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2021 Jeep Wrangler Review

The Jeep Wrangler is the off-road brand’s iconic go-anywhere vehicle. Its roots date to World War II, and continual improvements have kept it both relevant and in-demand. Its latest revamp was three years ago, which makes this model still feel fresh.

The 2021 Wrangler is a legit off-roader, so much so that it prioritizes treading challenging terrain over polished highway manners. It uses a rugged body-on-frame chassis and is the only SUV sold in the United States that uses both front and solid rear axles. This makes it a champion for crawling over rocks and other tough terrain, but it isn’t all that comfortable for basic commuting. The Wrangler prefers dirt to asphalt, the wilderness to suburbia.

The 2021 Jeep Wrangler is available as a 2-door or 4-door, and all models come with a soft fabric top that can be removed (along with the doors) for open-air fun. A hardtop is optional.

Several powertrains are available. As standard, the Wrangler comes with a V6 gasoline engine and 6-speed manual transmission. Other choices include a turbocharged 4-cylinder, V6 with mild-hybrid assist, and a turbodiesel V6, plus the new-for-2021 V8-powered Wrangler Rubicon 392 and Wrangler 4xe plug-in hybrid (PHEV). All those models use the more popular 8-speed automatic transmission.

For years Jeep’s Wrangler has flourished with few rivals outside the Toyota 4Runner. That is changing with the introduction of the new Ford Bronco and Land Rover Defender, two reborn off-roaders vying for adventurer’s dollars. Let the off-road games begin.

What’s New for 2021?

The biggest news for the 2021 Jeep Wrangler is the new Wrangler 392 with a 470-horsepower V8 and the 4xe PHEV model.

A Jeep Wrangler with almost 500 horsepower? Yes, it sounds preposterous, but here we are. The new Wrangler Rubicon 392 is a 4-door, limited-edition Jeep that packs a 6.4-liter V8 with 470 horsepower and 470 lb-ft of torque under its hood. It comes paired to an 8-speed automatic and, thanks to all-wheel drive, will run through 0-60-mph in just 4.5 seconds and the quarter-mile in 13 seconds flat. This wild machine goes on sale in early 2021.

The plug-in hybrid Jeep Wrangler 4xe pairs a turbocharged 4-cylinder gasoline engine with two electric motors — one that serves as a belt-driven starter/generator and another inside the transmission case that propels the vehicle. It is both powerful and efficient, with 375 horsepower, 21 miles of electric-only range, and an EPA combined rating of 49 miles per gallon equivalent.

Also new for 2021 is the TrailCam front camera for Wranglers with an 8.4-inch display. Off-Road Plus, which adjusts throttle, transmission, and traction settings, is standard on Rubicon models. The turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder with eTorque hybrid assist is dropped, while all V6 models with an automatic transmission get the eTorque system. Two USB charge ports are available, and Select Tire Fill Alert is standard on models with a 7- or 8.4-inch touchscreen.

Finally, an 80th Anniversary edition is available, as is the beach-themed Islander edition. See the 2021 Jeep Wrangler models for sale near you

What We Like

  • Go-anywhere off-road capabilities
  • Removable roof and doors
  • Distinctive style and driving experience
  • Variety of powertrains
  • Excellent resale value
  • New 4xe has 21 miles of all-electric range

What We Don’t

  • Solid front axle means poor on-road driving dynamics
  • Removable roof and doors result in added road and wind noise

How Much?

$28,295-$73,500 (plus destination fee)

Fuel Economy

The 2021 Jeep Wrangler has several powertrains available, and that is only set to grow this year with the 4x4e model. Here’s how it all plays out.

As standard, the Jeep Wrangler comes with a 3.6-liter V6 good for 285 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. This engine is connected to a 6-speed manual transmission and earns 17 mpg city/25 mpg highway/20 mpg combined for 2-door models. The 4-door Wrangler Unlimited with this setup earns 17 mpg city/23 mpg hwy/19 mpg combined.

For 2021, Wrangler models with the optional 8-speed automatic transmission use a 3.6-liter V6 with mild-hybrid eTorque assist. This doesn’t change the power output over the other V6 but slightly improves fuel efficiency over last year. With this setup, 2-door Wranglers earn figures of 20 mpg city/24 mpg hwy/21 mpg combined. Four-door models are EPA-rated at 19 mpg city/24 mpg hwy/21 mpg combined.

