are the signature seven-slot grille, trapezoid wheel wells, removable doors, exposed hinges, a fold-down windshield and round headlamps.

Inside, this compact SUV gets more premium materials and has a collection of creature comforts and upgrades that set it far apart from Jeeps of a couple of decades ago, yet there's enough of a Spartan and adventure-ready-appearance to please purists. An attractive design feature is an inlay badge that reads "Jeep Since 1941" on the front passenger grab handle.

Having driven many Wrangler models over the years, we loved this 2013 Wrangler Unlimited Moab model, with bold looks and vibrant color. Most notable in its drive are the upgrades to the chassis; it's been stiffened and brings a more mannered ride, plus the steering points the Wrangler along a more precise path. Also notable is the quiet-but-capable engine power that brings more get-up-and-go off the line, which is matched well to the gearing of the five-speed transmission, giving smooth shifts.

It's always difficult to set up a suspension for an SUV that can see light duty as a daily driver, as well as for tougher service, such as trail climbing and trailer-pulling. Jeep's engineers have done a good job with the five-link suspension system and wheel placement for the Wrangler.

Jeep upgraded the Wrangler powertrain last year, fitting it with Chrysler's 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 engine, which makes 285 horsepower and 260 lb.-ft. of torque. Overall, it delivers 40 percent greater horsepower and 10 percent more torque than the previous engine.

A six-speed manual transmission comes standard on all models, while a new five-speed automatic is also available. The new auto transmission brings greater fuel efficiency and improved acceleration. A lower first-gear ratio also gives the Wrangler more off-road capability because it has a lower overall crawl ratio, which is useful and safer for steep grades and when traversing tough terrain.

The Wrangler is now available with more axle gear ratios allowing customers to optimize fuel economy and/or vehicle capability. In addition to boosting towing capacity up to 3,500 pounds, Wrangler is available with 3.21, 3.73 or 4.10 ratios, depending on the model. This is important for when weighing fuel economy optimization vs. pure off-road and towing power.

Continuing its tradition of boulder-crawling prowess, Wrangler still has a best-in-class approach angle of up to 44.6 degrees, breakover angle of 25.5 degrees and departure angle of 40.6 degrees (slightly less on four-door models). Although these numbers and angles sound like an algebraic formula, they allow the Wrangler to climb over rocky and rugged trails, through washouts, and across uneven terrain.

Available technology features include UConnect voice command with Bluetooth streaming audio, navigation and SiriusXM satellite radio. Automatic temperature controls, heated seats, power mirrors, a USB port, 12-volt accessory outlets and AC power outlets are standard or available, depending on the Wrangler model.

Specifications

Base price (as tested: $43,420)
Curb weight 4,294 lbs.
Displacement 3.6-liter
Epa mileage rating 17 mpg city, 20 mpg highway
Fuel capacity 18.6 gal.
Horsepower (net) 285 at 6400 rpm
Motor type 24-valve DOHC V-6 w/SMPFI
Overall length 173.4 in.
Torque (lb.-ft.) 260 at 4800 rpm
Transmission 5-speed automatic
Vehicle type 5-passenger 4WD compact SUV
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