Whenever we hear about a new Jeep Wrangler, there's always a concern that the changes will makes the iconic vehicle less capable. Will it be converted to independent front and rear suspension from its current live axle setup? Is it going to share platforms with some crossover? Thankfully, for 2011 the answer to both of these questions is no.
None of the changes to the Wrangler involve its capability, on- or off-road. (Okay, hill-descent control is now standard.) Returning unchanged is the 3.8-liter V-6 with 202 horsepower and 237 pound-feet of torque, backed by either a six-speed manual or four-speed automatic. Both it and the four-door Unlimited are available with both transmissions, in Sport, Sahara, and the Rubicon, the ultimate off-road model from the Jeep plant in Toledo. We got behind the wheel of two Wranglers, one a two-door Mango Tango (orange) Sahara, pictured here; the other a Natural Green Unlimited Sahara. Our green four-door, with most of the bells and whistles, cost $35,510 as tested.
Both of these Jeeps reflect some changes that happened during the 2010 model year, namely the availability of leather and the end of the two-wheel-drive JKs. If you want a rear-drive Wrangler, you'll have to get a 2009 or older model. And as you can see from these images, there's something very different about its looks -- it doesn't have a black top. Black hard tops are offered, but Saharas have the new option of a removable bodycolor hardtop. It's made of composite material, just like the black top, but gives the Wrangler a higher-quality look. Oddly, it makes the two-door Jeep look a bit like an oversize Suzuki Samurai, but makes the four-door Wrangler look more upscale. This option looks great on the JK, and because it's the same material underneath the paintjob, it neither adds any weight nor affects noise. The interior was given more sound-deadening material, so every Wrangler cabin is quieter for 2011. But the Wrangler doesn't have the same polish as its upscale Grand Cherokee cousin. And it shouldn't.
Also lacking some refinement is the 3.8-liter six. The Wrangler could use a new engine, or at least an update of the current one. A new transmission is overdue, too. The Wrangler still uses a four-speed automatic?! While rumors have been swirling that the JK will benefit from the new Pentastar engine, it hasn't arrived for 2011. The switch would add almost 90 horsepower (from 202 to 290) and 23 pound-feet of torque (237 to 260). Don't get us wrong -- the current engine does a fine job, providing enough power off the line to be quite capable of keeping up with traffic.