Optional on all Wrangler models is a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder good for 270 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. It only comes with the automatic and further enhances fuel economy: 22 mpg city/24 mpg hwy/23 mpg combined in the 2-door Wrangler and 21 mpg city/24 mpg hwy/22 mpg combined in the 4-door Wrangler.

The turbodiesel option is a 3.0-liter V6 rated at 260 hp and a satisfying 442 lb-ft of torque. The diesel is limited to the 4-door Wrangler Unlimited and comes exclusively with an 8-speed automatic transmission and the heavy-duty Dana 44 axles typically reserved for the Rubicon trim. The EPA rates Wrangler Unlimited models with this engine at 22 mpg city/29 mpg hwy/25 mpg combined. Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon models with it earn 21 mpg city/26 mpg hwy/23 mpg combined.

V8-powered Rubicon 392 models — good for 470 horsepower and no apologies — net you 13 mpg city/17 mpg highway/14 mpg combined.

The new 2021 Jeep Wrangler 4xe (pronounced “4 by E” and available only as a 4-door) ties a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine and two electric motors, one inside the transmission housing. Total system output is an impressive 375 horsepower, which is complemented by a whopping 475 lb-ft of torque.

According to the EPA, the Wrangler 4xe can travel 21 miles on electricity alone, and it has a combined rating of 49 MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent) when driven in its Hybrid mode. Running strictly on gasoline, such as in the E-Save drive mode, the 4xe has an EPA combined rating of 20 mpg. Total range of the 4xe is 370 miles.

Standard Features & Options

The 2021 Jeep Wrangler is offered in four main trims: Sport, Sport S, Sahara, and Rubicon. The Sport, Sport S, and Rubicon trims are available in both 2-door and 4-door configurations, while the more the Sahara, with its enhanced creature comforts, is available exclusively as a 4-door. Altitude editions of the Sport S and Sahara add more standard features. There are also special-edition Wranglers for 2021: the Willys models based on Sport and Sport S trims, and the nearly $50,000 Wrangler Unlimited High Altitude. Prices shown are for 2-door and 4-door variants (or 4-door only models) and exclude the Wrangler’s $1,495 destination fee.

The Wrangler Sport ($28,295-$31,795) comes standard with the 3.6-liter V6, a 6-speed manual transmission, 4-wheel drive, 17-in steel wheels, all-season tires, skid plates, hill-start assist, fog lights, a backup camera, a 6-way manual adjust driver’s seat, a tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel, cruise control, a 5-in touchscreen infotainment system, a USB port, and an 8-speaker audio system. Air conditioning is optional on the 2-door but is standard on the 4-door Unlimited. A limited-slip rear differential is also optional. This model is so basic that it lacks power windows and door locks.

The Wrangler Willys Sport ($30,240-$33,740) has a military-like appearance. It adds a black grille, black low-gloss aluminum wheels with 32-inch Mud Terrain tires, heavy-duty shocks, and rock rails, heavy-duty brakes, Trac-Lok limited-slip rear differential, and Willy decals.

The Sport S ($32,435-$35,935) adds power locks, mirrors, and windows, plus 17-in alloy wheels, keyless entry, and a security alarm. It also opens the door to other options, including the Convenience Group (remote ignition and a universal garage door opener) and the Technology Group (air conditioning with automatic climate control, a 7-in Uconnect touchscreen with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, an instrument cluster display and satellite radio). As with the Sport, a limited-slip rear differential is optional on the Sport S.

The Willys ($34,930-$38,430) builds on the Sport S, has similar aesthetics and heavy-duty features as the Willys Sport, plus adds more features like LED headlights and fog lights,

The Altitude ($37,630) comes with black accents, 18-in gloss black wheels, a hardtop, a hardtop headliner, and a heavy-duty suspension.

The Sahara ($38,890) is available only as a 4-door and has a higher level of refinement and amenities. Standard on the Sahara is silver headlight surrounds, silver accents on the bumper, body-colored fenders, 18-in alloy wheels, side steps, dual-zone automatic climate control, 7-in touchscreen display with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto. The Sahara can also be had with a power-retractable “Sky” one-touch convertible top, although this option costs an eye-watering $4,000. Other options include leather seats, an 8.4-inch touchscreen with navigation, and heated front seats and steering wheel.

The Sahara Altitude ($42,185) adds a body-colored hardtop with the hardtop headliner, 18-in gloss black wheels, and some other black accents.

