First Look: 2011 Jeep Wrangler

Jeep’s current best-seller and brand icon, the Wrangler, receives some major updates for 2011, most notably in the form of a new interior. Now that we’ve seen the fresh Wrangler in person at Chrysler’s so-called “Design Dome,” we can confirm that the changes are thorough and useful but don’t undermine the vehicle’s ruggedness or heritage.

Sitting inside a 2011 Wrangler, we had a difficult time spotting any parts that were carryover from our beloved (at least by most staff members) 2007 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited long-term test vehicle. The instrument-panel gauges and the steering-column stalks were the only components that jumped out. The 2011 Wrangler’s curvaceous, grained dashboard has been completely redesigned but is still constructed of washable hard plastic. During his spiel in Auburn Hills, Jeep interior design head Klaus Busse defended the Wrangler’s lack of soft-touch materials by saying that “there’s nothing wrong with plastic if you know how to use it.”

He’s got a pretty good point in this case, as his team seems to have done an impressive job of responding to some customers’ requests for a more livable cabin while at the same time respecting the wishes of die-hard, utilitarian Jeep fans. The door storage compartments can now hold more and larger items but are made of attractive netting rather than pouches of rigid, thin, hard plastic. Interior door panels are softer and finally have real armrests with padding (!) instead of rock-hard plastic. The doors remain removable, despite the addition of power heated mirrors — both firsts for the Wrangler. (Rest assured, purists, crank windows, manual mirrors, and no air-conditioning are still standard.)

The grab handle in front of the passenger seat now sports a piece of bright trim that says “Jeep SINCE 1941.” The thick-rimmed steering wheel is pulled straight from the new-for-2011 Grand Cherokee (and the 2011 Patriot) and, if properly equipped, permits control of audio, cruise control, trip computer, and Bluetooth phone functions without releasing your fingers from the wheel. HVAC controls are now electronically actuated for a smoother feel, Bluetooth streaming audio is now available, and a 115-volt outlet is newly available (optional on Sport trim levels, standard on Rubicon and Sahara).

From the driver’s seat (which can now be heated), you can also spot two new “Easter eggs” that designers threw into the package for all 2011 Wranglers: a silhouette of the Jeep-grille logo above the rearview mirror as well as the image of a Jeep beginning to ascend the right-hand side of the windshield (see photos). Jeep officials claim that the fresh interior will be quieter going down the road, too, thanks to “increased acoustical treatment,” but we’ll wait until we drive one to judge for ourselves.

Besides the aforementioned windshield graphics, the only real visible differences from outside the vehicle will be enlarged backlight and rear side windows, a change that improves rearward visibility in both hard- and softtop Wranglers for 2011. The rearmost side windows grow longer at the back of the vehicle, shrinking each D-pillar by a few inches, while the backlight grows wider (it’s now slightly wider than the rear tailgate instead of being the same width). Sahara models get body-color hard tops that make the vehicle look more like an SUV than a traditional Wrangler. All hard tops, whether body-color on Saharas or black on Sport or Rubicon editions, have been reinforced above the rear seats in order to reduce panel flex.

The updated Wrangler also received some improvements to the rear cargo compartment. The rear underfloor bin, which was previously nearly useless, has been enlarged and squared off to be more functional. Better yet, there are now clever dedicated holes to place the hardware for the hard top when it’s been removed. A twelve-volt power outlet has been added to the cargo area, and you’re less likely to be smacked on the backside while you’re using that outlet to power your J&D On Location hair straightener, since the heavy cargo door and spare-tire assembly now has a check strap to hold it in the open position. A new reversible rubber/carpet rear floor mat is also new, as is more attractive rear plastic trim, particularly around the optional subwoofer.

Five exterior colors also premiere for 2011.

The Wrangler’s engine room is untouched for this year, with a standard 202-hp, 3.8-liter V-6 (“the minivan motor,” as some derisively call it) partnering with a six-speed manual or an optional four-speed automatic, although the new 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6, which debuted in 290-hp tune in the 2011 Grand Cherokee, will eventually (possibly for the 2012 model year) appear beneath the Wrangler’s flat hood.

The 2011 Wrangler is already trickling into dealerships. Pricing increased on the average of $890 per vehicle. The base two-door Wrangler Sport starts at $22,795, while the top-of-the-line four-door Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon will cost you at least $33,495.

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15 City / 19 Hwy

Cargo (Std/Max):

NA / 56.5 cu. ft.