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2015 Jeep Wrangler Pros and Cons: Why (Not) This Car?

Jeep Wrangler

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I'm often asked, "What's the best car?" My answer is, ironically, always the same: "It depends." Specifically, it depends on your personal needs, wants, and tastes. It's even possible that the worst car for the average buyer is the best car for you.

It might be more than a little possible. According to at least one influential set of one-size-fits-all ratings, the Jeep Wrangler is this worst car. (Even the smart fortwo and Mitsubishi Mirage scored higher.) Yet the iconic off-roader has legions of ardent fans. How can this contradiction be explained? What reasons, beyond foolishness, might motivate the purchase of a Wrangler?

Other than Jeep, few manufacturers continue to offer hardcore SUVs. Hummer died, Toyota discontinued the FJ Cruiser, and the Nissan Xterra is all but gone. But the Toyota 4Runner is still very much with us, and I reviewed one not long ago. Far from a perfect match, yet the closest match. (Which might be a clue.)

Wrangler Reviews: Jeep Wrangler

Virtually everyone recognizes a Jeep on sight. Willys package includes black grille and wheels. more Wrangler photos

Wrangler Reviews: Jeep Wrangler interior

The Jeep Wrangler's interior was significantly upgraded for 2011, but remains minimalist.

Tested: 2015 Jeep Wrangler

2dr SUV 285-horsepower 3.6L V6 5-speed shiftable automatic 4WD, part-time w/low range

Compared: 2014 Toyota 4Runner

4dr SUV 270-horsepower 4.0L V6 5-speed shiftable automatic 4WD w/low range

Why the 2015 Jeep Wrangler?

  Compared to the 4Runner
Brand reputation & image
Brand reputation & image: Much better Better Worse

With some products, people insist on the "real thing." The Jeep Wrangler is such a product. For decades Jeep has continuously evolved its core model with an unwavering focus on off-road performance. They have improved other aspects of the vehicle along the way, but these have always been secondary. Such tightly focused products and brands have an appeal that others can never have.

The Toyota 4Runner remains much more focused on traditional SUV stuff than the car-based crossovers (such as the Toyota Highlander) that have largely succeeded them. For 2015 there's even a new TRD Pro version. And the 4Runner does have a loyal following of its own. But this following doesn't begin to compare to the Jeep's in size or enthusiasm.

Off-road capability
Off-road capability: Better Better Worse

The Jeep Wrangler hasn't earned its devout following just by looking the part or through clever marketing. Jeep's image rests on the Wrangler's strong off-road capability. The tested Wrangler was fitted with a Willys package that included an off-road suspension, off-road tires, and rock rails to protect the underbody. For even more capability, get the Wrangler Rubicon, which is fitted with heavy-duty axles, lockable front and rear differentials, and disconnectable stabilzer bars (to permit more axle articulation). All Wranglers have high approach and departure angles, so you're not likely to snag the bumper or underbody when entering or leaving a steep incline.

Sadly, I was not able to test the Wrangler at Moab or on the Rubicon Trail. The most challenging terrain I subjected the Wrangler to was the wall of snow a plow deposted at the foot of my driveway. The Jeep punched through this wall easily.

Beyond objective capability, there's the subjective driving experience. For thorough immersion you don't want a lot of vehicle between you and the outdoors you're exploring. Along with the option of a conventional sunroof, the Toyota 4Runner has one neat trick: the window in its tailgate can be lowered to maximize the flow of air through the vehicle. On a pleasant day you'll wonder why other vehicles don't offer this feature.

Still, when it comes to maximizing the driver's connection to the outdoors, the Jeep is in another league. You can remove not only the Wrangler's top (soft or hard), but its doors as well. It's even possible to fold the windshield forward, though owners report that this is a PITA and can result in water leaks afterwards.

Since the hard top's rear section is rather bulky, and since I tested the Wrangler in the middle of the Detroit winter, I only removed the top's front two sections, which cover the entire area over the front seats. Even this provided much more of an open-air experience than any conventional sunroof. Yet if I hadn't neglected to bring something to cover my nearly bare scalp I wouldn't have been chilly.