The Rubicon ($38,940-$73,500) is the most off-road-oriented Wrangler. It includes heavy-duty Dana 44 front/rear axles, front/rear electronic locking differentials, an electronically disconnecting front swaybar, 4:1 low-range gearing, rock rails, all-terrain tires, taller fender flares, unique wheels and styling elements, automatic headlights, upgraded cloth upholstery, a 115-volt power outlet, a second USB port and the contents from the Convenience and Technology groups. Heavy-duty winch-capable bumpers are optional. It is also available with the 8.4-in screen with navigation and a cold-weather package that includes heated front seats, heated steering wheel, and remote-start system (automatic transmission only).

The Jeep Wrangler 4xe, the new PHEV model, is available in three trim levels. The 4xe Sahara ($47,995) is a luxurious model with leather-trimmed seats, 20-inch wheels, and an 8.4-inch Uconnect screen. The 4xe Rubicon ($51,695) has all the off-road hardware of the standard Rubicon, and the 4xe High Altitude ($53,815) model exudes luxury with its 20-inch wheels, Nappa leather seats, and 8.4-inch touchscreen navigation.

The Rubicon 392 ($73,500) is the top Wrangler in the lineup, so most of the expensive options come standard along with a full leather interior. You’ll know a 392 by the bronze badges and graphics along with that massive hood scoop borrowed from the Jeep Gladiator Mojave.

With 470 horsepower and a 4.5-second 0-to-60 time, the 392 patrols muscle car territory. But this is also a Rubicon, so it’s got all the trail tools, including locking differentials and a disconnecting front swaybar. Plus, the 392 has a slightly taller suspension and a new air intake with a unique Hydro Guide system that can gulp fresh air even if the nose of the Jeep is partially submerged. Oh, and it can ford 32.5 inches of water too. The Rubicon 392 has a new quad-tipped exhaust system that defaults to a quiet setting, but can be fully opened up with the push of a new button on the dashboard. When the performance mode is engaged or the gas is floored — you hear this Jeep’s ferocious roar.

The High Altitude ($49,995) is a premium version of the Wrangler. This 4-door model includes 20-in wheels, Nappa leather seats, a standard 8.4-in touchscreen with navigation, LED lighting, and blind-spot monitoring.

Most Wranglers can be optioned with the turbocharged engine, an 8-speed automatic, a tow package, and a black, 3-piece modular hardtop. The hardtop can be body-colored in the Rubicon and Sahara. A premium soft-top is optional on every 4-door Wrangler and the 2-door Rubicon.

All but the Sport are eligible for the following packages. The Active Safety Group adds rear parking sensors, a blind-spot monitoring system, and LED taillights. The Advanced Safety Group adds those items plus adaptive cruise control and forward-collision warning with automatic emergency braking. The Cold Weather Group adds heated front seats and a heated steering wheel.

The Rubicon and Sahara can be equipped with the Infotainment Group that adds an 8.4-in Uconnect touchscreen, an auto-dimming mirror, and a 9-speaker sound system (available separately). The LED Lighting Group adds LED headlights, fog lights, parking lights, and daytime running lights. Leather upholstery and a headliner for the hardtop are also optional.

Safety

The Wrangler is available with active safety and driver-assist features like a forward-collision warning with automatic emergency braking, full-speed adaptive cruise control, automatic high beams, blind-spot monitoring, and a park assist system.

Every Wrangler comes with only front- and side-impact airbags. Given its convertible top, there are no curtain airbags. Per federal regulations, a rearview camera and stability control are also included.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) does not give an overall safety rating for the Jeep Wrangler, but 2020 models earned 4 out 5 stars in frontal crash and rollover tests. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave the Wrangler 4-door Good ratings in four of five categories — in the small overlap front test, the driver-side earned only a Marginal rating.

Behind the Wheel

This newest generation of the Wrangler, called the JL, is far more civilized than the old JK. Steering response and feel in particular are greatly improved, although its solid front axle suspension still yields a weird sawing response atypical of just about everything else on the road. Some may find it charming; others may find it spooky. Ride quality and visibility are also better than before. In general, it’s easier to live with a modern Wrangler on a day-to-day basis than in generations prior. We also love the JL’s soft-top roof design, which allows you to remove the rear panels for airflow but keep the top bit in place to prevent sunburns.

Inside, however, is where you will most appreciate the Wrangler’s newfound civility. The cabin is now more comfortable; materials are nicer, and available feature content is surprisingly generous. The latest Uconnect touchscreen infotainment systems — some of the most user-friendly in the industry — are particularly welcome. Still, you won’t find amenities like power front seats. That just isn’t the Wrangler’s game.

