Jeep Wrangler drivers are tribal. They always salute each other when passing on the roads — like Deadheads chokingly hollering ‘Iko, iko’ through a smoky haze or Masons giving a secret handshake at a Republican gathering. It’s easy to see why.
The Jeep Wrangler is one of the only sport utility vehicles left that isn’t trying to be a car with minivan conveniences. Driving a Wrangler is a blast and unlike any other vehicle — including other Jeeps. A Wrangler is your own mobile grownup bouncy castle. Nothing drives quite like it. You notice each crack and divot in the road. And after the first time you gun it hard off the road, you’re walking bowlegged for a week.
Do you need one in the city for your daily commute to the office? Absolutely not. But that doesn’t stop it from being more fun than a barrel of Mercedes, as any smiling, signaling Wrangler driver will attest. The 2016 Sahara that I just drove was naked fun from the moment I got in till I dropped it off a week later.
First, bless Jeep’s designers for keeping it simple and not trying to change too much. Unadulterated with an available standard transmission, this tester featured the long stick and deep clutch pedal that lifetime Wrangler Club Members favour. It also didn’t have those My First Stick Shift™ dials that helpfully flash when the car’s computer thinks you ought to shift up or down.
A throaty 3.6-liter, six-cylinder engine, capable of emitting 285hp and 260 lb-ft of torque, regularly reminds you that, as nice as efficient new technologies that drag more performance from less power are, actual power is still a lovely thing. Stomp down and you get bouncy castle g-force. Great fun, yes, but now for some criticism.
The word Unlimited may sound like a touch of an overpromise once you suss that it simply means four doors instead of two. If you’re at all budget conscious, you may not need the Unlimited option — or the Sahara package. It’s more luxurious than the Sport, but so what. Do you really want luxury in a ride that’s renowned for its Spartan style and feel? This is an off-roader, not some downtown Uber conveyance or airport limo.
And unless you’re a regular off-roading outdoorsy type, the less pricey Sport will do you well. Meanwhile, for the diehard desert trekking, mountain climbing off-road kings, there’s the more expensive Rubicon.
But this was the Sahara and some of those luxuries it came standard with included remote keyless entry, some nanny controls they can keep, hill-start assist (just in case you forget you’re driving stick), a grippular leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls and one year of Sirius satellite radio, a security alarm and those masculine body-coloured fenders. You want to cook a steak on them.
This tester also came with several upgrade and luxury packages. The impossibly uncatchy sounding Customer Preferred Package 23H is a $5,000 hit! It has loads of wonderful sounding bits but they mostly increase your comfort and connectivity — again not quite the Spartan ethic.
And is badging for the 75th anniversary, a Jeep thing and not a customer thing, that big a deal? Maybe for weekend Club Signalers, but those Wrangler-headed tuners who scour trails in Death Valley doan need no steenking heated leather-faced bucket seats with mesh inserts or “Moroccan Sun interior accents”. The only addition in this package that would be truly hard for me to give up is the set of slush mats. They’re sturdy buggers that can take a hefty hosing.
On the other hand, you should definitely get the dual top group. It’s $1,420 extra but you can remove the roof for the true Wrangler experience. Sure it’s expensive but a Wrangler without the ability to shed its skin is heresy. On the upside, it makes the $225 for A/C and temperature control unnecessary.
Mind this vehicle itself is unnecessary for any but the true off-road enthusiast. I loved it and would get one if I lived in the country but would be very mindful of the more costly enhancements — and of any unnecessary trips. Under ideal drive conditions, Canada EnerGuide ratings put the Wrangler Unlimited Sahara’s fuel consumption at 13.4L/100km, combined city and highway. It’s more Republican sounding by the minute.
Base price: $39,695
Options too lengthy to list: $11,850
Destination charge: $1,795
Ontario Green Charge: $100
As driven: $53,440