New Car Reviews

2016 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Backcountry 4×4 Review

Backcountry proves a worthy companion for forest romps and deep-snow rescues

Driving topless is its own brand of crazy, especially in 20-degree weather. On a snowmobile trail. Buried to the axles in fluffy powder.

But if there’s one way to do it right, it’s with Jeep Wranglers. My buddy Eric is stuck in some deep stuff with his roofless, doorless Wrangler Sport, and I’m doing my best to tow him out in a 2016 Jeep Wrangler Backcountry Unlimited 4×4. We’ve made the drive to Northern Michigan to explore some of the region’s toughest and most beautiful winter trails. Right now it seems like we’re hitting the former.

Jeep Wrangler Backcountry side profile 01

Luckily, I picked the Backcountry for this adventure knowing it was up to the challenge. This Wrangler comes packed with features like a locking rear differential, BFGoodrich All Terrain KO2 tires, and steel bumpers front and rear. It’s also available – thankfully — in colors other than purple. The Backcountry even comes with rock sliders, but the recovery points at all four corners are what I’m counting on for this adventure.

Jeep Wrangler Sport and Jeep Wrangler Backcountry 01

Eric made it only about 50 yards into the trail before beaching his Wrangler Sport and calling for a tow. To the rescue, I dutifully drop the Backcountry in four-wheel drive, engage the rear locker, and charge over a snowbank and down the trail, while my girlfriend white-knuckles it on the Wrangler’s trusty oh-shit handle conveniently placed on the passenger-side dashboard.

Jeep Wrangler Backcountry towed in snow 03

We’ve made it to Eric and his Wrangler sport without issue, so now it’s all about rescuing our brother-in-Jeep. Utilizing the shackle points, I secure one end of my kinetic recovery rope to the front of the Backcountry and hook the other end on the hook-style recovery loop of the Wrangler Sport. With the Backcountry in reverse, bystanders clear, and a thumbs-up from Eric, I hit the throttle.

The all-terrain tires dig in, the rope goes taut with tension, and like a newborn baby Eric is freed from his snowy prison. Unlike the Backcountry, the Wrangler Sport suffers from a case of open rear differential, which in deep snow effectively renders his four-wheel drive system useless as wheels spin without any traction to speak of. The trick turns out to be airing down his KO2 tires, and with the added surface area we’re off again bouncing over the trail.

Jeep Wrangler Backcountry front three quarter 05

Trekking along through the snow, our 4×4 duo winds its way to a stretch carved out for power lines. Without missing a beat Eric hits the throttle, and his Wrangler Sport sets off for the steepest hill in sight. Snow is flying into his passengers’ faces, and I admit it’s entertaining to watch a topless Jeep pounding through powder with reckless abandon. But the fun stops dead in its tracks when Eric’s miscalculated line gets the Wrangler stuck on the hill. Looks like it’s Backcountry to the rescue again, so I put the throttle down in the Backcountry and set off after Eric once more. He deserves the barrage of snowball fire he gets as we dig our gloves into the snow and ready for battle.

Once we’ve caught our breath, it’s back to the kinetic rope. I prefer this rope type to a typical tow strap because maintaining momentum is key in the snow. A standard tow strap needs to be taut before putting it under load, and attempting this in deep snow usually results in two stuck vehicles. The kinetic rope has give, so it acts like a big bungee cord, allowing us to get the Wrangler Backcountry moving before taking on the load of Eric and his wounded pride. The only thing to consider is finding the right direction so I don’t drive the Backcountry into deeper snow.

I drive the Backcountry into deeper snow. Up to the axles, to be precise.

Jeep Wrangler Backcountry rear three quarter in motion

Fortunately I’m prepared. This problem can be remedied with a pair of sand ladders and a heavy dose of elbow grease. A little digging and a firm shove puts us back on top of the powder, and I reposition the Backcountry for another pull. This time we keep out of the deep end, and both Wranglers are again free to explore the forested snowscape.

When we were way too cold and ready to head home, a quick flip of a switch and a shift into two-high was all it took to put the Jeep Wrangler Backcountry back into commuter mode. All of this enforces the Jeep Wrangler’s status as the quintessential off-roader and daily driver. But it also reminds me that there is more to Jeep’s trim levels than just wheel and paint options. We used every additional feature the Backcountry has to offer, from the rear locking diff and BFGoodrich tires to the shackle points fitted at all four corners. And while a Rubicon may have been better suited to rock crawling or mud diving, the Backcountry was the Swiss-army knife we needed for winter off-roading.

Jeep Wrangler Backcountry front three quarter 02

2016 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Backcountry 4X4 Specifications

On Sale: Now
Price: $34,690/$47,550 (base/as tested)
Engine: 3.6L DOHC 24-valve V-6/285 hp @ 6,400 rpm, 260 lb-ft @ 4,800 rpm
Transmission: 5-speed automatic
Layout: 4-door, 5 passenger, front-engine, 4WD SUV
EPA Mileage: 16/20 mpg (city/highway)
L x W x H: 184.9 x 73.7 x 72.6 in
Wheelbase: 116.0 in
Weight: 4,294 lb
0-60 MPH: N/A
Top Speed: N/A