The JL Wrangler really begins its life when the pavement ends. It can go places you’d normally need a horse or helicopter to reach. Even a base Sport is a veritable mountain goat, but obviously, the Rubicon, with its locking front and rear differentials, better suspension, and all-terrain tires, is what you’ll really want for the toughest trails. We’d also recommend trying both the standard V6 and the new 4-cylinder turbo upgrade. Neither is a bad choice, but the turbo’s extra torque and better fuel economy are hard to argue with.

The diesel V6, however, is the engine we’d pick if you can swallow the extra cost. Its torque makes this Jeep feels like a real force to be reckoned with.

The V8-powered Wrangler Rubicon 392 is set up pretty similarly to all the other Wrangler Rubicons, though the added torque of the V8 is a welcome addition on the trail. Its standard 33-inch tires (all-terrain or mud-terrain — buyer’s choice) should probably be swapped out for 35s, as they better match the 392’s aggressive demeanor.

What the 392 adds to the equation is an additional inch of ride height over other Rubicon models (which themselves already sit higher than the base Wrangler), a full-time 4-wheel-drive system, and an exhaust that defaults to a quiet setting, but can be switched into “loud mode” via a button on the dashboard. This is a much-needed feature on other performance models from the Dodge/Jeep/Ram portfolio, and its inclusion here will serve to make the 392 far easier to live with day-to-day.

It’s especially nice to be able to leave the 392 in quiet mode when crawling over boulders at 8 miles per hour. You need to be able to hear your spotter after all.

As for overall performance, acceleration is brisk, to say the least. Jeep quotes the 392 at 4.5 seconds from 0-60. Additionally, all that extra torque is helpful in low-speed off-road situations. But the Wrangler’s always been great off-road — that’s the whole point — so beyond the extra twist, not a lot changes on technical trails, which is a good thing.

What stood out most about the 392 is how much more fun it is to drive fast off-road than a regular Wrangler, thanks to it having roughly 50% more power overall than the other two gas Wrangler powertrains. On dirt, that translates to huge smiles anytime you hammer the throttle and rooster tails of sand behind you anytime you carve through loose stuff.

Between the soft suspension, ample power, and raucous exhaust note (if you so choose to leave it in this setting), the Wrangler 392 amounts to a massively fun toy on the smooth, sandy, rolling trails you find throughout much of the western U.S.

We also recently sampled the new Jeep Wrangler 4xe PHEV in Texas. Our quick take: It’s an impressive vehicle, with a superb response to the accelerator pedal and abundant power. It hits 60 mph in 6 seconds flat.

This Jeep Wrangler PHEV runs on electricity until the battery gets low, at which point switches smoothly over to conventional gas/electric hybrid operation. With a full battery charge (which takes about 2.5 hours using a Level 2 charger), the new Jeep 4xe went 25 miles for us before the gas engine started. We admit to driving the Jeep fairly gently and even having the “Max-Regen” button pressed to capture as much of the lost kinetic energy as possible.

There are three pushbutton drive modes. In Hybrid, torque from the gas engine and electric motor is blended. In Electric, the 4xe relies strictly on its battery until it’s discharged or the driver fully depresses the accelerator pedal, which starts the gas engine. Finally, in E-Save, the Wrangler PHEV relies only on its gasoline engine, so the stored battery charge can be used later.

This works well if you plan to do any silent off-roading at your destination, which is exactly what Autotrader recently did in a new 2021 Jeep Wrangler 4xe. We drove a Wrangler 4xe Rubicon on some challenging trails in Texas, where we came away impressed.

With the engine not running, it’s an eerily silent experience. All you can hear are the BFGoodrich K02s grappling the dirt and the protected underbody occasionally scraping the rocks below. We climbed a 35-percent grade like it was not even there, so generous and immediate was the torque of the electric powertrain. And when we descended an even steeper grade to come back down, the hill-descent control kept everything calm, which we found especially comforting when it was tough to see what was directly in front of the Jeep.

Silent EV off-roading was a blast. With the Wrangler 4xe, the battery is said to last two or three hours on the trail, depending on how the vehicle’s driven. And when the battery does finally get exhausted, this Wrangler simply switches back to Hybrid mode and lets you go on your merry way with all the extraordinary capabilities of a standard Wrangler Rubicon.

This includes the ability to ford a 30-inch deep stream, plus having the same impressive approach and departure angles of a Wrangler Rubicon. Jeep, for the record, says the 400-volt battery is safe when wet, and it even works when fully submerged.

