Friday, January 11, 2019

Tested: 2019 Jeep Wrangler

Hidden away in rural Wisconsin's Dodge and Washington counties are some of the most pristine, preserved freshwater cattail marshes in the United States. 

Mapped expanses of important protected wilderness that act as places of refuge for flocks of migratory geese, eagles, the showy hooded merganser, and other waterfowl making their long transcontinental passage south from Canada to warmer, welcoming, and more forgiving climates. Beautiful landscapes with delicate ecosystems are found Allenton Marsh and Theresa Marsh State Wildlife Areas, nearby 22,000-acre Horicon National Wildlife Refuge, co-managed by organizations like the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Ducks Unlimited, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. With miles of roads that are unpaved, unplowed, and remote, there's nothing more appropriate for exploring than a proper 4x4, like the iconic Wrangler.

Let's first map out the basics: the 2019 Wrangler is available with two or four doors. Four-door Unlimited models are offered in five diverse trim levels: Sport ($31,545 starting MSRP), upgraded Sport S ($34,745), mid-level Sahara ($38,395), Rubicon ($41,545), and Moab ($51,300). Two-door Wranglers are cheaper and available in three trims: Sport ($28,045), Sport S ($31,245), and Rubicon ($38,045).
Standard features include a six-speed manual transmission with a 285 horsepower 3.6-liter V6, 3.45 gear axle gear ratio, 245/75R17 all-season tires wrapped around black steel wheels, and Jeep's Command-Trac Part-Time 4WD System. Inside you get roll-down windows, manual-adjustable driver and passenger seats, manual door locks, a 5-inch touchscreen of Uconnect with an Aux jack, Bluetooth connectivity, and a USB input. A manual-folding soft top is standard, while a power-folding soft top or 3-piece hard top are optional. Last year, when Jeep launched this much-awaited new Wrangler JL, a surprising powertrain tagged along with it; a turbocharged four-cylinder with FCA’s eTorque mild hybrid system. The Wrangler has always been a vehicle synonymous with adventure, and now the it can take to the outdoors with a smaller carbon footprint, a peak I applaud. To test this, Jeep handed me the keys to a new 2019 Wrangler Unlimited Sahara for a week and a full tank of gas.
Behind the Wheel
The most important thing to remember when buying a Jeep Wrangler for everyday use, is that this is a vehicle purposely built to conquer just about any obstacle or terrain off the regular smooth populated roadways. It is a tad loud inside due to its foldable convertible top and lack of sound deadening material in its removable doors, and be prepared to bounce around when plopping over potholes or cracks in the pavement due to its solid rear axle and stiff suspension. These are all considerations that should not deter you away from the capable Wrangler, rather things to keep in mind. With that said, overall ride comfort has improved greatly over the years and is showcased in the latest Wrangler JL which could be driven daily, even in an urban, strictly setting. The new Wrangler JL's on-road manners are noticeably better than the outgoing JK, though at times driving on the highway was a bit nerve-wracking and I found the Wrangler somewhat difficult to keep in between the lane lines, noticeably more so against high winds. Sure, I wish the steering were little tighter at higher speeds but the four-door Wrangler is so easy and nimble to drive around in parking lots and cramped city streets, and that shouldn't be a factor to ignore when shopping for one.

Where this Jeep really shines is the second you take it off the beaten path. My Wrangler Unlimited Sahara had the optional upgraded Selec-Trac full-time four-wheel-drive system with a manually-selectable transfer case ($595) and a limited-slip rear differential which also brings a Dana 44 heavy-duty rear axle ($595 total). This new full-time four-wheel-drive system, when engaged, automatically switches between four-wheel-drive and two-wheel-drive when more traction is needed, sort of like an all-wheel-drive system. The amount of off-road driving I did throughout my test didn't require the use of the 2.72:1 low 4x4 range (4L), but shifting the transfer case into 4H AUTO kept me navigating down an icy, snow covered track that wandered deeper into 6,000 scenic acres of Theresa Marsh State Wildlife Area.