Wrangler Reviews: Jeep Wrangler rear quarter view

A full-size spare tire remains attached to a swing-out tailgate.

Wrangler Reviews: Jeep Wrangler instrument panel

Simple controls are very easy to reach and operate. Window buttons between the center vents.

Exterior styling
Exterior styling: Much better Better Worse

Opinions of the Wrangler's styling vary. Some people see awesome. Others see ugly. But, love it or hate it, there's no disputing that nothing else looks like it. If you want a vehicle with the rugged appearance of a classic Jeep, and some people who will never leave the pavement are drawn to it, you're getting a Wrangler.

For a long time the classic Jeep ("Wrangler" since 1987) was only offered as a two-door. But the current generation, which arrived as a 2007, also has been offered as a four-door "Unlimited." The "JK" is considerably larger than previous Wranglers, and to my eye the two-door appears disporportionately stubby. Its far shorter wheelbase and consequently higher breakover angle does make it the better choice for serious off-roading, though.

Like the black wheels and grille on the tested vehicle? Get the Willys edition. Don't like them? Don't get the Willys edition.

Jeep significantly upgraded the Wrangler's interior for the 2011 model year, but even after this upgrade the look and feel have remained minimalistic. This is in line with the vehicle's character and mission, but some people will wish for more. Jeep offers other, far more luxurious (if less special) models for them.

The 4Runner...well, fewer people buy the Toyota because of how it looks. But it does have a more luxurious interior, pitting it more against the even posher Jeep Grand Cherokee than the Wrangler.

Depreciation: Better Better Worse

Toyota 4Runners, partly because they're among the most long-term reliable vehicles you can buy, depreciate fairly slowly. Jeep Wranglers, though not as reliable, hold their value even better. Past a certain point far above zero they even stop depreciating. There's no such thing as a cheap Wrangler in good condition.

Looking to trade in your vehicle? Get an estimate of how much it's worth.

Why Not the 2015 Jeep Wrangler?

  Compared to the 4Runner
Handling: Worse Better Worse

The reasons for not buying a Jeep Wrangler, and that are rsponsible for its low road test scores, are nearly as obvious as the reasons to buy one. The JK handles better than earlier Wranglers, but still worse than just about any other current vehicle. It's even a little clumsier and tipplier-felling than the 4Runner, itself far from an on-road athlete.

Does this matter? Not to many people. In most daily driving there's little real need for tight, precise steering, agile handling, or flat cornering. For off-road enthusiasts, these on-road shortcomings are the price of steering and suspension systems optimized for rock crawling.

Sure, no one wants a vehicle whose handling is downright unsafe. But I found it easy to control the Jeep even on icy roads. The 4WD system is part-time, meaning it shouldn't be engaged on dry pavement. Those times I didn't engage 4WD on snowy roads, meaning that the Jeep was rear-wheel drive, I still had no trouble controlling it. The Jeep didn't seem inclined to fishtail. Even when I provoked oversteer the well-tuned stability control system unobtrusively kept the rear wheels behind the front ones.

The largest safety limitation could be the limited dry-road grip of the knobby all-terrain tires, which affects both cornering and braking. Even more than in the average car you want to drive the Wrangler defensively.

Ride smoothness
Ride smoothness: Worse Better Worse

More people might be turned off by the Wrangler's somewhat loud, more-than-somewhat bumpy ride than by its handling. My family disliked how much the Jeep tossed them about when driving over Michigan's often lumpy pavement.

The tested Wrangler was the two-door with an optional off-road suspension. A few years ago I drove a four-door Wrangler Unlimited with the standard suspension, and I recall it riding much more smoothly and steadily, perhaps about as well as the also trucky 4Runner.

Even the tested Wrangler's suspension absorbed large bumps pretty well. Relatively small stuff was the source of most of the bobbling and rocking.

Wrangler Reviews: Jeep Wrangler front view snow wall

Plow deposits a wall of snow at the end of your driveway? Not a problem with the Wrangler.

