2016 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Review: Get away from civilization
— Montreal, Quebec
The 2016 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited and its two-door Wrangler Unlimited sibling charm Canadian customers with a very simple promise: the taming of the wild. Slip behind the wheel, the Wrangler twins chime, and together we'll level every mountain, pave every trail, and ford every stream.
Or at the very least, it feels that way. The Jeep Wrangler Unlimited's ability to legitimately parse even the roughest of terrain makes it one of the few true off-road warriors left in an SUV market filled with pretenders, and its raw, back-to-basics design eschews the litany of driver's aids found in more modern rivals that surgically remove much of the adrenaline associated with leaving civilization behind in the rear view mirror.
The Wrangler Unlimited's unique go-anywhere approach asks owners to make more than a few sacrifices.
Of course, the Wrangler Unlimited's unique go-anywhere approach asks owners to make more than a few sacrifices. Much of the Jeep's chassis specifications read like a history lesson, with its body-on-frame design perched over a set of solid Dana axles front and rear, which are in turn supported by a simple coil suspension that harkens back to the early days of automotive engineering. This is entirely on purpose, of course - parent company Chrysler has poured significant resources into updating the chassis of other Jeep models, including the very capable Grand Cherokee - and it's the simplicity and durability of the Wrangler's old-school philosophy that has made it such an icon in the decades since it was first adapted from military to civilian use.
The end result is a tale of two very different driving experiences. On solid asphalt the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited struggles to track straight and true, its steering coming across as numb and uncommunicative and its rugged suspension displaying a tendency to crash and bang when most other sport-utility vehicles would retain their composure. This is especially true when riding on enormous, knobby all-terrain tires and a modest suspension lift, as we did in our Mopar-modified test vehicle (which featured a range of factory-installed accessories).
The more distance you put between the Jeep and the nearest Wal-Mart, the better it gets.
Trade stoplights for starlight, however, and the more distance you put between the Jeep and the nearest Wal-Mart, the better it gets. When traipsing through a rocky mountain pass, sitting up to its (removable) doors in mud, or dealing with whiteout blizzard conditions, the Wrangler Unlimited truly comes into its own. It's here that you come to appreciate the Jeep's unbreakable axles, unflappable shocks and springs, and low-range four-wheel drive system, with the latter available in several different flavours (including rock-crawl ratios when found in Rubicon trim).
While its platform might hail from days gone by, the same can't be said for the 2016 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited's drivetrain. All versions of the vehicle feature the same 3.6-litre V6, a unit that also pulls duty in the Ram 1500 pickup truck. In the Wrangler, it can be counted on to provide 285 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque, numbers which are sufficient to maintain forward progress without the risk of overpowering available grip in more treacherous territory.
Transmission choices for the Jeep include a five-speed automatic and a long-stalk six-speed manual. Our Unlimited was equipped with the latter, and while experienced off-roaders will appreciate it as yet another tool to use when charting out forward progress, you've got to be fairly confident in the precision of your clutch foot to avoid overheating the friction material should you find yourself needing to rock the vehicle out of a sticky situation.
If you can live with what you give up in the balance, then the Wrangler Unlimited's unmatched potential awaits.
Lacking the polish found in almost every other similarly-sized SUV on the market, how you feel about the Wrangler Unlimited's practicality will depend entirely on your perspective. If you're seeking rear-seat DVD entertainment to placate the kids, or ventilated leather seats, or, well, doors that aren't tethered to the vehicle's body with nylon straps, then the Jeep really isn't for you. At the other end of the spectrum, it's almost impossible to find a vehicle that can tackle even the most intimidating of off-road obstacles while carrying five passengers and a respectable amount of cargo in reasonable comfort - and that list is cut down to a sole entry if you'd also like to remove either the soft or hard tops that can be had with both Wrangler and Wrangler Unlimited models. Throw in factory accessories like a Warn winch, rock rails, and floodlights, and you've got a ticket out of the zombie apocalypse that you can also drive to work in the morning.
Attitude is everything in life, and ultimately that's what will colour your perceptions of what the 2017 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited has to offer. Given the model's enduring popularity, and the almost rabid devotion that the Wrangler's fan base has towards its unbending character in the face of increasing numbers of 'soft' road SUVs, it seems likely that most potential buyers know what they are getting into before they head out for a test drive. If you can live with what you give up in the balance, then the Wrangler Unlimited's unmatched potential awaits. If you'd rather not be reminded of the good old days every time you try to park, steer, or access more than a basic level of functionality when linking your mobile device via Bluetooth, then your attention would best be directed towards the other side of the Jeep showroom.
Photos: Benjamin Hunting / Motor1 Canada