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.
It also works well off-road, where its torque helps the Wrangler excel at climbing over rocks and through mud. When we drove it in the snow in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, the Wrangler didn't skip a beat. It would take a lot more to discourage a vehicle with this level of capability than a little snow. But we know there is a better engine out there, one that has more gusto and provides better fuel economy. A question, though: If the 3.6-liter Pentastar becomes the JK's engine, would the Wrangler be the first application of that engine with a manual transmission? We can't imagine Jeep would discontinue the stick, so if the upgrade happens, it would make sense for trans options to be a six-speed manual and a five-speed auto.
Aside from the new top, the other major difference is the JK's new interior. Our testers had a tasteful black and tan color scheme in the cabin, the two-door with cloth seats, the four-door with leather. That the most rugged member of the Jeep family now has such available features as leather with seat heaters in front, heated power side-view mirrors, steering wheel audio controls, and U-Connect with Bluetooth audio may seem like heresy. But even the most diehard Jeep owner is going to get cold in the dead of winter; besides, with seat heaters, you can roll through town with the top down, doors off, and windshield folded down during a snowstorm and look like the manliest person on earth. And even with the new electronics, the doors are still removable.
Other changes: The door panels and center console use softer-touch materials, the dash and gauges were redesigned, and there is more storage room inside. Those with an eagle eye might notice that the side and rear windows are larger by as much as 20 percent, which significantly helps visibility.
The Wrangler, in essence, is the same as it ever was -- with awesome off-road capability and good looks that work on rocks, on the road, or in the sand, it is one of the coolest convertibles money can buy. Jeep managed to make the Wrangler more user-friendly, more comfortable, and more luxurious, without taking away any of the things that make this model legendary.
| 2011 Jeep Wrangler |
|Base price range|| $23,575-$34,275|
|Vehicle layout|| Front engine, 4WD, 4-5-pass, 2-4-door convertible SUV|
|Engine ||3.8L/202-hp/237-lb-ft OHV 12-valve V-6 |
|Transmissions|| 6-speed manual, 4-speed automatic|
|Curb weight ||3850-4500 lb (mfr)|
|Wheelbase ||95.4-116.0 in|
|Length x width x height ||152.8-173.4 x 73.7-73.9 x 70.8-70.9 in|
|0-60 mph|| 9.5-10.2 sec (MT est)|
|EPA city/hwy fuel econ ||15/19 mpg|
|CO2 emissions|| 1.17 lb/mile|
|On sale in U.S.|| Currently|