The 2021 Jeep Wrangler is a compact, five-passenger, SUV with a long history of off-roading prowess. Its roots go all the way back to World War II, but it didn’t officially become the Wrangler until 1986. The current generation of the Wrangler was introduced in 2018 with a new look, better ride, and host of new features. A lot has changed over the years, but what hasn’t changed is the Wrangler’s capability for off-roading adventures. If your plans call for more time in the dirt than on the pavement, it’s hard to beat the Jeep Wrangler. Pricing for the 2021 Jeep Wrangler starts at around $28,000.
The Wrangler’s design has changed little over its 25 year of production — the automaker doesn’t want to mess with its iconic styling. Most everything you see on this compact SUV is engineered to be rugged and durable for off-roading, so it looks the way it does for good reason.
There are two-door (Wrangler) or four-door (Wrangler Unlimited) configurations depending on your cargo and passenger needs. Those doors come off on both models for an open-air experience and, thanks to handholds on the inside and their lightweight high-strength aluminum construction, the doors are easy to manage.
Wrangler is one of the few convertible SUVs, available with a selection of soft tops and optional removable hard tops, including a three-piece hard top that’s our favorite. Lowering and raising the soft top on a Wrangler used to be a bear of a job, but has been thankfully simplified with this generation of production.
There’s a minimum of 9.7 inches of ground clearance with a 41.4-degree approach angle and 35.9-degree departure angle. Those number get even better with the Rubicon trim for the more adventurous. There are also skid plates to protect the fuel tank and transfer case when that clearance isn’t quite enough. The Wrangler is up to the challenge of conquering rugged terrain and scaling steep hills.
The Wrangler’s interior matches its off-road capability. A compact SUV that goes off-road is going to get dirty inside and out, so it can’t have a fragile interior that won’t stand up to the muck. There are standard cloth seats with the option for leather and either choice is durable enough to handle the Wrangler’s open-air lifestyle.
Wrangler is roomy inside so even tall adults can get comfortable with seating for up to five people. Two door models cut rear seating down to only two and makes those rear seats harder to access. Go with the four-door Wrangler unless rear passengers are an afterthought. It’s a comfortable but utilitarian interior that’s perfectly suited to the Wrangler’s off-road focus.
Knobs and controls are chunky and easy to grab with gloved or muddy hands, and there are plenty of places to stow smartphones to keep them secure – something that’s important when the doors are off. The Uconnect infotainment system is easy to use with intuitive menus that are quick to learn and quick to navigate. A 5-inch screen is standard on the Sport and Sport S with a 7-inch screen on the Sahara and Rubicon. There’s the option for an 8.4-inch screen with navigation on the top trims only.
The four-door Wrangler has 31.7 cubic feet for cargo behind the rear seats or 72.4 cubic feet with those seats folded and can tow up to 3,500 pounds. The two-door drops those numbers to 12.9 cubic feet and 21.7 cubic feet, respectively with max towing of 2,000 pounds.
A 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 engine (285 hp/260 lb-ft of torque) with a six-speed manual transmission is standard. Optional is a 3.6-liter V6 mild-hybrid with eTorque assist or a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder (270 hp/295 lb-ft of torque), both of which get an 8-speed automatic. Jeep recommends 87-octane fuel but notes the 2.0 liter will perform better if you bump that up to 91-octane gas instead.
Four-door Wranglers have the option for a 270-hp 3.0-liter V6 diesel, which has up to 295 lb-ft of torque to make challenging terrain less tricky. Fuel economy varies from a low of 19 mpg combined with the base V6 up to 25 mpg with the four-cylinder or diesel.
New this year is the Wrangler 4xe plug-in hybrid, which features the 2.0-liter turbocharged engine paired with two electric motors for 375 combined system hp. It has 25 miles of electric-only range and estimated fuel economy of 50 MPGe. Lastly, there’s the new Rubicon 392 with a 470-hp 6.4-liter V8 and premium off-road features.
While the base 3.6-liter does the job, not everyone is up for driving a manual transmission. In that case, moving up to either the mild-hybrid V6 or the turbocharged 4-cylinder with the automatic transmission solves the problem. We preferred the 4-cylinder for it’s more responsive turbocharged engine that makes getting up to highway speeds an easier affair.