Offered with a standard 3.6-liter V6 and a six-speed manual, buyers now can opt for a smaller 270 hp 2.0-liter four-cylinder that's turbocharged. It also features FCA's new eTorque system with a belt-connected motor that links to the crankshaft plus a modified alternator which provides bursts of up to 71 lb.-ft. of torque on demand. Before any doubts arise about the four-cylinder Wrangler being a big lethargic dog, note that torque with this new turbocharged engine is actually higher than its bigger V6 power plant with an impressive 295 lb.-ft. readily available. This is not a slow Jeep, at all, and there's very little turbo lag once you put your foot down on the pedal. Press it farther to the floor and you'll faintly hear the turbos begin to spool up as all of that nearly 300 lb.-ft. of torque arrives. Acceleration off the line and at passing speeds is consistently much easier now with this new engine.

At the Pump
Combine this clever, efficient  eTorque setup with the eight-speed automatic and auto start/stop to see an EPA estimated 24 mpg on the highway and 22 in the city which is quite good for such a capable 4×4. Higher MPGs do come at a higher cost however. Dropping two cylinders does tack on an additional $3,000 to the price of the Wrangler ($2,000 for the required eight-speed automatic plus $1,000 for the turbocharged four-cylinder). If you do stay with the standard V6 , expect an EPA estimated 23 mpg highway and 18 in the city. It's important to note that premium gas is not required for the turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder but suggested for optimal fuel economy, and that the EPA ratings were achieved with premium fuel. In my 450 miles of testing, I averaged 19.5 mpg on a full-tank of premium gas, in not-so-favorable conditions: cold, winter weather mixed with daily stop-and-go battles through Milwaukee's horrendous gridlocked rush hour traffic. The majority of my driving was done in two-wheel-drive, not four-wheel-drive, with a mix of probably 60% highway and 40% city. 
Inside and Out
The Wrangler is bad ass, and there's no argument to prove else wise. It's been on sale for ages, persevering design through trends and waves in the automotive industry, yet still retaining its brute roots and that classic, familiar style we all adore. I think the new Wrangler JL looks much more attractive, cleaner, and modern than its outgoing JK predecessor. I always get nervous when rumors spread about a new Wrangler coming, that Jeep will drastically change its looks, but that hasn't happened. It's a bold, boxy, ready-to-get-muddy styling you can depend on, year after year. The sharp Sahara's body-colored fender flares and optional LED daytime running lights work perfectly with the Ocean Blue Metallic paint. There's a generous amount of visibility everywhere and blindspots are nearly nonexistent thanks to the Wrangler's upright windows. You're also sitting up more than an inch taller than the last generation Wrangler.
Inside the Wrangler, the cabin still has that Spartan feel to it yet you'd expect, but this time around there's a bit more civilness. Black leather stamped with white stitching stretches across the dashboard. arm rest, door panels and of course the embroidered seats. I found the seats, manually-adjustable, to be super comfortable and supporting of my long legs. A minor highlight yes, but the grab loop to recline the driver's seat is so easy and large to grab on to, there's no digging your hand down below trying to find it. I had decent headroom in the pilot's seat but friends taller friends behind me somewhat struggled due to the sound bar. Entry into the rear seat is easy thanks to wide door entries and there's room for three adults to sit side-by-side. Rear seat passengers are treated to a household 115-volt outlet and four USB ports for charging various devices.
All the controls are easy to access and there are physical buttons and knobs for the climate and audio controls to use in addition to the touchscreen Uconnect multimedia system. If you ready my review of the smaller Jeep Compass, you'll know I have much gratitude for FCA's Uconnect. It continues to be the best infotainment setup I've used across the board and it's still impressive in the new Wrangler. My Wrangler Unlimited Sahara had the optional ($1,595) "Electronic Infotainment System Group" which installs a bigger 8.4-inch touchscreen display, SiriusXM satellite radio, and an upgraded Alpine stereo. Standard along with the Uconnect were Bluetooth connectivity for phone calls and music streaming, auxiliary and USB inputs, as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The later worked flawlessly with my old Samsung J3.

