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This 2006 Jeep Wrangler Is the Best Worst Car I've Ever Driven

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author photo by Will Kinton February 2017

My wife and I recently took a much needed vacation to the Hawaiian island of Kauai, and we rented a 2006 Jeep Wrangler TJ (in the rare long-wheelbase Unlimited body style) through Turo. After driving it over 600 miles throughout the small island over the course of a week, I've come to the conclusion that the Wrangler TJ is the best worst car I've ever driven.

The Wrangler TJ was an undeniably bad car, and I don't think I could live with one on a daily basis in the real world, which is something people clearly do. We drove up to the Kalalau Lookout at the top of the nearly indescribable Waimea Canyon, along a twisty route that climbs more than 4,000 feet over about 18 miles. The drive was incredibly beautiful, with spectacular views throughout the journey, but the Wrangler didn't make it easy. The road highlighted the Jeep's imprecise steering and featured corners that required turning the steering wheel over 90 degrees past center. The constant acceleration and braking required even at slow speeds caused the temperature gauge to climb a bit past center, which helped highlight how much this Wrangler was out of its element. I estimate that we got only slightly better than 10 mpg on this part of the trip.

The way down the mountain wasn't any better. Even though I was able to swap gasoline for gravity, the Wrangler's brakes were already hot from the trip up the canyon. I had to put it in a low gear and take corners with a bit of bravery, trying to minimize braking as much as possible. In a Miata or an FR-S, the road would have been one of the best driving roads I'd ever driven; in the Wrangler, it was just exhausting.

It wasn't great to drive on the highway, either. The Jeep really didn't like going over 50 mph, and at 60 mph it got pretty hairy. This is fine on Kauai, where the highest speed limit is 50 mph, but it would make the Wrangler terrible for daily driving anywhere else in the country.

The Wrangler was also bad for other reasons. The lights were pretty dim, there wasn't a single power accessory, the radio wasn't particularly good, the gas gauge would sometimes decide to stop working if you were sitting still for a while, and fully opening the trunk required you to partially disassemble the soft top. That soft top also makes it so that you can't leave anything valuable in a Wrangler, ever, because thieves can literally unzip their way into your car. While the Wrangler is a lot of fun to drive with the soft top down and the windows out, it's a bit of a process to take it down and put it back up -- so you'll get soaked if you encounter an unexpected rain shower, no matter what.

Despite its flaws, the Wrangler was also undeniably perfect for the trip. Kauai is the most undeveloped of the major Hawaiian Islands, completely full of dirt roads. The island is an off-roading paradise, which is probably why you see Raptors and jacked-up Tacomas everywhere. Even the parking lots can be rough going. At Ke'e Beach, one of the most popular beaches on the island, the primary parking lot was filled with large, sharp rocks and massive, deep mud puddles where we saw the jaggedly torn underbody plastic of a poor rental car floating discarded. The Jeep, of course, handled the lot without a problem.

The Wrangler exudes character. It's always encouraging you to push forward and explore more, because it'll probably be able to handle whatever's ahead. You can handle that dirt road, so why not see what's at the end of it? On an island where the scenery is constantly blowing your mind, this is a very good thing.

Yes, the Wrangler TJ may be objectively terrible as a car, but it was a fantastic companion for me and my wife throughout our trip. I honestly think it was the best possible car for that island, and I wouldn't hesitate to own one if I had use for it -- but only if I had use for it.

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Used 2006 Jeep Wrangler X
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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
This 2006 Jeep Wrangler Is the Best Worst Car I've Ever Driven - Autotrader