Strengths and weaknesses:
- off-road ability
- fuel economy
The 2013 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited is one of the most difficult vehicles on the road to review.
Not a single person on the planet is likely to question its off-road capabilities, but the Wrangler is still a vehicle that has to take its occupants on the path more travelled, and it's here that the vehicle shows its glaring weaknesses.
The hardcore Wrangler enthusiast will say that it's not worth talking about on-road capabilities, since that's not what this vehicle's iconic heritage has been built around for decades. But like it or lump it, this is the 21st century, and every facet of a vehicle like this has to be considered.
My test vehicle this week is a Rubicon Unlimited, outfitted with this year's 10th anniversary Rubicon package, which adds a slew of aesthetic add-ons and high-tech features for an extra $6,000.
Besides the "Rubicon 10th anniversary" badging added all over the vehicle, there's additions such as red front and rear tow hooks, a black fuel filler door, red stitching accents, a hood with a power dome, a steel rear bumper, and a whole lot more.
The package also includes features such as Uconnect infotainment system with Bluetooth connectivity, a USB port, and heated front seats, to make this a vehicle that's as competitive as any non-luxury small SUV when it comes to 21st century creature comforts.
And make no mistake - without those features, there's not a lot to make the Wrangler worth driving for the average commuter. The ride is atrocious, the fuel economy is utterly horrendous (I average around 16.0 L/100 km before a long highway stretch allows me to lower it to 13.4 L/100 km over the course of a week), and all kinds of noise enters the cabin when equipped with the soft top.
And in case you couldn't guess for yourself, going topless with a soft top-equipped Wrangler is far from a simple, painless experience. Taking off the three main panels and folding back the roof can be done in under 10 minutes with a bit of practice, but you'll want to check the weather forecast regardless beforehand.
I take the Wrangler on a long weekend camping excursion, and it offers enough space with the rear seats folded down to hold the contents of two people who don't pack lightly at all. Getting to the campsite is enjoyable thanks to the aforementioned sound system features that allow me to listen to albums saved to a USB key. When those run out, there's always satellite radio.
The fact that I'm on a mostly-empty two lane country road doesn't hurt things either. And you better believe driving the Wrangler is a whole different story when it comes time to commute to work. The six-speed manual transmission demands near-constant attention, although working the clutch is easy (surprisingly so). Getting in and out of the vehicle, meanwhile, is a challenge, even for a tall guy like me, no thanks to the high ground clearance (which, I know, makes it great for getting over rocks and through deep water) and a lack of running boards.
The engine, while extremely thirsty, fits the bill for those looking for strong acceleration. It also sounds great, as it loudly and proudly voices its eagerness to take on any path, no matter how barren and remote. The one saving grace is that there's a large fuel tank (85 litres) considering this is a relatively small SUV, so trips to the gas station are minimized somewhat, even if it doesn't seem like it.
Despite the high price and numerous features that would make even the most discerning driver (who doesn't ride in a Rolls-Royce) happy, the Wrangler is still an off-road beast through and through. There are capable SUVs out there, but none at the same level as the boxiest Jeep.
I can't help but notice there are far fewer waves from fellow Wrangler drivers during my week with the vehicle. I'm reticent to think Wrangler drivers are becoming softer, but the possibility exists. The hardcore fans will always be there, but there's no harm in Jeep adding in extra comfort and safety options.
2013 Jeep Wrangler
Trim level: Unlimited Rubicon 4x4
Price as tested (before taxes): $46,985
Options on test vehicle: Customer Preferred Package 23J ($5,995), Dual Top Group ($2,075), Max Tow Package ($575), Supplemental front seat-mounted side airbags ($400), Automatic A/C ($195), Uconnect 730N ($1,700)
Configuration: front engine, four-wheel drive
Engine/transmission: 3.6L 6-cylinder / 6-spd manual
Power/torque: 285 hp/ 260 lb.-ft.
Fuel (capacity): regular (85L)
Fuel economy ratings (L/100 km): 13.4 city, 9.6 hwy
Observed fuel economy (L/100 km): 14.2 over 428 km
Warranties: 3 years/60,000 km (basic), 5 years/100,000 km (powertrain)
Competitors: Toyota FJ Cruiser, Land Rover LR4
Report Card (out of 10):
Fuel Economy: 4 – Don't buy it for its fuel frugalness. Just don't.
Equipment level: 8 – You'll be getting quite a lot if you're willing to pay for it.
Price: 5 – A $50,000 vehicle as equipped is sure to make many people scoff.
Styling: 9 – Looks absolutely awesome.
Comfort (front): 6 – The ride is choppy at best, although the seats are decent.
Comfort (rear): 5 – Not a lot of room, and you'll still have to contend with the ride.
Handling: 2 - One of the worst handling vehicles on the road.
Performance: 6 – Healthy power numbers help this SUV move relatively quickly.
Storage: 7 – Generous cargo space, and room up front for knick-knacks.
Overall: 6 – Creature comforts only barely make Wrangler more driveable in the ci