Review and photos by
Peter Bleakney, CanadianDriver.com
Jackson Hole, Wyoming – While driving a 2011 Jeep Wrangler Sahara Unlimited over public roads at highway speeds, I was able to carry on a conversation with the other two passengers without having to yell. Or even raise my voice.
Blasphemy or progress?
The Wrangler is the most unabashed boonie-basher in the Jeep line-up, and has carried this brand’s image for decades. Being the icon that it is, Jeep is wisely cautious when making any major changes to the Wrangler. Like the Tread Lightly campaign that champions four-wheeling environmental awareness, Jeep engineers tread lightly with the Wrangler to ensure they stay true to its core audience.
And so it was during the press presentation of the 2011 Wrangler, which gets an all new interior and sees vastly reduced on-road NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) levels, the Jeep brass were continually reminding the assembled pencil-pushers that the Wrangler hasn’t gone all soft on us.
The Wrangler starts at $21,595 for the soft-top two-door Sport B which comes with 16-inch steel wheels and no air. The Sport S at $24,695 adds air, Sirius, 17-inch alloys and some trim upgrades. The $28,495 Sahara is the “luxury” model, if I dare use that word, featuring a modular hardtop, 18-inch alloys, body coloured fenders and upgraded audio. Go for the $31,495 Rubicon, and you’ve bought an out-of-the-box rock crawler. Add $2,000 to either of the top three trim levels to get the longer wheelbase four-door Unlimited.
The Wrangler’s new interior features a more flowing design with soft-touch materials, automatic headlights, usable armrests and a new steering wheel with audio and cruise controls. Adding to the Wrangler’s new found civility are available heated seats, Garmin navigation with media centre and heated/powered side mirrors.
Functionality remains king in here, with a big metal grab bar in front of the passenger inscribed “Since 1941.” The carpets are removable and there are drain plugs in the floor so you can still hose ‘er out after the progeny pukes… I mean, after a hard day on the trails.
Cool little design touches abound. Above the rear-view mirror on the windshield is a silhouette of the Jeep’s grille, and tucked in the lower right hand corner is a little profile of a Wrangler scaling an incline. The icon in the Garmin nav is… you guessed it, a Jeep.
Also new for 2011, at the request of the customers, is an available body-coloured hardtop for the Sahara range in both two-door and four-door Unlimited sizes giving it a more uniform, upscale look. Rear window sizes increase across the line for better visibility.
New colours include Detonator Yellow, Deep Cherry Red, Sahara Tan, Cosmos Blue and Bright White.
According to Jeep engineers, the dramatic reduction in cabin noise was a happy accident. Some sound insulation was added at the firewall in combo with the new dash, and the payoff was much more than expected.
While the Wrangler is slated to get the Cherokee’s new 3.6-litre DOHC 290-hp V6 sometime down the road, power still comes from the ancient cast-iron pushrod 3.8-litre V6 producing 202 hp and 237 lb.-ft. of torque. It is backed by a five-speed manual transmission or optional four-speed auto. Standard are hill start assist, brake assist, electronic roll mitigation control and electronic stability control with three modes – full on, full off and partial on.
What makes the Wrangler such a formidable off roader are its class leading approach, breakover and departure angles in combination with the long serving Command-Trac I Standard part-time 4×4 system. Part time means just that. On dry roads, you’re in 2WD High where the front driveline is disengaged from the transfer case and power goes to only the rear wheels.
To shift into 4WD, the vehicle must be traveling under 88 km/h, and once engaged, the front and rear drive shafts are locked together; rotating at the same speed. Great for slippery surfaces like snow and dirt but dry pavement can cause binding and wheel hop. The 2.72:1 low range (4Low) is engaged with the vehicle in neutral and coasting at 4-6 km/h. The manly shift lever sprouting from the transfer case takes care of all this, and yes, Jeep could easily fit the electronic console mounted switch found in the Liberty, but Wrangler customers would throw a fit.
I got to chuck a Rubicon over a technical course set up by the Jeep off-roading team – or I should say it chucked me. Before heading out, the instructor told me to put on my seatbelt. I replied, “I’m a good Canadian. I always wear my seatbelt.” He looked at me like I had holes in my head.
In addition to the regular Wrangler hardware, the Rubicon gets a heavy duty Rock Trac transfer case fitted with a 4:1 ratio, Dana 44 front and rear axles, Tru-Lok front and rear electronic locking differentials, 32-inch BF Goodrich off road tires on 17-ich alloys, and electronically disconnectable sway bars that allow for ridiculous axle articulation.
Needless to say, my Rubicon sluffed off this topographic nightmare without breaking a sweat – this is where you understand the functioning of the low range crawl gear and the long throttle travel that allows you to mete out power in exacting increments.
As far as competitors go, the Wrangler doesn’t really have any. I suppose you could compare a loaded up four-door Sahara Unlimited to the $115,000 Mercedes-Benz G55, but there is that $80,000 price disparity.
And with the Merc, you can’t remove the top, take off the doors, flip forward the windshield and chew on bugs ‘till the mountain goats come home.
Pricing: 2011 Jeep Wrangler
Base price: $21,595 to $33,495