The pros and cons of owning a Jeep Wrangler
The MotorTrend Garage is constantly filled with drool-worthy long- and short-termers, but nevertheless our plucky 2019 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon remains one of our more popular fleet regulars. We typically aim to crest 20,000 hard miles by the time our yearlong loans run up, but our Wrangler is within spitting distance of that number with five months left until it departs. Given how much time we’ve spent in our Jeep, here’s a list of things I like and don’t like about our Wrangler that I haven’t covered in previous updates.
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Looking at it: Design is often what draws a buyer into a showroom, and in that department, the Wrangler is far and away one of the best-looking vehicles on the road (or off it). Even seven months in I still find myself looking back over my shoulder at our firetruck red Jeep after I park it. Its iconic lines are like a greatest hits of Jeep design: Its notched seven-slot grille recalls the CJ, its lighting elements the TJ Wrangler, and its flat fenders and body lines the original military Willys MB and Ford GPW. As a huge fan of simple and functional design, I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of looking at our Wrangler.
Great interior: Just like the exterior team, Jeep’s interior design team hit it out of the park, too. Our Wrangler’s interior effectively blends old Jeep styling cues—such as its upright dash and exposed rollbars—with modern conveniences and comforts, such as an 8.4-inch Uconnect infotainment system, power windows, and automatic air conditioning. Furthermore, despite the abuse we’ve put our Wrangler through so far, its cabin is holding up well. The leather seats show no obvious signs of wear and tear, the switchgear all works perfectly, and the removable hard-top panels have remained leak- and draft-free, even in pouring rain and snow.
How approachably capable it is: This is a bit of a no-brainer, but it’s truly shocking how capable our Wrangler is—and while many off-roaders are moving to various electronic off-road modes, the Wrangler proves you don’t really need them. Simply engage four-wheel drive with a simple lever, and this Jeep will go just about anywhere. Need more traction? Four low ought to solve your trouble. And if it doesn’t, idiot-proof front and rear differential locks and the Rubicon’s front anti-roll bar disconnect—which improves articulation and ride quality off-road—will almost certainly do the trick.
We Don’t Like
Wildly fluctuating fuel economy: We covered this in our last update, so I’ll be brief. Our Wrangler’s real-world fuel economy varies wildly based on outside conditions. Due to the Wrangler’s un-aerodynamic shape, highway fuel economy has varied widely, from a self-reported 14 mpg average over a tank of fuel on a windy day to about 23 mpg with a tailwind. Although mileage obviously varies, the Jeep’s fluctuating fuel economy can make route planning around fuel for long road trips and adventures a bit of a pain. We’ll dive further into the Wrangler’s observed fuel economy come verdict time.
On-center steering feel: The more I drive our Wrangler, the less enamored I am of its on-center steering feel. With a solid front axle, a slow steering rack, and big, heavy 33-inch off-road tires, the Wrangler has a tendency to subtly wander back and forth in its lane at highway speeds. It makes long highway drives far more draining than they should be, especially if, like me, you’re nursing a wrist injury.
Our Wrangler was recalled in September to get a new steering damper installed—designed to combat the highway bump “death wobble” that some customers of 2018 model year JL Wranglers complained of (and an issue our Jeep never experienced)—but the lack of on-center feel nevertheless persists.
Its rear hatch: I’m nitpicking, but I’d love to see Jeep rethink the means of access to the Wrangler’s cargo area. Like it has been since at least as far back as the Jeep CJ-7, our Wrangler’s cargo area is accessed by pulling the lower door and swinging it out toward the passenger side and then by lifting up the hard top’s rear glass. (The process is made more difficult on soft-top Wranglers, as the whole fabric panel needs to be popped off and back on again.) The reasons the rear hatch is designed this way are pretty obvious—it allows Jeep to mount a full-size spare on the door, and it makes it easier to offer both a hard and soft top—but it makes loading groceries, suitcases, and other odds and ends a hassle.
That being said, I’m also not sure I have a better solution. A one-piece rear hatch is off the table as long as the Wrangler continues to offer a soft top, and moving the spare tire would be difficult because, unlike the Gladiator, it wouldn’t fit underneath the Wrangler or Wrangler Unlimited, and it’d barely fit in the cargo area. Similarly, a pickup-style swing-down tailgate would be nice, but it’d still likely add an additional step of moving the spare tire to gain access to the cargo area. It seems like Jeep’s current solution is the lesser of all evils, even if it does pose a minor inconvenience.
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