2017 Jeep Wrangler Driving Impressions

First, the good things. Off road the Wrangler will wow you, thanks to the tough chassis, solid axles, high ground clearance with skid plates, and technology like the electric sway-bar disconnect. It’s very easy to position on tight trails, with its very tight turning radius. Off-roaders will appreciate these stats for the Rubicon: 44.3 degrees approach angle, 25.4 degrees breakover angle, and 40.4 degrees departure angle. You won’t find numbers like that in any other vehicle.

For serious offroad situations, you can start the Wrangler in gear, with your left foot off the clutch pedal, when in 4WD using low range in the transfer case. The starter motor alone gets it moving. This works on a steep uphill with the engine stalled, otherwise you’d find yourself cursing your body for not having three feet for the three pedals.

The modern and powerful 3.6-liter V6 engine totally works in the Wrangler, with its high torque useful for low-speed off-roading, and smooth, quick acceleration for passing on the highway.

The 5-speed automatic transmission is an old but good hand-me-down from Mercedes-Benz; its shifts are smooth during easy to medium acceleration, and get firmer when you push. But we prefer the six-speed manual, not only because it provides more of the real Jeep experience, but also more control over the engine. Sure, the throws are long, the clutch pedal travel is long, and there’s more vibration, but that’s the Jeep experience we’re talking about. The sixth gear is an overdrive, tall to keep the revs and noise down, and gas mileage up, at freeway speed.

The automatic also has high ratios, with a 3.21 final drive; in the zero-to-sixty sprint, you’re still in second gear at the finish. If you plan to go off-roading, a 4.10 ratio is available in the Rubicon.

As for the road manners, if you’re young or have never owned or driven a Jeep, you might be shocked. It’s noisy, rides hard, jiggles, flops, bounces, and leans. And those are just the first moves; there are finer snatches and jerks that impress every imperfection of the road upon your body. Like a heavy-duty pickup truck, the Wrangler has a live front axle, so big bumps in the middle of a corner might deliver a full-frontal shudder. And the two-door Wrangler is worse than the Unlimited, because of its shorter wheelbase.

The Wrangler’s old-school recirculating-ball steering isn’t exactly the sharpest tool in the shed. The turn-in is crisp enough, thanks to that tight turning radius that’s good on trails, but then comes a numb zone where road feel is lost. And the tall tires don’t help with responsiveness, not least on curvy roads.

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