As a former 1988 Jeep Wrangler owner, it's amazing to me how far this model has come. My '88 was punishing over every road surface, not comfortable off-road, and spent the summer months without a top or doors. When enough mud built up inside the tub, I'd just hose it out. I learned how to drive off-road in that Jeep and it kicked off a mild obsession with all things Jeep that still flares up from time to time.
For 2012, Jeep offers soft-touch plastics, an engine that delivers both (relatively) impressive acceleration and fuel economy, and an interior I'd be a little afraid to get wet. Wranglers now offer four doors and a quiet enough interior to be considered as a daily driver for a small family. Before, a Wrangler was mostly a toy for weekends or young singles because it was loud, uncomfortable, and offered almost no useable interior room. The fact that any Wrangler model can command almost $38k is a testament to the loyalty of buyers to the Jeep brand.
It's amazing the Wrangler still offers a removable top and doors with all the contemporary safety regulations. There's also serious off-road capability available in the Rubicon models. The only automotive products with more available aftermarket support than a Jeep Wrangler are the small block Chevy or Ford V-8 engines. Customizing a Wrangler was half the fun of owning one. I'm sure this generation will still inspire young enthusiasts to make it their own in a few decades. After spending a few days behind the wheel of the Altitude, I was checking the classifieds for a used Wrangler. As great as the new Wranglers are, the used ones are always the most fun.
Phil Floraday, Senior Web Editor
My husband is not a car person. He rarely comments on the cars he sees parked in our garage when he gets home from work at 11:00 p.m. So imagine my surprise when he enthusiastically inquired about the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited I drove the other night. And he wasn't the only one - office manager Jackie Guenther was rhapsodizing about the Wrangler parked in front of our building while it sat there surrounded by a Bentley Continental GT and a couple of Mercedes, among other cars that would seem more likely to catch the eye of a casual bystander.
But the fact is that this Jeep Wrangler has a lot of presence, helped no doubt by the black-on-black color scheme of the model we test-drove. Climb up and into the Wrangler Unlimited Altitude, and it's clear that this is not the barebones Jeep Wrangler of old. It has all the modern conveniences - leather seats, a tilt steering wheel, an optional navigation system, and USB and Bluetooth connectivity - and yet it still has the off-road capability of its predecessors. On the meltingly hot days that I drove the Wrangler, I also was happy to see that the its air-conditioning system was more than up to the task of keeping the interior cool (which doesn't seem all that remarkable, except that the temperature was over 100 degrees and the vehicle, as previously mentioned, was all black).
Unlike the Wranglers of yore, in which you were forced to compromise comfort and usability for the fun of off-roading prowess and open-air motoring, this new Wrangler is a vehicle you could easily live with every day. It's no longer inexpensive, but this model's $38,000 as-tested price is a bit of an outlier, as the least pricey Unlimited model can be had for around $30,000.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor