2017 Jeep Wrangler 

The 2017 Jeep Wrangler is often imitated, but never duplicated

The Jeep brand's infamous compact SUV hasn't changed too much since it debuted in 1986. For any other automaker, this would be seen as a huge failure, a major faux pas in the fast-paced world of "bigger better faster". But for Jeep--and its incredible Jeep Wrangler 4x4--it's just business as usual.

Equally at home on a wintry New England back road as it is on a sunny California highway, and just about everywhere in between, the Jeep Wrangler is the American off-roading vehicle. While there are other capable rock-crawlers out there, like Land Rovers, Mercedes-Benz G-Class super-wagons, and select lifted trucks or SUVs that barely resemble their original bones, nothing else is available out-of-the-box and with this level of capability for much less than $50,000. But Jeep gets it done.

Others have tried to copy this balance of throwback style, rip-roaring wildness, and ultimate, almost unnecessary, all-terrain capability. But at this moment, none of them have ever come close.

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Let's see what makes it run

All Wrangler models come equipped with the same powertrain; while Jeep seems to have a never-ending stream of limited-edition and one-off trim levels up its sleeve, the classic lineup of Wrangler Sport, Sahara, and Rubicon stick around for the new model-year. Under the classic square hood, this 4x4 SUV is powered by the FCA's legendary 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 engine, good for 285 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque and paired to a standard six-speed manual transmission. For drivers who forgot how to drive stick--or never learned in the first place, a true travesty--the Jeep Wrangler does offer a five-speed automatic transmission as an option.

When properly-equipped, the Jeep Wrangler is capable of towing up to 3,500 pounds, which is pretty impressive for its small size. While it may not be able to haul a large camper, boat, or trailer, it's well-suited for basic cargo carriers and trailers for ATVs, motorcycles, and other small equipment. The iconic JK body style is more heritage design than aerodynamic marvel, so don't expect any major fuel savings at the pump. But with EPA ratings at 17mpg city/21 mpg highway, the Wrangler is within the perfectly acceptable range of "fuel-efficient" SUVs.

How off-road capable is it, really?

Snow. Sand. Rock. Mud. Gravel. Pavement. Puddles. One of the Jeep Wrangler's biggest boasts is that it can tackle just about anything the ground can throw at it, and this brag is not without truth; there's a reason that this brand, and this model specifically, is known across the globe for its power and courage. While other automakers perform torture-testing in pristine, walled-off facilities, Jeep is taking its SUVs to Moab and the Rubicon Trail: the toughest, scariest, most white-knuckled driving conditions in the world. And the Jeep Wrangler comes out on top, every time.

Every new model comes standard (an exclusive in the Jeep lineup where 4WD is, surprisingly, almost always optional) with Command-Trac 4x4 or Rock-Trac 4x4 (Rubicon only) four-wheel drive. Thanks to the power of these unique, expertly-engineered systems, the Trail Rated® Wrangler can get traction on just about anything. Steep grades, slick roads, wet and dry, icy and arid--the Jeep Wrangler can truly take it all in stride. Don't get too confident, though, because there's only so much the Wrangler can do for you if you're new to off-road driving and try to tackle expert-level conditions. Stick to your experience level, and chat with other some other Wrangler owners before diving headfirst into any extreme trails.

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You drive it because it's a Jeep

This is not a luxury SUV. But, it's not supposed to be, is it?

There are bumps when you hit potholes. There is some cabin noise when you crank it on the highway. It's not what we would typically describe as a "Grand Tourer" type. The Jeep brand currently makes plenty of options for plush interior comfort--and it's just not the Jeep Wrangler. But the people who are buying this four-seater, top-off, ruggedly handsome off-roading beast are much more interested in how it handles itself on a steep gravel-hill climb than they are about ride quality on smooth pavement in uptown suburbia.

If you want a cozy, plus SUV that can confidently navigate the occasional rough trail, the Jeep Grand Cherokee or the newer Jeep Renegade might be a good option. But if you've got an eye on the kind of weekend getaways that get way away, the Jeep Wrangler is really the best option.

Surprisingly comfortable--for a price

That said, the Jeep Wrangler's less-than-luxury cabin isn't nearly as bare-bones and barren as it used to be. It still offers the incredible wash-out interior (which, if you have kids/dogs/messy carpool friends, you come to appreciate this within its first use) and some hard plastic here and there, but overall the new models are a step above their early predecessors.

Standard features for the current generation include cargo floor mats and tie downs, glove box, speedometer, manual door locks, and manual windows. And if you're thinking that that's not a lot, then you don't know Jeep. But hey--it does have standard steering-wheel-mounted audio controls, so there's something. However, that's just the most affordable base model with no package options, priced to be the best possible value, and you still get all of the Jeep Wrangler personality. For drivers who are willing to spend a little more, the Jeep Wrangler Sahara and Rubicon bring nice touches like heated seats, leather trim, premium audio, and Chrysler's surprisingly awesome Uconnect touchscreen infotainment system options.

While you'd never categorize this among models like a Land Rover, it's a pretty nice interior for a vehicle that was essentially built up from a yesteryear wartime SUV. It's worth checking out the different trim levels and options to see what might be the best fit for what you're looking for.

Updates for the 2017 Jeep Wrangler

Like we mentioned earlier, one of the most charming things about the Jeep Wrangler is that it doesn't change much year over year (stay gold, Ponyboy). But for 2017, this SUV icon does get a few minor tweaks to keep up with the times. LED lighting for headlamps and fog lamps are standard on Sahara and Rubicon trims, base prices are up across the board, and there's a new "Cold Weather Group" package option for Sport and Sport S models. But that's about it. However, Jeep should be releasing some much bigger changes in the upcoming 2018 Jeep Wrangler, so they may be holding onto some juicy secrets, modern features, and--please, pretty please--some automatic windows on the base model. Come on.

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What do you think?

It's not the most powerful small SUV; not the fastest or the best in acceleration; it's definitely not the most fuel-efficient sport utility vehicle that you'll find on American shores. But it has something that no other SUV can match: character. And it's a character that other automakers have been dying to replicate for decades, and none of them have been able to.

But why is it so hard to copy the Jeep Wrangler? It's easy enough to sketch a picture, build out a new frame, and add some outdoorsy bells and whistles. It's because what makes the Jeep Wrangler... itself... is the experience as a whole. No group of owners is more social, more passionate, and surer of themselves than Jeep Wrangler owners. And all you need to do is ask one of them to really see it for yourself. Whether it's in a simple hand-lift wave off the steering as they pass a fellow Wrangler driver, or the deep connection of an enthusiast group that gets together every weekend, this social aspect is something truly special.

And that's something that you don't get in any other vehicle on the market today (or yesterday).




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