By Shari Prymak
2016 Jeep Wrangler - It’s no secret that Jeep has a long, rich history of building rugged off-roaders. It is one that dates as far back as the World War II years where they earned their not so modest reputation as the vehicles that won the war. Over the years, the simple 4X4 formula slowly evolved into the Wrangler that we have here today. I say evolved because the things that made the original such an icon – its rugged design, effortless off-road ability, and overall uniqueness – have remained largely unchanged. In a way, the Wrangler is the Porsche 911 of the off-road world.
Many so-called SUV’s talk the talk when it comes to venturing into Mother Nature, but the Wrangler is one of the few that can actually walk the walk. All Wranglers work off-road, but the $46,950 flagship Rubicon model I tested comes ready to annihilate it. In addition to the usual heavy duty suspension, two-speed transfer case, and skid plates to protect all of the underside oily bits, the Rubicon throws in heavy-duty lockable axles, meaty 32 inch mud terrain tires, and several other doo-dads to help tear through the Amazon.
I have no idea what any of this 4X4 gobbledygook is capable of doing, as I wasn’t able to find an off-road environment that could even make it break a sweat. One after another, the Wrangler was able to effortlessly carve through every trail and obstacle in the GTA suburbs I could throw at it. The style in which it covers ground is pure tank-like. If the Wrangler Rubicon were a weapon, it’d be a Howitzer, no question.
As impressive as all that Rubicon stuff is, it’s the basic goodness of the Wrangler platform that really shines. The impressive ground clearance, generous approach and departure angles, and heavy duty suspension all leave an impression of sheer confidence and stoutness. And in an age where electronic gizmos rule, it’s nice to see the mechanical simplicity of chunky knobs, beefy levers, and a manual shifter in a modern day 4X4. The adequately smooth and powerful Pentastar V6 engine is quite good as well.
Unfortunately, the consequence of all this off-road prowess seems to be a complete lack of on-road competency. Out on the highway, the monstrous tires fidget and roar away in utter disapproval of being asked to work on actual roads. The manual shifter has the poise of a sledge hammer. The suspension is relatively soft and compliant, but go around a bend too fast, and the body roll will just about launch you to the opposite end of the cabin. Fortunately though, the steering is so numb and unresponsive that you’ll likely never feel inclined to explore the handling limits. Your best option is to move along at a relaxed pace, and try to ignore the awkward interior and the woeful fuel economy.
Don’t be fooled by the endless gizmos and luxury tools fitted to my test car, the Wrangler is by no means an everyday family vehicle. If you want to play Jurassic Park with your family workhorse, you’d be much better off with one of the many hatchbacks on stilts out there, otherwise known as crossovers. The Wrangler is more of a tool for the dedicated off-road enthusiast. There are plenty of so-called SUV’s available on the market, some with a good deal of off-road capability. But few are able to take that capability to the extreme like the Wrangler. It is a 4x4 in the truest sense.