Off-Road Kingpin: 2019 Jeep Wrangler

A traditional sport utility vehicle with outstanding off-road chops, the Jeep Wrangler hardly needs an introduction. Where modern variants on the SUV theme are big on storage space and passenger comfort, they’re not designed to match the ground-pounding prowess of the Wrangler. Jeep’s heralded SUV is the spiritual successor to the government-issued utility vehicles that helped win the World War II.

What’s new this year

One year since its latest overhaul, the 2019 Wrangler now offers adaptive cruise control and forward collision warning. A Bikini Pearl Coat finish is new, and a limited-edition Moab model based on the four-door-only Sahara is also available.

Design: exterior & interior

Jeep knew better than to mess with success when developing an all-new Wrangler. The changes are evolutionary, not revolutionary, and those improvements suit most enthusiasts just fine. One thing that hasn’t changed is the size difference between the two- and four-door models. The latter adds 21.6-inches between the wheels, making it a true family vehicle.

The Wrangler maintains its rugged good looks and timeless visage. Some of the more noteworthy changes include headlights that now press into the outer grille slats. You’ll also find LED lights in the front facing fenders, and a new lighting design on the rear. Other improvements include new heat extractors on the front fenders, updated bumpers, new roll bar design, and an easier-to-remove windshield. Buyers still have a choice of cloth or hard-top roofs.

Inside, the cabin has been thoroughly modernized without losing its appeal. For starters, the doors open wide or come off, with your personal entry requiring a slight pull up to move inside. The front seats are comfortable, offering ample head- and leg-room. The rear seat in the two-door model holds just two people and functions more like a jump seat – you won’t want to depend on it for more than an off-road excursion or around-town jaunt. Otherwise, the four-door model with its three-place bench seat is the more comfortable choice.

The Wrangler’s dashboard is flat with the screen, dials, and vents perpendicular to passengers. The Jeep’s switchgear is modern and easy to decipher. As before, the power window switches are on the center console just above the drivetrain and transmission shifters. Another area that hasn’t changed is the Wrangler’s wash-out interior. You just need to avoid backwashing the electronics and optional leather seats.

Technology & safety

Jeep supplies all trims with an 8-speaker audio system, one USB port, and a color display. The displays range from 5-inches to 7- or 8.4-inches. The list of options includes satellite radio, additional USB ports, and a 9-speaker Alpine audio system. Bluetooth voice command is also available, but only as a bundled package available with the Sahara and Rubicon editions. A 115-volt power outlet is optional.

On the safety front, you have to move beyond the base model to gain the available driver-assist packages. Here, you’ll find such features as blind-spot monitoring, rear parking assist, adaptive cruise control, and forward collision warning with emergency braking.

The current model hasn’t been crash tested and rated in the U.S., but it has in Europe. The results are poor as the Wrangler received a one-star rating from Euro NCAP.

Performance

You can drive a Wrangler on any road, but it simply doesn’t rise to the comfort level of today’s modern crossovers. If on-road comfort takes a priority, then the Jeep Cherokee is the better choice.

Jeep currently offers a pair of gasoline engine choices for Wrangler fans. Most buyers will choose the 3.6-liter V6, good for 285 horsepower and 260 foot-pounds of torque. Jeep also offers a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with 270 horsepower and 295 foot-pounds of torque. Only the V6 offers a standard six-speed manual gearbox for this 4-wheel-drive-only model. Otherwise, an 8-speed automatic transmission sends power to the wheels.

A quick examination of the power numbers shows they’re quite close. The advantage of the turbo, which is a $1,000 upgrade, is in its turning power or torque. It supplies nearly a 14% improvement over the base engine, which gives it an advantage when rock crawling.

Speaking of rocks, we took our test Wrangler to Uwharrie National Forest near Troy, North Carolina, to put it through its off-road paces. This forest boasts eight off-road utility vehicle trails, ranging from easy to extremely difficult. We chose the “difficult” Dickey Bell trail, although we did not finish the course due to a precipitous decline near the end, which might have damaged our side steps (we recommend removing them when off-roading).

And it’s in off-roading where this Jeep demonstrates its mettle. The 4-door Wrangler Sahara took on every hill, rock outcropping, and slough with confidence. Axle articulation is the name of the game, with this SUV’s forward progress measured by its approach, breakover, and departure angles. Here, the 4-door has an edge as its longer wheelbase makes it easier to approach some obstacles, although the breakover angle is better with the 2-door. Deft steering wheel control and a light touch on the gas pedal ensures forward motion continues unimpeded.

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