Capsule Review: 2015 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara
In the darkest depths of the Cerberus era, nobody at Chrysler could have predicted how popular the all-new “JK” Jeep Wrangler would be. Perhaps the biggest surprise is the incredible cross-section of people buying the Wrangler. Everyone from suburban parents, white-collar upper management types and my own mother. This, by the way, is a vehicle that still utilizes a full frame and live axles!
In my own opinion, the Wrangler’s success comes from several different factors. The most obvious is the availability of the long wheel base Unlimited model, which offers 4 doors and a proper rear seat. Second, the JK and JKU have been significantly improved over the TJ; in addition to a stronger frame and a better body, things like the roof options were greatly improved, while creature comforts like the heater were brought into the modern era. Third, it has been continually improved since its introduction; a new interior in 2011, an all-new engine in 2012, and various features, options, and trims over the years. All of this was done without taking away the Jeepness of it; removable doors, drain plugs, folding windshield, and unmatched off-road capability. Think about it, it has a freakin’ folding windshield! In 2015!
The JK is now in the autumn of its years, but it is as young as the day it was born. It can be configured as a base short soft-top model with steel wheels all the way up to a fifty thousand dollar four-door Rubicon with heated leather seats, Alpine audio, roof liner, climate control, and remote start. You can have half doors or full doors and three different tops in nine different trim levels. Take your pick of a proper six-speed manual or a pretty damn good five-speed automatic. There are catalogs thicker than 1989 phone books filled with accessories. AEV will drop a HEMI V8 and convert one into an awesome pickup truck for you. How much money you got?
One of my hard-core-ish Jeep buddies (clean TJ with 3” lift, wheeled in summer) said that it’s sacrilegious to have some of these options on a real Jeep and something about Jeeps being built not bought. My other Jeep buddy (fuel-injected ’84 CJ-8 on 33s, wheeled very often) loves how the Wrangler has evolved and would buy one if he had the money. Search any Jeep internet forums and it is evident that people who off-road their Wranglers love them as much as those who haul kids in them. 33s can be stuffed in without a lift kit, 35s with a $200 spacer kit. A winch can be hidden behind the factory bumper, and fenders can replaced for high clearance ones with a few hours of work. The Rubicon comes from the factory with Dana 44 axles, locking diffs, and electronically disconnecting sway bars for increased axle articulation. I don’t understand why idiots risk illegally importing Land Rover Defenders when the Wrangler is just so good.
There is no denying that the Wrangler drives like a truck on the street. It doesn’t like sudden maneuvers but it was not dramatic when I needed to avoid a moron who couldn’t see a huge yellow Jeep in his side mirror. The seating position is high, so look far ahead and drive defensively. Respect the Wrangler, and it will make a fun daily commuter. Or you can go buy the idiot-proof Grand Cherokee. Highway ride is much less tiresome than it was in older Jeeps but ain’t no Range Rover.
Wranglers are a ton of fun, but they are not for everyone. The doors are small, the front seats lack lumbar support, rear seat backs are near vertical, and the hatch is kind of a pain. Wranglers are loud, tall, bouncy, and thirsty (16 city/21 hwy). None of that really matters, as you have either already stopped reading this or you are busy planning a weekend for the semiannual ritual of hard-top to soft-top swap. It’s a perfectly imperfect vehicle for winter snow and summer sun alike, and in my opinion all enthusiasts should own one in their lives.
The Wrangler starts at around $23,000 and the Unlimited around $27,000. The very Baja Yellow pictured Wrangler Unlimited Sahara, which comes standard with color-matched fenders, power windows and doors locks, and side steps starts at $32,295. The Sahara offers options that may not be available on other models, such as leather heated seats for $1300 and body-colored hard-top for $1895, remote start $495, Alpine audio, which sounds really good considering the fact that it is in a tin can, is $795. The Uconnect system with nav, hard drive, SiriusXM, and a USB port is $1895. Throw in a connectivity package, automatic transmission, and a destination change and you’re looking at $41,515. That is a lot, but it is still a lot cheaper than any beat up Defender 110.
Kamil Kaluski is the East Coast Editor for Hooniverse.com. His ramblings on Eastern European cars, $500 racers, and other miscellaneous automotive stuff can be found there. His first vehicle was an ’84 CJ-7. One day he met a cute chick who was driving a black TJ with a manual transmission. He married that chick and now they have two kids who love Jeeps, but sadly don’t own a Jeep!
FCA US LLC provided the bright yellow vehicle for the purpose of this review. Seriously, the yellow body with yellow top and yellow fenders is a bit much. I tried to get it muddy but my favorite construction site was fenced off, so I only managed to get it salty.
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I hate to say it, but the Wrangler should be exempt from CAFE, because it has no competition. Everyone who wants this kind of vehicle is forced to buy a Wrangler, and it is dragging down JEEP/FCA's CAFE numbers. This will force them to keep watering down the platform, so get one while you can. Also, sorry, but the latest Wrangler does NOT drive like a truck on the street - it's way more civilized.
Jeeps are narrower, shorter, have better visibility and are more maneuverable. Most important of all, they don't have rear leaf springs and an independently mounted truck bed that wags like a dog's tail at every bump in the road. Those fancy truck interiors are just a mind trick, my 4 door Jeep drives like a Cadillac compared to my F150 on real world roads.