What the experts say about the 2017 Jeep Wrangler

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In this ongoing series, Boston.com talks with automotive authorities about why you should consider driving — or avoiding — a specific model.

2017 Jeep Wrangler

Within the rough-and-tumble Jeep brand, the Wrangler reigns supreme among outdoor enthusiasts who prefer the most rugged of rides.  

Even as Jeep’s lineup evolves to include new, smaller models, the Wrangler remains a classic. Though it’s slated to undergo a redesign for the 2018 model year, the current Wrangler still has much to recommend it.

“In fact, this generation of Wrangler is the best selling ever, with sales around the 200,000 annual volume mark for several years now,” said Ed Kim, vice president of industry analysis at marketing research and consulting firm AutoPacific. “An update in 2012 brought a nicer interior and a much more refined engine, but Wrangler remains as tough and authentic as ever.”

The Wrangler comes in four base trims – Sport, Sport S, Sahara, and Rubicon – and several special editions. Each model is equipped with a 285-horsepower, 3.6-liter, V6 engine, a six-speed manual transmission, and four-wheel drive. A five-speed automatic transmission is available. The top-of-the-line Rubicon upgrades its suspension and four-wheel-drive system to serve as the ultimate off-road vehicle. Locking front and rear differentials and a low-gear ratio help the Rubicon steadily scale sand dunes and other treacherous terrain with supreme confidence.

Each trim is available as a two-door model or in the larger, four-door Unlimited body style that boosts seating capacity to five. Whether buyers opt for the standard fabric soft top or upgrade to a hard top with removable panels, every model features removable doors and tops for a versatility unmatched by other SUVs. Since off-road enthusiasts know that it’s what’s beneath the car that counts most, cabin amenities are few. The base model comes with a USB port and an eight-speaker stereo. Leather upholstery, a 6.5-inch touch screen, and automatic climate control are available on higher trims.

The Wrangler does not offer any safety features besides standard airbags. The four-door version received three out of five stars in frontal and rollover crash tests by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (The two-door model has not been rated.) The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the other national vehicle ratings agency, posted mixed results for both body styles.  

The 2017 Jeep Wrangler starts at $23,995, and the Rubicon model begins at $39,145.

What the experts say

Old school appeal

“The current Jeep Wrangler may be singing its swan song as an all-new model prepares to make its debut shortly, but it continues to be a true original whose appeal is stronger than it ever was. The current generation debuted for the 2007 model year and brought with it a four-door Unlimited body style for the first time. Jeep is said to have had modest expectations for the four-door Wrangler when it launched, but those of us in the auto-analyst biz knew there was strong latent demand for such a vehicle. To no one’s surprise, really, the current Wrangler has been a hit ever since, buoyed by the four-door Unlimited body style that makes up the vast majority of Wrangler sales. The Wrangler, in four-door form, even does a passable impression of a decent daily driver with a reasonably sized back seat and cargo area and just enough comfort and convenience features to keep things civilized. If you’re smitten by Wrangler now, there’s no shame in getting the current one. Its appeal and ability to bring a smile to your face is matched by few other vehicles on sale today.” – Ed Kim, vice president of industry analysis at marketing research and consulting firm AutoPacific

Superior off road

“There are lots of things this vehicle isn’t — it’s not comfortable, it’s not fuel efficient, and it doesn’t have the latest in technological features. But in the Wrangler Rubicon, you can literally drive up, around, and quite possibly over, the vehicles that do. Because this Jeep isn’t messing around. It’s got off-road capabilities that would cost you thousands in an aftermarket build, all with the reassurance of a factory warranty. With the next-generation Wrangler imminent, this may be your last chance to buy a pure off-road icon. If you’re looking for efficient and easy, go get yourself a Prius (yawn).” – Amelia Dalgaard, founder of Motorhead Mama blog

Safety shortcomings

“The 2017 Wrangler is one of the lowest rated SUVs in safety tests by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.  It’s an old design and the only vehicle we rate where side airbags are still just optional equipment. The two-door Wrangler is rated ‘Poor’ for side-impact protection and the four-door model is rated ‘Marginal.’ Both were tested without the optional airbags. The Wrangler is the only SUV the Institute hasn’t rated for roof strength in rollover crashes because it doesn’t have a solid roof. The Wrangler also isn’t available with the latest crash avoidance features such as autonomous emergency braking, which is at least optional on our highest rated SUVs. Both the two-door and four-door Wrangler rated ‘Poor’ for their headlights. A redesigned Wrangler is expected in 2018 and will likely perform better in safety evaluations.” – Russ Rader, senior vice president of communications at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety