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2015 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited: Rugged SUV is right for off-road enthusiasts


If you're looking for a "go anywhere, do anything" vehicle, Fiat-Chrysler's Jeep Wrangler just might be the SUV for you. It will easily handle muddy, rock-strewn forest trails or clamber over deeply rutted mountain roads. It's a rough-hewn vehicle whose ancestry stretches back to World War I, though purists may be incensed by its Wikipedia origin story. Wherever the truth lies, it's faithfully served in the militaries of many nations and has an unmatched reputation for toughness.

Just what is a Jeep Wrangler? Today's interpretation of the four-door Wrangler has lots of off-road features while succumbing only slightly to the public demand for a touch of luxury. Its doors, for example, come off (that's right, folks, they're removable) with just a few minutes' work.

The Jeep Wrangler includes power windows and locks, air conditioning and tilt steering - features usually reserved for luxury car purchasers. Our $46,670 test vehicle, the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon Hard Rock (base price: $35,995), comes equipped with a four-wheel-drive transfer case with "low range," exactly what's needed for bashing through tough terrain. Keyless entry, hill start assist and a decent AM/FM/CD/satellite/MP3 sound system with eight speakers and fine fringe-area reception will keep you entertained during off-road forays.

The Wrangler is a small vehicle, about the size of a compact car. This design, along with its 37-foot U-turn circle, allows it to do amazing things off-road. A brief trip to a muddy gravel pit with ample mine tailings and some ruts with car-swallowing potential clearly demonstrated that the Jeep hasn't lost even a modicum of agility.

Getting into the Wrangler can be tough, as it has nearly 9 inches of ground clearance. Many of the car's features are controlled via the touchscreen in the center of the dash. The glove box locks, as the vehicle can be purchased with either a hardtop ($1,595) or the standard, vulnerable canvas roof. It isn't easy changing from one to the other, but remember: Convertibles leak water and act as conduits for freezing air.

The Wrangler's leather-trimmed front seats are fairly comfortable, but the rear pair is best reserved for your mother-in-law or someone who bears you malice. The storage compartment is fairly large, especially with the seats folded down. Surprisingly, the Jeep isn't rated to pull heavy trailers. About 3,500 pounds is the limit; you'll need to let the dealer configure the vehicle for this task (by adding options).

The Wrangler's standard equipment list is long, but the most desirable items must be purchased as parts of various option packages. Need special axle ratios for towing or grueling off-road forays? You'll want the optional five-speed automatic transmission, a $1,350 unit that shifted flawlessly. Then you'll need the 4.10 axle ratio, a $595 upgrade from the standard 3.73 ratio.

Standard features include stability and traction control, a huge number of airbags, a transfer case skid plate, four-wheel antilock disc brakes, electronic roll mitigation and much more.

The engine is a 3.6-liter V-6 boasting 285 horsepower and 260 foot-pounds of torque. It's more than enough for this 3,700-pound machine. Zero-to-60 acceleration was observed at 7.1 seconds. Sixty-to-zero braking was measured at 130 feet, a fairly long distance for the class. It's probably due to this SUV's standard mud and snow tires, which aren't designed to stop on a dime. Replacing these tires with summer-type rubber will lead to much better braking numbers and longer tire wear. For off-roading, though, the original tires are what you need.

The Jeep Wrangler was EPA-rated at 16 city and 20 highway. Observed using regular gas was 13 city and 16 highway.

For an SUV designed to work well off-road, the ride was two notches above "acceptable." Handling was nimble, but be careful: With the Jeep's high center of gravity, rollover accidents are possible.

Your dealer will try to sell you an extended warranty - one that's useful after the five year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty has expired and the three-year, 36,000-mile bumper-to-bumper guarantee is just a memory. Read it carefully for exclusions and co-pays, then buy the best you can afford. A caveat: Don't expect the dealer to foot the bill for fixing components that were broken during overly enthusiastic off-roading.

Overall, the Jeep Wrangler is a fantastic off-road vehicle, but for commuting or for use as a grocery-getter, there are much, much better choices. The Jeep Wrangler seems to defy time ... and there's a high probability it will be produced for many, many years to come.
Read more here: 2015 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited: Rugged SUV is right for off-road enthusiasts | National Business News |
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