All told, the new 4xe thoroughly impressed us, and the highway manners are about what you’d expect of a Wrangler. In corners, though, the 4xe actually feels more composed than a standard Wrangler, perhaps because its rear-mounted battery, which weighs about 300 lb., makes for better overall fore/aft weight balance.

Other Cars to Consider

2020 Jeep Gladiator — The Gladiator is essentially a Wrangler with a bed, but it offers towing and payload capacity on par with other midsize trucks, such as the Toyota Tacoma and Ford Ranger. For just a few thousand dollars more than a Wrangler, the Gladiator offers added utility.

2021 Ford Bronco — While it hasn’t even been formally revealed yet, the new Ford Bronco is poised to become the Wrangler’s first true competitor in decades. While it’ll offer an independent front suspension for better on-road performance, expect the new Bronco to come with exceptional off-road capability, along with a removable roof and doors just like the Wrangler’s. If you don’t need a new vehicle right this second, it may be worth waiting to see what else Ford’s bringing to the table with the Bronco before buying a Wrangler

2021 Toyota 4Runner TRD Off-Road — Probably the closest competitor to the Wrangler that you can actually buy right now, the 4Runner offers exceptional reliability to go with its great off-road capability. Don’t get us wrong; its design is ancient, and its powertrain is relatively inefficient, but recent significant upgrades with regard to safety and infotainment help to keep it fresh.

2020 Land Rover Defender — While it’s generally more expensive than the mainstream Wrangler trims, the new Defender’s starting price of just under $50,000 positions it to compete with a well-equipped Wrangler Rubicon. You can have a Defender with most of the available off-road bits for around $60,000, or the price of a loaded Rubicon.

Used Jeep Wrangler – If you prioritize off-roading, know that even a last-gen Wrangler will still outgun almost anything else on the road. 2018 marked the new JL generation, which means you may get a decent deal on a 2017 or before. We say “decent” because Wranglers hold their value incredibly well, so don’t look for bargain pricing.

Questions You May Ask

What’s the Difference Between a 2021 Jeep Wrangler and a 2021 Jeep Rubicon?

The Rubicon is just a trim level of the Wrangler: the most off-road-oriented version. While the standard Wrangler Sport and Sahara come with competent off-road systems, the Rubicon ups the ante with the Rock-Trac 4-wheel-drive system, 4.10 axle ratios, electronically disconnecting front sway bars, and Dana 44 front and rear axles.

How Much Does a 2021 Jeep Wrangler Cost?

Prices range from just under $30,000 for the 2-door Wrangler Sport to nearly $60,000 for a loaded Wrangler Unlimited.

What’s the difference between the Jeep Wrangler and Jeep Gladiator?

The Gladiator is Jeep’s new pickup truck. It has the capability and boxy looks of a 4-door Wrangler with the 5-foot bed of a pickup.

Where is the Jeep Wrangler made?

The Wrangler is made in America. Specifically, it is built in Toledo, Ohio.

Autotrader’s Advice

Any Wrangler offers great off-road capability but at the expense of day-to-day livability. Still, for many, the compromise is worth it, as there are few vehicles on sale today outside of Jeep’s own Gladiator that match the Wrangler’s coolness factor — at least, not until the new Bronco goes on sale. When it comes to choosing the perfect Wrangler for you, it’s hard to argue with the convenience factor of the 4-door Unlimited, for starters. Most buyers will be well served by the Wrangler’s Sport S trim, as it offers basic creature comforts not available on the base Sport while still keeping the price tag within reason. Still, we think most buyers will be happier in a Sahara, as it has more creature comforts. And if you truly intend to test this Jeep’s – and your – mettle, few things outside a mountain goat can tread terrain like a Wrangler Rubicon, and those with a sufficient budget will find loads to love about the new V8-powered Rubicon 392. The new 4xe PHEV also impressed us as a no-compromise Wrangler that’s powerful, efficient, and a silent off-road explorer extraordinaire. Regardless of which Wrangler you choose, rest assured that any one of these Jeeps will offer great resale value. Find a Jeep Wrangler for sale

 

Matt Degen
Matt Degen is an author specializing in interesting news and features about cars. Matt is a longtime lover of both cars and news, as well as the latest technology. He was the past automotive editor of The Orange County Register newspaper and a former board member of the Motor Press Guild, the nation’s largest automotive media association. He holds degrees in Communications and Culinary Arts.... Read More

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