Before the new JL Wrangler arrives, the JK model 5-door Wrangler Unlimited survives for one last hurrah. Power is derived from a 3.6-liter Chrysler Pentastar V6 with 285hp and 260 lb-ft, sent to all wheels by a 4x4 system with low-range transfer case. A 6-speed manual gearbox is the default gearbox, though a 5-speed automatic is available. The Willy’s Wheeler adds metal half-doors, and other classic styling elements, with hardcore off-road ability. Safety features include electronic stability control, electronic roll mitigation, hill start assist, and an optional vehicle tracking system.
2018 sees the last production year of the JK generation Jeep Wrangler – where it will be sold alongside the all-new JL generation Wrangler, displayed at the 2017 SEMA show. The Wrangler’s recipe hasn’t changed much – and why try change something adored by so many? Since 2006, the JK Wrangler has featured it’s familiar removable roof panels, canvas top, and removable doors, bringing the nature to you when you go out into nature. In Unlimited guise, the Wrangler has a longer wheelbase, an extra two doors, along with a rear bench. Importantly, the Unlimited model gains improved road manners, at the cost of compromised manners off road.
Those who climb into a Wrangler having only known small city cars would find the cabin a cheap place to be. Hard plastics, rubber floors, and an overall cheap demeanor are the initial impressions – but it’s one of the ultimate expressions of form following function. The floor features drainage plugs when off-road excursions lead you somewhere wet. The center stack is a bland slab, but features the window operation toggles that allow for the doors to be removed by centralizing all the electrical components. There’s also a 6.5-inch version of Uconnect – but it is very dated, with poor graphics and functionality.
The Unlimited’s party trick is the rear doors and lengthened wheelbase, allowing space for three rear passengers, albeit in fairly cramped quarters. The rear bench is low and uncomfortable, and best avoided on long journeys. Trunk volume is cramped but bigger than the two door, with 31.5 cubic feet swelling to 70.6 cubes with the rear seat folded.
The Wrangler’s ride is archaic at best, older than even its year 2006 origins would suggest. The ride is horrendously firm and poorly damped, and the high ride height is prone to massive amounts of body roll. The enormous knobbed tires make for an uncomfortable ride, and they compromise grip on road hugely. The Wrangler is prone to understeer, even at low speeds, and snap oversteer can occur in an instant on slippery surfaces.
But leave the beaten track, and that’s where the Wrangler makes sense, conquering rocks, sand, water, and anything in its path. The low range transfer case provides massive torque to all 4 wheels, and the high ride height affords impressive approach and departure angles of up to 42.2 and 32.5 degrees respectively – model dependant. But the Unlimited’s longer wheelbase does compromise breakover angle, reducing it by 4.6 degrees on a like for like basis.
Elsewhere in the world, oil-burning diesel variants of the Wrangler are available, but here in the USA a single gasoline engine is all we get. It’s a 3.6-liter V6 producing 285 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. A 6-speed manual is the default gearbox, though a 5-speed automatic is also available. Power gets sent to all 4 wheels, with two 4x4 systems available depending on the model – a Command-Trac on-the-fly system in most models, with a Rock-Track 4:1 part time system available on Rubicon derivatives.
If the JK generation Wrangler Unlimited has one big flaw, it’s safety. Not only is braking performance poor, but the NHTSA scores it just 3 stars for frontal and rollover crash safety. Numerous trim lines are available, based on three primary models – Sport, Sahara, and Rubicon – with numerous variants branching off from those. Base Sport trim offers little – with steel wheels, cruise control, and air conditioning. Sahara models add alloy wheels, LED headlights, and a leather wrapped steering wheel. The Rubicon model is the dedicated hardcore off-roader with specialized tires, front and rear axles, locking differentials, and an electronically disconnecting front sway bar.
For those who off-road on a weekly basis with family in tow, the Wrangler Unlimited is the Alpha and Omega. But the JK generation is a decade old, and will stand alongside an all-new model that will be better in all aspects – making the current Wrangler Unlimited’s best possible feature its potential budget price.