Wrangler Reviews: Jeep Wrangler rear seat

The two-door Wrangler's rear seat isn't intended for frequent use. Decent room, but hard to get to

Quietness: Much worse Better Worse

In classic Jeeps it was impossible to converse on the highway. The latest Wrangler is much quieter than those, but still much louder inside than the 4Runner. Around town noise levels aren't much of an issue. On the highway they could be for some people.

Fuel economy
Fuel economy: About the same Better Worse

Heavy and far from aerodynamic, the Jeep Wrangler doesn't earn impressive EPA fuel economy ratings: 17 mpg city, 21 mpg highway. In the suburbs I could only get the average mpg readout to top 20 if I was very easy on the pedals. In most of my suburban driving the trip computer reported averages around 16.

The 4Runner's EPA ratings are no better. Its trip computer averages were two-to-three mpg higher, but some or even most of this advantage could have been due to summer weather.

Rear seat room & comfort
Rear seat room & comfort: Much worse Better Worse

Two adults can squeeze into the back of the regular Wrangler, but Jeep clearly didn't intend the two-door for people who'll often be using the rear seat. The door openings are small and the front seats don't return to their former position after being tipped forward to let people in.

The Wrangler Unlimited has a much wider three-person rear seat served by its own doors. But even in the Unlimited rear knee room isn't abundant and the rear seat cushion is somewhat under-sized.

Some owners of the two-door Wrangler remove the rear seat (unlike in the Unlimited, this doesn't require tools) to open up a larger cargo area with a flat floor. There's not a lot of cargo space behind the second row in the two-door. The great majority of the Unlimited's 20-inch wheelbase extension goes into the space behind the second row, nearly tripling cargo volume there from 17 to 46 cubic feet. It's the one to get if you want to be able to carry three or more people and their gear.

Other features of the 2015 Jeep Wrangler

  Compared to the 4Runner
Driving position & visibility
Driving position & visibility: Worse Better Worse

The Jeep Wrangler is as real as SUVs get, not some car-like crossover, so you look down on most other vehicles from its driver's seat. Many people like driving SUVs for this reason. The view forward is further distinguished by the Wrangler's nearly vertical windshield and its archaicly separate fenders. You're constantly aware that you're driving a unique vehicle. Even a trip to the grocery store can feel like an adventure.

The high seating position isn't without a downside: without side steps (they're optional) the climb in can prove challenging, especially for people without long legs. The outside handles also require considerable thumb effort, so pre-teens might need you to open the door for them. In the driver seat, I would have liked a rest for my left foot. I learned to drive with my left foot flat on the floor.

Powertrain performance
Powertrain performance: About the same Better Worse

The 2007-2011 Jeep Wrangler could seem painfully slow, especially at highway speeds. But since 2012 the Wrangler has been powered by a 285-horse 3.6-liter V6 engine, which shaved the seconds needed to get from a dead stop to sixty from over eleven to a respectable eight (about the same as the 4Runner). The improvement is especially dramatic once over 40 mph.

If you feel the need for even quicker acceleration, then you're probably looking for a different type of vehicle. Or you can track down a company the fits Wranglers with Hemi V8s.

Price or payments
Price or payments: About the same Better Worse

Wrangler pricing starts at $23,790, but adding A/C and other options easily boosts the sticker over, even well over, $30,000. The Unlimited, with A/C standard, starts at $27,590. They're not cheap, but this is to be expected since the Wrangler is a highly specialized vehicle engineered for extreme operating conditions.

When both are moderately equipped, the Toyota 4Runner is about $2,000 more expensive, though partly because it includes more features. Step up to the most off-road-worthy models, and the Jeep ends up about $1,200 more expensive, with both in the high 30s.

Feature availability
Feature availability: Worse Better Worse

The latest Jeep Wrangler is available with far more features than earlier ones. Not only can you get power windows and locks, but even heated leather seats and a nav system. The optional 552-watt Alpine audio system pumps out clear notes even with the forward part of the roof removed.

