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2016 Jeep Wrangler: New Car Review

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by Autotrader March 2016

It could be argued that the 2016 Jeep Wrangler is the best off-roader ever. It's certainly one of the only vehicles where fun and freedom can win out over caution and logic. Despite a lack of modern safety features, reasonable fuel consumption and sophisticated design, the Wrangler and its 4-door sibling, the Wrangler Unlimited, are among the best-known, most-loved vehicles, both on the road and off it.

The freedom to roam where and when you want -- and not worry about getting stuck -- is dear to Wrangler owners' hearts. It allows you to travel topless, doorless and even without a windshield if the whim takes you. Embracing the minimalist, function-over-form cabin and opting for the most affordable model requires only a sacrifice of creature comforts, not capability.

And in a way, the Wrangler follows a certain logic. It's a tool for a specific task. Because of that, it also enjoys surprisingly strong resale values, estimated to retain 54.9 percent of its value over 5 years.

The Unlimited expands the fun to those who need a genuine back seat with dedicated doors. Both models are available with removable soft-tops or hardtop shells. No matter which version you choose, you'll be throwing caution (if not logic) to the wind, and that's part of the joy of owning one of these truly iconic Jeeps.

What's New for 2016?

The whole range has some new paint colors: Rhino Mojave Sand, Hypergreen, Billet Silver, Black, Bright White, Firecracker Red, Granite Crystal, Hydro Blue and Tank. The Sahara version receives a modified logo, body-colored bumpers and some metallic accents inside and out. It also has optional Olive Green leather upholstery with Cattle Tan stitching. And there are several special Wrangler editions with various cosmetic and hardware combinations.

What We Like

Open-air cockpit; phenomenal off-road ability; wide range of trims and prices; chunky styling; it's a Jeep

What We Don't

Poor fuel economy; poor crash-test scores; uncomfortable rear seats; removing the roof is less than straightforward

How Much?

$24,490-$37,490

Fuel Economy

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. There's no price difference between the transmissions, so it's all down to personal preference. Four-wheel drive with a dual-range transfer case is standard, while the Rubicon model gets an extra-aggressive crawl ratio for even more rock-crawling talent.

The Environmental Protection Agency rates the regular Wrangler at 17 miles per gallon in the city, 21 mpg on the highway and 18 mpg combined with either transmission. The Unlimited with the manual transmission achieves 16 mpg city/21 mpg hwy/18 mpg combined, while the automatic transmission delivers 16 mpg city/20 mpg hwy/18 mpg combined.

Standard Features & Options

The 2016 Jeep Wrangler is offered with two or four doors (Unlimited) and in three main trim levels: Sport, Sahara and Rubicon.

The Sport ($24,490) starts with 16-inch steel wheels, all-terrain tries, a black removable soft-top, fog lights, manual accessories, a tilt-adjustable steering wheel, cruise control, a height-adjustable driver's seat and an 8-speaker audio system with steering-wheel-mounted controls and an auxiliary input. The Sport Unlimited ($28,290) adds the bigger 4-door body, air conditioning and a larger gas tank.

The Sahara ($30,890) has 18-in alloy wheels, an upgraded suspension with gas shocks, automatic headlights, body-color fender flares, silver bumper trim, heated exterior mirrors, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, air conditioning, a 115-volt power outlet, power accessories and an optional body-color hardtop. The Sahara Unlimited ($34,690) is similarly equipped and has tubular side steps.

The hardcore Rubicon ($33,690) features 17-in alloy wheels, a performance suspension, the special Rock-Trac 4-wheel-drive system with an electronically disconnecting front anti-roll bar, heavy-duty axles, front and rear electronically locking differentials, rock rails and manual accessories. The Rubicon Unlimited ($37,490) is similarly equipped.

It's the stuff you don't often see that still makes a difference. For example, the Wrangler's oil system is designed to keep the lubrication flowing even when the vehicle is at an extreme angle. And the alternator is placed high enough in the engine bay to stay dry and functional when wading through water. These are important considerations when there isn't even a road for miles around, let alone a repair shop.

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 and a 9-speaker Alpine sound system with a subwoofer are optional across the lineup, while the Sahara and Rubicon can be outfitted with a touchscreen interface that includes navigation.

Various customization options and special-edition models can be explored on the Jeep website or at your local dealer.

Safety

It's just the basic safety equipment here, such as dual front airbags, anti-lock disc brakes, traction control and roll bars. Front-side airbags are a cost option.

The government has not crash-tested the Wrangler, but the independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave the 2-door version a worrying report card, including Poor (the worst score of four) for the side-impact test and Marginal (second-worst) for both the small-overlap front test and the head-restraint/seat test. The Unlimited did slightly better, earning a Marginal in the side-impact test. Both models were deemed Good (the best score) in the moderate-overlap front test.

Note that IIHS only tested 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. It's easy to manage under normal driving conditions, though, 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's to be expected. The V6 provides decent power, and the manual transmission is surprisingly fun to use.

Where the Wrangler shines is away from the pavement. The base 4x4 system is remarkably adept at tackling snow, mud, sand and rocks. Unfortunately, unlike more modern 4-wheel-drive systems, the Wrangler can't operate at highway speeds with its 4-wheel-drive system engaged. Serious off-road enthusiasts should check out the Rubicon, which features an electronically detachable front anti-roll bar, heavy-duty Dana 44 axles and a 73.1:1 crawl ratio that lets you bushwhack at speeds as low as half a mile an hour.

Other Cars to Consider

2016 Toyota 4Runner -- The 4Runner offers a combination of capability and reliability that has delighted off-road enthusiasts for years.

2016 Toyota Tacoma -- Admittedly, this is a pickup truck, but the TRD Off-Road version can go just as far into the wild as a Wrangler.

2016 Jeep Grand Cherokee -- The Grand Cherokee provides great off-road ability and the legendary Jeep name, but with better safety and a more carlike ride and interior.

Used Toyota FJ Cruiser -- Although it's now discontinued, the FJ Cruiser remains a highly competent off-road vehicle with more civility than the Jeep. The fixed roof produces plenty of blind spots, however.

Autotrader's Advice

It doesn't come cheap, but we like the Sahara because it has plenty of standard features. The beauty of the Wrangler is that you can build it virtually any way you want. Just make sure to specify those side airbags. The Sport is the best seller, though. It's a good starting point for the many options (from Jeep and from the aftermarket) that a dedicated off-roader might choose.

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Used 2016 Jeep Wrangler 4WD Unlimited Sport
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Used 2016 Jeep Wrangler 4WD Unlimited Sport
Used 2016 Jeep Wrangler
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Used 2016 Jeep Wrangler 4WD Unlimited Sport
Used 2016 Jeep Wrangler
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Used 2016 Jeep Wrangler 4WD Unlimited Sport
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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.
2016 Jeep Wrangler: New Car Review - Autotrader