Test Drive : 2017 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited

Jeep Wrangler Unlimited at home where the off-road begins

F/dropcap]or 30 years now, the Jeep Wrangler has been the embodiment of its brand. Whether people know anything about cars or not, they will successfully identify a Wrangler as a Jeep. The boxy silhouette and signature grille have remained virtually the same for three decades. Just like for Porsche or even Lamborghini’s designs, the Wrangler is an icon and every new generation is a variation on the same theme.

To me, and to most people I’m sure, the Wrangler also seems to come with a certain lifestyle. Adventure is the copilot, whether the owner tackles mud pits in the woods or or some sick waves at the beach. And if the driver has beach-blond hair, a tan and is wearing a tank top, you automatically become envious of how awesome their life must be.

The truth is, most Wrangler owners aren’t living the lifestyle we think they are. What keeps people coming back is its incredible four-wheel drive system. And while I understand the concept, the Wrangler is a raw version in today’s soft-touch off-road marketplace and not for the faint of heart.

I’ve had this conversation with an ex who owned one and lived in the Old City of Montreal, commuting to work and back. Despite saying he enjoyed feeling the wind in his hair when we first met, I never saw him once take the panels off. His real main reason for purchasing a Wrangler, however, was that he did not want to get stuck. Not that he was an off-roading enthusiast; he was a snow shovelling hater. But with more vehicles equipped with the all-wheel drive, ready to challenge our Canadian winters than ever before, his argument seemed thin.

Under the hood,  a 3.6L Pentastar V6 engine is powering the SUV through mud and snow with 285 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. Those are promising numbers, however you realize quickly that in a daily setting of highway and street driving, the Wrangler is anything but agile. The steering wheel feels loose under the hands yet heavy when maneuvering the vehicle.

Acceleration is slow and sluggish. It will get you to your desired speed point, but you will have to be patient. The brake pedal feels soft and unresponsive. You feel the weight of the vehicle in every action you take. It became obvious to me very early on that the Wrangler is in no way meant to be driven at 100 km/h on the highway to get you to work. I almost felt like the truck was bored with daily tasks. With its long suspension travel and all-terrain tires, it begged to get dirty.

So I took it off road, in a proper off-the-beaten-path setting in the Niagara region. That’s when the real fun began and the Wrangler got to show off its personality. With muddy water up to the door sills and piles of gravel to climb onto, this Jeep was freed from its cage and set free into its natural environment.

It championed through snow, ice, mud and dirt like it was nobody’s business. The meaty V6 engine teamed with the five-speed automatic transmission delivered good, sturdy power at low rpm. No mountain was too high, no valley was too low. The vehicle is equipped with a Command-Trac shift that allows the driver to engage the low and high-gear four-wheel drive. But even in standard two-wheel drive, the SUV shows no hesitation going through the obstacles, even with all the power directed to the back.

The Wrangler is also one of the last few sport utility vehicle offered with a manual transmission, in this case a six-speed box. This is definitely where the Wrangler belongs. In case you are wondering, the truck also offers excellent towing capacity, between 907kg and 1,587kg depending on the trim level.

Despite being the worthy descendant of the rugged, World War II Jeep Willys, the modern Wrangler offers quite a few more luxuries. Enjoying the outdoors doesn’t mean you can’t also enjoy some convenience on the inside. The Unlimited Sahara edition I drove was equipped with FCA’s UConnect infotainment system with a 6.5-inch touchscreen and navigation, a 115-volt power outlet, heated sideview mirrors, a removable hardtop, remote start, heated seats, a Torx tool-kit because it’s cool to have your car-matching wrench kit, as well as a lot of storage compartments.

The interior space is very versatile and access to the cargo area at the back is easy. After all, a box is optimized for storage and being shaped like one has its perks.

I like the Jeep Wrangler, it is a warrior and is making its ancestor proud. It is the undeniable king of the mountain and you will have as much fun as it will getting to the top. But if your plan is to get a Wrangler and drive it to the grocery store and back, be kind. Take it out for a proper ride every so often.


2017 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara

Price (before taxes) : $50,540.00
Freight : $1,795.00
Configuration : front engine / rear-wheel drive (4WD)
Engine/Transmission : 3.6 L Pentastar V6 / 5-speed automatic
Power/Torque : 285 hp / 260 lb-ft
Fuel (Capacity) : Regular (85 L)
Combined fuel economy : 13.4 L / 100 km
Competitors : Chevrolet Colorado, Ford F-150, Nissan Titan, Ram 1500, Toyota 4Runner

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