What does it say when a vehicle not known for outstanding safety features, excellent gas mileage or sophisticated suspension is also one of the best-known, most-loved vehicles on the road today? It says that sometimes fun and freedom trump caution and logic, and no vehicle says it better than the 2014 Jeep Wrangler and its elongated sibling, the Wrangler Unlimited.
The freedom to roam, to go where you want when you want and not worry about getting stuck is what Wrangler owners love most. The Wrangler lets you travel topless, doorless and even windshieldless if you feel like it. The Wrangler comes in a number of flavors, but they're all adept at handling off-road adventures. Opting for the most affordable Wrangler only requires sacrificing creature comforts, not capability.
Although its shape still strongly resembles the original CJs of the 70s and 80s, the 2-door 2014 Jeep Wrangler is larger in both length and width. The 4-door Unlimited expands the Wrangler's fun to those who need a legitimate back seat with dedicated doors. Both models are available with removable soft-top or hardtop shells. No matter which Wrangler you choose, you'll be throwing caution (and logic) to the wind, and that's half the fun of owning one of these iconic Jeeps.
What's New for 2014?
The 2014 Wrangler is basically unchanged.
What We Like
Open-air cockpit; great off-road ability; wide variety of trims and prices; it's a Jeep
What We Don't
Poor fuel economy; subpar crash-test scores; uncomfortable rear seat
All Wranglers are powered by a 3.6-liter V6 engine rated at 285 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. Two transmissions are offered: a 6-speed manual and a 5-speed automatic. Four-wheel drive with a dual-range transfer case is standard, while the Rubicon model gets special low-range gearing for even more off-road capability.
The Environmental Protection Agency rates the regular Wrangler at 17 miles per gallon city/21 mpg hwy regardless of transmission, while the Wrangler Unlimited drops to 16 mpg city/21 mpg hwy with the manual and 16 mpg city/20 mpg hwy with the automatic.
Standard Features & Options
The 2014 Jeep Wrangler is offered with two or four doors (Unlimited) in three trim levels: Sport, Sahara and Rubicon.
The Sport ($23,390) starts with 16-inch steel wheels, a black convertible soft-top, fog lights, manual accessories, a tilt steering wheel, cruise control, a height-adjustable driver seat and a 6-speaker audio system with steering-wheel-mounted controls and an auxiliary audio jack. The Sport Unlimited ($27,190) adds the larger 4-door body and air conditioning.
The Sahara ($29,090) boasts 18-in alloy wheels, a heavy-duty suspension with gas shocks, tubular side steps, automatic headlights, body-color fender flares, silver bumper trim, heated exterior mirrors, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, air conditioning, 115-volt household-style power outlet, power accessories, heated mirrors, a premium Alpine sound system with satellite radio and an optional body-color hardtop (the lesser trims offer only a black hardtop). The Sahara Unlimited ($32,790) is similarly equipped.
The hardcore Rubicon ($31,990) features 17-in alloy wheels, a performance suspension, a special Rock-Trac 4-wheel-drive system with an electronically disconnecting front sway bar, a heavy-duty front axle, front and rear locking differentials, rock rails, the Alpine stereo and manual accessories. The Rubicon Unlimited ($35,690) is similarly equipped.
Options are extensive and include many items that may be standard on other trims. If you want a Rubicon with power accessories, for example, Jeep will be happy to oblige. Bluetooth/USB connectivity is optional across the lineup, as is a touchscreen interface for the dashboard, while the Sahara and Rubicon can be outfitted with an upgraded touchscreen that includes navigation. Extensive customization options can be explored on the Jeep website or at your local dealer.
The 2014 Wrangler comes with just the basics on the safety front, including dual front airbags, anti-lock disc brakes, traction control and roll bars. Front side airbags are an extra-cost option.
The government has not crash-tested the Wrangler, but the independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave the 2-door Wrangler a worrisome report card, including Poor (the worst score of four) in the side-impact test and Marginal (second worst) in both the small overlap front test and the head restraints/seats test. The Wrangler Unlimited improved to Marginal in the side-impact test. Both models were deemed Good (the best score) in the moderate overlap front test.
Note that IIHS tested only Wranglers without the optional side airbags.
Behind the Wheel
Considering its solid front and rear axles, 10-in ground clearance and off-road tires, the Wrangler can't be expected to handle well by modern SUV standards. But the Wrangler is easy to manage under normal driving conditions, with good feedback from the steering and fairly level cornering at reasonable speeds. The ride is still rough, and there's not much shelter from wind and road noise, but that is to be expected. The Pentastar V6 provides good power, especially with the manual transmission, which is surprisingly fun to operate.
Where the Wrangler shines is off the pavement. The base 4x4 system is remarkably adept at tackling snow, mud and sand. Unfortunately, unlike more modern 4-wheel-drive systems, the Wrangler cannot operate at highway speeds with its 4-wheel-drive system engaged. Serious off-road enthusiasts will love the Rubicon, which features an electronically detachable front sway bar, a heavy-duty Dana 44 front axle and a 73:1 crawl ratio that lets you bushwhack at speeds as low as half a mile an hour.
Other Cars to Consider
Toyota FJ Cruiser -- The FJ Cruiser is a competent off-road vehicle with more creature comforts, but its fixed roof produces more than its share of blind spots.
Nissan Xterra -- Like the FJ Cruiser, the Xterra is a more civilized SUV that can nonetheless conquer some pretty tough trails.
Jeep Grand Cherokee -- If you're looking for great off-road ability in a vehicle that carries the legendary Jeep name but offers better safety and a more carlike ride and interior, you'll be happier in a Grand Cherokee.
It doesn't come cheap, but we love the Sahara. Its body-color fenders and matching hardtop make it look like a miniature Mercedes-Benz G-Class, and it comes with enough standard features to keep us happy. But the beauty of the Wrangler is that you can have one built just about any way you like. Don't forget to specify those side airbags, though.