The turbodiesel, with all its low-end torque, is another great choice if you put a priority on performance. We found it responsive and, despite what you might think about a diesel, surprisingly quiet. Unless you’re in close quarters (like a tunnel or adventuring in a narrow canyon) you’ll be hard-pressed to hear the engine.
Our biggest gripe about the Wrangler’s driving dynamics is steering feel on the highway. The rugged off-road componentry and big tires mean the Wrangler needs near-continous steering corrections, which becomes tiresome on long trips. And, while the engine noise is kept to a minimum, the Wrangler isn’t a quiet ride on the highway. Whether you’re going with a hardtop or soft, there’s no hiding the fact that the roof is not fixed. Especially with the soft-top, road and wind noise can be intrusive. It’s something to consider if your plans call for making this a commuter car.
On the other hand, if your plans call for off-roading, then you’ll find the Wrangler more than ready for the challenge. Especially in the Rubicon trim, it makes short work of rugged terrain with no hesitation. Whether you’re climbing slowly over larger obstacles like rocks or sprinting up a sand dune, the Wrangler has the capability. It doesn’t test your driving skills, but rather enhances them, making it easier to tackle intimidating terrain.
The base Wrangler starts at around $28,000 and the full line tops out at around $49,500. It is offered in four base trim levels, but with its range of special editions there are more than a dozen variations from which to choose.
- Sport (starts at about $28,000) – This is the base model with cloth seats, manual windows, and limited options.
- Sport S (starts at about $32,500) – Adds power windows, automatic headlamps, and air conditioning.
- Sahara (starts at about $39,000) – Upgrades include side steps, 18-inch wheels with all-terrain tires, and dual-zone climate control
- Rubicon (starts at about $39,000) – The most off-road focused trim with heavy-duty solid front and rear axles, sway bar disconnect, and front and rear locking differentials
Pricing for the new 4xe plug-in hybrid and the Rubicon 392 have yet to be announced.
Aside from the obvious off-road talent, the Wrangler’s best feature is its open-air drive experience. You can take off the doors and the roof and even lower the windshield. It comes with its own tool kit for making short work of the process, so the right tools are always at the ready. There are also both hardtop and soft-top roof options so you can pick whichever works best for your lifestyle and your climate.
When you buy a Wrangler, you’re not just buying a vehicle, you’re buying into a community of Jeep owners. You’ll discover the “Jeep wave,” and you’ll hear about Jamborees and rallies. You can decide if you want to participate, and how much. Be careful – the Jeep lifestyle can become all-consuming, and a lot of fun.
The Rubicon with its extra off-road goodies is tempting, but we’d go with the Sport S (starts at about $32,500). It’s adds key comfort features including power windows and air conditioning without adding unnecessary off-road features that will only come in handy for the most hardcore adventurers.
The Wrangler offers most of its advanced safety features through two optional packages available on all but the base Sport trim. One package includes blind-spot monitoring while the other has forward collision warning with active braking. You’ll need to spring for both packages to get the maximum in safety. It’s unfortunate you can’t get these features on the Sport and makes a good case for going with the Sport S at a minimum.
The Jeep Wrangler is an obvious choice for the off-road enthusiast, but it’s also a great choice for the off-road novice. It’s capability even in base trims makes it easy for a novice to get started without the complexity of the features offered on the Rubicon. You can go that route if you have the skills, but you can do plenty of off-roading in the Wrangler in its base configuration for a lot less money. While two-door Wranglers are best for couples, the four-door has enough room to make it a family affair.
The 2021 Jeep Wrangler upholds the brand’s reputation for off-road capability. The Wrangler will take you pretty much anywhere you want to go, whether that’s a muddy trail, rock-strewn hillside, or sandy dune. It can also ford water and has an interior that can withstand the mud, dirt, and whatever else finds its way inside while you’re adventuring. The Wrangler balances that capability with a rugged but comfortable interior that includes a fully featured infotainment system and room for cargo. If you plan to venture past the point where the pavement ends, then the 2021 Jeep Wrangler is the vehicle for you.
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