Review: 2020 Jeep Wrangler offers luxurious offroading experience
Jeep Wranglers, patterned after the general-purpose vehicles used during World War II, have grown increasingly civilized over their many years of production. “Civilized,” however, doesn’t quite describe the reality of the Wrangler we test-drove this month — a 2020 Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon. This $59,275 off-road warrior pampered its occupants, and included just about every luxury feature one would expect to find in a full-dress Lexus or a Mercedes-Benz sport-utility vehicle.
Wranglers appeal to two types of people: those who relish the car’s rough-and-tough image, and those who actually intend to use the car’s matchless off-road capability. There evidently are a lot of people in those two categories. Since 2015, Fiat Chrysler has sold more than 190,000 Wranglers each year, peaking at 240,032 in 2018.
The Wrangler has seen two major changes in recent years. First came the four-door model, which arrived in 2007, years before the merger of Fiat and Chrysler. The Gladiator, a crew-cab pickup truck built on the Wrangler’s platform, joined the team in 2019. Both added greatly to the Wrangler’s utility and broadened its appeal.
It’s still possible to buy a basic Wrangler. The two-door Sport, starting at $28,295, comes with a 3.6-liter V-6 engine, 6-speed manual transmission, a 5-inch touchscreen display, AM-FM radio with the UConnect 3 infotainment system, and not much else. Even air-conditioning and power windows are missing in action. But it’s no slouch in the dirt — in some situations, better than the 4-door thanks to its wheelbase being nearly 21 inches shorter.
Our Wrangler had the 2.0-liter turbocharged inline Four. That engine has more torque than the V-6 — 295 pound-feet, compared with 260 — an advantage in off-road driving.
The long list of safety, tech and luxury features had a profound effect on the bottom line. A base four-door Sport starts at just $31,795, not much more than half the price of our loaded Rubicon. How loaded? Here’s a partial list: leather-trimmed seats, heated steering wheel and front seats, remote-start system, LED lighting, 8.4-inch display, satellite radio, navigation system, blind-spot and rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, Sky one-touch power top, automatic climate control and off-road tires.
The all-terrain tires were noisy, but otherwise, the Jeep was fairly quiet and refined. It rode comfortably on pavement. Our only complaint was its tendency to wander, a trait we attributed to the tires. Wranglers with conventional all-season tires are quieter and handle fairly well — indeed, far better than one would expect from a tall, square vehicle built for the back country.
2020 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 4X4
Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged inline Four with Electronic Start Stop, 270 horsepower, 295 lb.-ft. torque
Transmission: 8-speed shiftable automatic
Ground clearance: 10 in.
Weight: 4,617 lb.
Suspension: 5-link coil solid-axle, front and rear
Wheels: 17x7.5 painted alloy
Tires: LT285/70R17 all-terrain
Towing capacity: 3,500 lb.
Luggage capacity: 37.4 cu. ft.
Maximum cargo capacity: 72.4 cu. ft.
Fuel capacity: 21.5 gal.
Fuel economy: 21 mpg city, 22 mpg highway
Fuel type: premium unleaded gasoline (recommended)
Nowadays, there’s a Wrangler for every taste and function, from the two-door Sport to the four-door, off-road-oriented Rubicon. There also are three engines to choose from — the inline Four and V-6, plus a 485-horsepower V-8 and even a torquy, fuel-efficient diesel.
Despite their rugged construction, Wranglers aren’t among the safest vehicles on the road. In government crash tests, the four-door Wrangler scored four stars out of five in frontal collisions, and just three stars for rollover resistance. The Wrangler did well in all of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety tests except the small-overlap crash (Marginal).
Steven Macoy (email@example.com) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel.