If I had to pick my top three all-American cars of all time, the Jeep Wrangler would stand alongside the Chevrolet Corvette and Ford Mustang. Like these two sports cars, the Wrangler is not only made in the U.S.A. (in Toledo, Ohio), but it also has a styling and a symbolism reminiscent of the original model. Much has changed in the United States since the iconic off-roader was created back in 1941, but the Jeep Wrangler is still the same rugged and capable off-road vehicle that it was during World War II.
The Jeep Wrangler is probably one of the few vehicles currently offered that has no true competition, but it can be easily compared to off-road ready, mid-size SUVs like the HUMMER H3, Toyota FJ Cruiser and the Nissan Xterra. Although the third-generation Wrangler (also called JK) is available as the four-door Wrangler Unlimited, I had the chance to test out the classic two-door model decked out in the Sahara trim level. The base price of a 2010 Wrangler starts at $21,165, but quickly climbs up to $26,255 for the added styling and interior treatments of the Wrangler Sahara. As for the 2010 Jeep Wrangler Sahara used for this review, a handful of options and the $750 destination charge added up to an as-tested price of $31,190.
2010 Jeep Wrangler Exterior
In terms of styling, the Wrangler's redesign in 2007 turned out to be the most significant design change since the CJ-7 (the predecessor to the Wrangler) was introduced in 1976. Staying true to the classic design of the Wrangler and the CJ, the latest Wrangler features removable doors, exposed hood latches and door hinges, a foldable windshield and the choice of a folding soft top or a removable hardtop. This test model offered the Dual Top option that offered both the Sunrider soft top and the Freedom Top three-piece hard top. The doors and front roof panels are easily removable by one person, but the rear portion of the hard top requires some added help (T45 torx screws secure the doors and T30 torx bolts secure the rear portion of the top). Both the hard and soft top options allow for easy open air driving over the front seats without removing or lowering the whole top.
Paying homage to past Wrangler models, the new model continues to feature seven-slot grille, round headlamps and protruding taillights, but the taller, wider body design gives Jeep's iconic model a more modern styling. Standard on the Wrangler Sahara are a set of five-spoke, 18-inch wheel that may not sit well with Jeep purists, but the wheels actually give this particular model the best approach (44.6), breakover (25.5) and departure (40.6) angles of any other 2010 Wrangler or Wrangler Unlimited model. Of course, the overall dimensions also help make the Wrangler better tackle whatever the trail can throw at it with a minimum of 10.3 inches of ground clearance to the axles on the Sahara and a short, 95.4-inch wheelbase.
The bigger wheels are new standard equipment for the 2010 Wrangler Sahara, and other changes include standard tow hooks and fog lights on all models.
2010 Jeep Wrangler Interior
The Jeep Wrangler's ability to offer removable doors and roof as well as lower the windshield means that special considerations had to me made in the cabin to ensure quick and easy clean up after a long day in the mud. As such, this is probably one of the few instances where hard plastic cabin materials are actually a benefit to the vehicle instead of the result of accountants designing cars. An updated interior is said to be in the works for 2011, but what the Wrangler currently has is perfect for what this vehicle is designed to do. New for 2010, all Wranglers add larger, sliding sun visors and a digital display to show the compass and outside temperature.
Like previous Wrangler models, the short wheelbase means that the rear seat is positioned in between the rear wheel wells which limits the seating capacity to four passengers. There is still much more room in the back seat than is expected, but the rear seats are stiff and rather uncomfortable on long drives. A first for any Jeep Wrangler, the JK offers power windows and door locks as an option, but it doesn't really make the doors any harder to remove. Once the doors and top are removed, there is plenty of lockable storage area in the center console and the glove box to keep valuables safe and secure.
Troops back in WWII probably could have probably never imagined a Jeep with a navigation system, but this Sahara featured the optional ($1,550) Media Center package that added the GPS navigation with a touch screen display and the 30-gigabyte hard drive that can hold up to 4,250 song files. This system features a built-in USB port, a touch-screen display and the convenience of Chrysler's Uconnect Phone system which is now a standard feature with the navigation system.
2010 Jeep Wrangler Performance & Handling
One of the saddest days for the Jeep Wrangler was when Chrysler stopped producing the 4.0-liter inline-6, but the 3.8-liter V-6 currently used in the Wrangler is plenty strong enough to get the Jeep out of any sticky situations. One advantage that the newer V-6 has is improved fuel economy with EPA estimates of 15 miles per gallon in the city and 19 mpg on the highway. For 2011, the Jeep Wrangler will get even better performance and fuel economy with the all-new Pentastar V-6 under the hood.
Unlike the Wrangler Unlimited, the two-door Wrangler is only available with Jeep's Command-Trac part-time four-wheel drive system, and I was able to test out the system in rough, articulating terrain and in soft, sugar-fine sand. In both scenarios, 4WD High worked fine enough and the optional ($825) four-speed automatic transmission made it almost effortless. A six-speed manual transmission is standard equipment, but probably wouldn't be the best setup for inexperienced off-road drivers. Of course, whenever taking a Jeep Wrangler or any four-wheel drive vehicle off road, be sure to tread lightly and use only designated driving areas.
Knowing that some of the buyers will (sadly) never take their Wranglers off road, Jeep had to design the new Wrangler to be more manageable on the road than in previous years. Just like the Ford Mustang, some buyers will probably choose the Wrangler simply for the icon status and cool looks rather than its performance capabilities. This isn't to say that the new Wrangler rides like a luxury car on the road, but the extra width really helps make it a more noticeably stable vehicle at highway speeds. It's still pretty bumpy over any slightly uneven road surfaces, but that is all easily forgotten once you climb over your first hill or power though your first mud hole.
2010 Jeep Wrangler Safety
Designed to tackle the hardest of trails without giving in, some of the Wrangler's classic design elements have also given it crash-test results similar to other classic cars. Both the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave the new Wrangler top marks for frontal-impact protection, but the good news stops there. The thin, removable doors resulted in a Poor rating for side-impact protection from the IIHS, while the NHTSA didn't even test this category. The Wrangler's high ground clearance and short wheelbase give it excellent abilities to tackle rough terrain, but it also increases the likelihood of a rollover which is why the NHTSA gave it a three-star rating. Since the NHTSA only rates a vehicle on how susceptible it is to rollover, the Wrangler's full roll cage played no factor in the rating. Other than the roll cage, standard safety equipment on the 2010 Jeep Wrangler include four airbags, electronic roll mitigation, hill start assist, four-wheel anti-lock disc brake system, tire pressure monitoring system, traction control and electronic stability control.
The Jeep Wrangler is still the king of the trail, but the recent redesign has given it better on-road prowess and improved passenger comfort. For anybody looking for a vehicle that offers such an open-air experience and navigate some of the most difficult terrains without giving up the myriad of technologies and conveniences in modern cars, there is probably no other vehicle that can compete against the 2010 Jeep Wrangler Sahara.
Jeep provided a vehicle for this review.
Select photos by Jeffrey N. Ross