I’ll admit it right up front: I’ve always been a fan of the Jeep Wrangler. In fact, in the late 1990s I owned a TJ. Loved every minute of that three-year relationship; nothing but smiles, fun, and sun. Mind you, for a man in my position, admitting to Wrangler affection can be a tough position to be in, mostly because fellow auto journalists love to poke fun at the Jeep’s heft, jouncy ride motions, lousy gas mileage, and general drill-sergeant demeanor. To which I always reply, “Yeah? Well I’ll bet Marlon Brando was a pain in the ass to be around, too—but nobody would call him anything less than an icon.”
In late August, I flew from L.A. to Michigan for a family reunion in the leafy “up north” lakeside village of Glen Arbor. Awaiting me at Detroit’s Metro airport was a shiny-new 2016 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited 4×4 75th Anniversary Edition. Yep, Jeep’s most famous model has been around in its basic form since the original 1941 “GP” of World War II. If anything, it’s even more iconic than Brando. But in the ensuing years, the rig has been so thoroughly refined (aside from its famous boxy looks) it’s doubtful G.I. Joe would recognize it. The 75th Edition ($4,680) goes even further. Starting out as a mid-level Sahara—already nicely equipped—it adds such extras as leather and cloth seats (heated in front), bronze 17-inch aluminum wheels and body accents, a Power Dome hood, and various exterior bits painted in body color (my test vehicle was a handsome Silver Billet Metallic). Also on board was another $7,660 of options, including a Freedom three-piece hard top, 5-speed automatic, Alpine speaker system, automatic A/C, Tru-Lok rear diff, and remote start. Bottom line: $48,530. Yikes! Maybe Jeep thought they were still pricing this thing for Uncle Sam.
Okay, everything the Jeep naysayers love to point out is true. Driving northward on I-75, bombing along with the rest of traffic at 70-80 mph, the Wrangler was every bit as quiet and buttoned-down as a foam party. The steering was numb, the chassis pogoed over dips in the road, and just keeping up the speed required a firm right foot (lifting off felt like a rear parachute had just been deployed). As for fuel economy, well, driving a rig with the aerodynamic efficiency of a jukebox yields an EPA highway rating of 20 mpg—at best.
But once up in Glen Arbor, all was forgiven, for the Wrangler was now fully in its element. I immediately popped off the two front roof panels and headed out to explore the forests and lakes of the idyllic Leelanau peninsula. Soon I started running into other Wranglers—remember the Jeep wave!—and finding off-road trails to reconnoiter. And, man, is the Wrangler just perfect for that. You’re up high, with a commanding view, the roof is open, windows down (I could’ve taken off the doors and folded-down the windshield, too), and in 4×4 mode, you can go anywhere you want. A couple times I came across regular cars that were turning around, afraid to push on as the dirt road deteriorated. Me? With one of the world’s most capable four-wheel-drive systems, nearly ten inches of ground clearance, and approach and departure angles that rival a bear’s, I didn’t think twice. Short of coming across an unexpected volcano or a herd of armed deer, nothing was going to stop me. I was rewarded by finding several hidden spots with stunning views of Lake Michigan.
Jeep has done a fantastic job of upgrading the Wrangler to meet modern expectations—standard on this rig were keyless entry, power windows, a leather wheel, and tire-pressure monitoring—yet still retaining that classic, square-jawed look and can-do personality. The Wrangler wins you over because there’s really nothing else like it. No other SUV—hell, practically no other car—can boast such everlasting appeal and red-white-and-blue charisma. You could park this Wrangler next to an original GP and everyone would know the two share a bloodline. The Jeep has been right from the very beginning—it’s like a four-wheeled Douglas DC-3 that way.
Is there anything I’d change? Frankly, despite having 260 pound-feet of torque on tap, the Wrangler needs more bottom-end oomph. Peak torque doesn’t come on tap until 4,800 rpm, and you’ll never reach revs like those when you’re creepy-crawling around. The good news: for the 2018 model year the Wrangler is said to be getting an optional diesel. I’ve got my fingers crossed it’s the same 3.0-liter EcoDiesel six I recently sampled in a Jeep Grand Cherokee, ‘cause that baby’s got 420 pound-feet, and it’s all ready for duty at just 2000 rpm. That engine in a Wrangler would be creepy-crawling, off-roading perfection. Yum.
Until then, I’ll fondly remember my week up north with the 75th Edition (I racked up 1000 miles all in). Maybe it’s the history, maybe it’s the look, maybe it’s the capabilities—or a combo of all three—but driving a Wrangler just makes me happy. I salute you, Jeep. I’ve never enjoyed going slow more.
2016 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited 4×4 75th Edition Specifications
|Engine:||3.6L DOHC 24-valve V-6/285 hp @ 6,400 rpm, 260 lb-ft @ 4,800 rpm|
|Layout:||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD SUV|
|EPA Mileage:||16/20 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H:||184.9 x 73.7 x 72.6 in|
|0-60 MPH:||8.5 sec (est)|
|Top Speed:||110 mph|