On the other hand, if you want the latest electronic safety features, the Jeep isn't the way to go. You can't get blind spot monitors, forward collision warning, obstacle detection, or even a rearview camera.

But the Wrangler is about crawling around and even over obstacles, not electonically detecting them. As mentioned earlier, the features you really want in an off-road vehicle you can get here.

Maybe, drawn by the Wrangler's elemental, back-to-basics charm, you want a manual transmission? You can't get one in the 4Runner, but you can get one in the Jeep.


In two-door Willys edition form, the Jeep Wrangler wasn't even as livable as I expected it to be. The ride can be bumpy and noisy, and getting in and out can be a chore. Opting for the four-door with the standard suspension and step bars would help, but anyone seeking an alternative to a car should stick with a crossover. The Toyota 4Runner is more livable than the Wrangler, but the same suggestion applies, if not as strongly.

Yet it is easy to understand the Wrangler's appeal. Enzo Ferarri once proclaimed, "Jeep is America's only real sports car." The best sports cars were engineered with performance as the top priority, their form following their function, and deliver not only performance but a distinctive, characterful driving experience. The Wrangler was, and does. Those drawn to the Wrangler's strong, distinctive character, especially if they make use of its legendary off-road capability, will willingly endure its shortcomings as a transportation appliance.

Wrangler Reviews: Jeep Wrangler engine uncovered

The 285-horsepower V6 is beyond adequate even at highway speeds.

Wrangler Reviews: Jeep Wrangler cargo area seat folded

The second-row seat doesn't come close to folding flat, but can be removed.

See more 2015 Jeep Wrangler photos

Jeep and Toyota each provided an insured vehicle for a week with a tank of gas. I also drove a Wrangler Unlimited a few years ago, thanks to Michael Williams of Southfield (MI). Always helpful, he can be reached at 248-354-2950.

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2015 Jeep Wrangler pros and cons, according to Michael Karesh: the best reasons for buying (or not buying) the 2015 Jeep Wrangler. Join TrueDelta to post your own impressions.

Response from colin42

12:48 pm April 20, 2015

I find it interesting that in the UK there is the Defender which has a similar following, (as much lifestyle vehicle as off roader), and has a similar depreciation. The jeep is offered there but they aren't very popular (at least based on my observations). Rumor has it that the new Defender will be offered for sale in the US, but again I expect that not many Defenders would find homes in the US and Jeep wouldn't even notice a new competitor. Must be something to do with brand history and patriotism. Still it would be interesting to compare the 2.


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Response from mkaresh

1:41 pm April 20, 2015

Good point. I thought of the Defender when writing this review, but it hasn't been offered in the U.S. since the early 1990s (airbag regs made it non-viable). Back then it was far more expensive than the Jeep, and sold in very small numbers. Could be a different story with the new one.


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Response from firemedic2714

2:09 am November 24, 2016

I agree with your comparison, but it's nearly impossible to compare a Wrangler to anything built todaysince it's, for the most part, in a class by itself. Just the simple fact that it has a removable roof puts it in it's own category. Not to mention the choice of a hard or soft top or bothfrom the factory. I own a Wrangler Unlimited Sahara (the 4-door) with both tops and a 6-speed manual transmission. Yes, three pedals, not two and some "shiftable" automatic. What other SUV sold in the USA gives you a convertible roof and the option of a manual transmission? While the 4Runner is a little more practical with more room and better projected reliablity, I challenge anyone to find a more fun, enjoyable, orcooler vehicle out there today. On average, once a week someone compliments my Jeep and it's stock at this point including the wheels and factory ride height, so it doesn't really stand out at all. It's not even a bright color. It's silver. I'll step off my soapbox with this last little tidbit. I recently read a large truck and SUV comparison in Motor Trend magazinethat listedall the vehicles that had significant changes for the 2016 model year. One of the categories was projected five year resale value. The Wrangler's was number one at 82%. The next closest SUV was 71%. While it's hard to find the romance in resale value, it's something to think about nonetheless, especially when comparing it to other SUVs.


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