Standard safety features include a backup camera integrated into the rear spare tire, trailer sway control for towing, and side airbags for the front seats only. My Wrangler Unlimited Sahara came with the optional "Active Safety Group" ($895) that includes blind-spot monitoring with helpful rear cross-traffic assist and rear parking sensors. At $50,050 however, I was really hoping to see other advanced active safety systems found on less expensive cars, included, like front collision warning with automatic braking. That's part of an additional $795 package paired with adaptive cruise control.
Can it Rec.?
Heck yes it can, this is a Wrangler! The best thing about the Wrangler, regardless of door count, powertrain, or trim, is that you honestly don't need to add anything on to it or spend all sorts of money modifying it. Right from the dealership you have a very capable 4x4 that can go just about anywhere you point it too. There truthfully aren't many other vehicles on sale today that can claim that. Even a base, two-door, Wrangler Sport is a reliable adventuring companion. Bragging rights include the ability to successfully pass through up to 30 inches of water, Dana 30 front and 35 rear axles, 3.45 rear axle ratio, and increased ground clearance too (9.7-inches for Sport, 10 for Sahara). Page through further into the Uconnect system to find various off-road apps that show you pitch, roll, and steering angle readouts.
If you really want to go full-on Moab, the Rubicon is the athlete for that, bringing Dana 44 axles,  meaty 33-inch all-terrain tires, approach angles of 44 degrees up front and 37 in the rear, plus locking front and rear differentials along with a detachable front sway bar, all accessible by quickly pushing a couple of marked buttons by your knee. Rubicons with the six-speed manual have a 5.13:1 first gear ratio, 4.10:1 axles gears, and a 84:1 crawl ratio.

With trips into the great outdoors comes gear, and there's plenty of storage room in the Wrangler Unlimited Sahara, including some space in the center console, and an underfloor bin beneath the trunk area, an ideal spot to put muddy hiking boots. A huge win for the four-door Unlimited is its gigantic trunk area. With the rear seat upright there's a grand 31.7 cubic-feet of cargo room. Fold it down by way of two, easy-to-use levers near the headrest for an enormous maximum 72.5 cu-ft! That is a metric ton of volume for camping gear, a mountain bike, backpacking packs, you name it. The smaller two door sees a maximum 31.7 cu-ft with the rear seat down, and 12.9 with it upright. Thankfully, the optional Alpine stereo's boulder-sized subwoofer doesn't rob that much real estate too.
If you do happen to require even more cargo space, there's an entire assortment of roof racks for skis, bikes, cargo haulers, kayaks, and more available through the Mopar accessories store. You will though, need to have the optional hardtop for your Wrangler in order for those attachments to mount on to. Towing is possible per usual with Jeep's newest Wrangler, and both the V6 and 2.0-liter turbocharged cylinder engines offer the same capacity: 3,500 pounds for the four-door Wrangler Unlimited and 2,000 pounds for the two-door. If you opt for a Wrangler Unlimited, you're able to stretch out mileage on memorable road trips to distant national and state parks as there's a 21-gallon fuel tank.
Final Thoughts
On many fronts, Jeep's latest Wrangler JL is a big improvement over the previous 11-year-old JK. It's bigger, wider, taller, packs more tech and features, all while still guaranteeing unmatched capability plus the joyful nostalgia factor of owning and driving one. Better than ever? Yes. More expensive than ever? Yes, but that doesn't seem to be stopping buyers. Last year Jeep sold 973,227 vehicles and their monthly sales numbers continue to grow. 2018 saw a 26% increase in Wrangler sales alone for 2018 with 240,032 sold. That was Jeep's best seller. Plus, you don't need a $50,050 Wrangler loaded with options to have a Wrangler experience. A sub-$30,000/low-$30,000 Wrangler is a fantastic, lovable, and dependable choice. We're in a booming time right now for Jeep and I'm excited for them like a proud patriot. A long-awaited Wrangler-based pickup coming soon called the Gladiator is bound to sell like wildfire, along with the addition of two green powertrains arriving below the hood of the Wrangler JL in 2020: a diesel engine and a plug-in hybrid architecture.

Price as tested: $50,050
Warranty: 5-year/60,000-mile Powertrain, 3-Year/36,000-mile Basic
NHTSA Overall Vehicle Safety Rating: not yet tested
Find a new or used Jeep Wrangler for sale near you here on

[Disclaimer: Jeep provided this new vehicle and a full tank of gas for the purpose of this review.]


Kyle C said...

love it Robby! great info with awesome pictures.
thanks for sharing your knowledge and thoughts!