Over the past 70 years, the Jeep has evolved from a butt-busting, no frills military vehicle to a comfortable, well-equipped SUV that can handle Vermont winters with ease. The marquee has gone through many owners, starting in 1941 with Willys. Then came Kaiser, Kaiser-Jeep and American Motors, Chrysler and DaimlerChrysler. Now, Jeep is part of Fiat’s Chrysler Group.
In spite of the turmoil associated with numerous owners, Jeep hasn’t lost its basic identity or capability. And the new Jeep Corporation managers continue to allocate the resources necessary to refine the successful Wrangler and Wrangler Unlimited. For 2011, the strategy is combining Wrangler’s legendary capability with an all-new interior that combines fresh styling with significantly upgraded materials, occupant comfort and utility.
“The iconic Jeep Wrangler keeps getting better,” said Mike Manley, President and CEO — Jeep Brand, Chrysler Group LLC. “While retaining unmatched, legendary capability, the 2011 Jeep Wrangler boasts an all-new interior that delivers a host of comfort, convenience and versatility features. “
Available in three models – Sport, Sahara and Rubicon – the 2-door Jeep Wrangler and 4-door Wrangler Unlimited display modern, almost trendy lines, but all models are easily identified as Jeeps.
The new interior includes a redesigned instrument panel and new storage areas. A lockable console and upgraded door armrest areas are padded for comfort. A redesigned center stack is easy to reach and operate. Heated seats and heated power mirrors are now available, along with automatic temperature control. Larger rear windows improve rear visibility.
All-new steering-wheel controls operate the radio, cruise control, hands-free phone and other vehicle functions. A USB port enables the connection of storage devices (thumb drives and most MP3 players) for use with the vehicle’s Media Center, which now includes Bluetooth streaming audio. In addition to twelve-volt accessory outlets, a new 115-volt outlet is available.
In line with traditional Jeep design, hex-head bolts are utilized throughout the interior. To provide a more premium appearance, Sahara models have a new, body-color hardtop. Jeep engineers increased the use of sound-deadening materials, resulting in significantly reduced interior noise.
Rear seats comfortably accommodate two adults, and a fold-and-tumble feature allows rear seats to be conveniently stowed for more storage capacity. There’s 17.15 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seat and a lockable, under floor storage area, for keeping small items out of sight. Wrangler Unlimited has 43.43 cubic feet behind the rear seat.
Wrangler’s signature features remain intact for 2011, including classic round headlamps, a seven-slot grille, trapezoid wheel flares, exposed hinges, a fold-down windshield, sport bar, removable tops and doors, available full-framed or half doors and hard, dual or soft tops. With room for five adults, Jeep Wrangler Unlimited remains the only four-door convertible on the market.
Wrangler’s exterior is notable not only for its styling, but also for its open-air options. The innovative Sunrider soft top, which includes a sunroof in addition to the full top-down option, is standard, while Jeep’s three-piece modular Freedom Top is available. This system features three panels – left and right front-passenger panels and a rear panel – providing more options for open-air driving.
Not a whole lot has changed under the hood for 2011. The powertrain for all Wrangler models is a 3.8-liter V-6 engine producing 202 horsepower and 237 lb.-ft. of torque, connected to a standard six-speed manual gearbox or a four-speed automatic transmission. Fuel economy is 15 mpg city/19 mpg hiway.
Wrangler Sport and Sahara models use the second-generation Command-Trac NV241 part-time, two-speed transfer case with a 2.72:1 low-range gear ratio. An available limited-slip rear differential provides extra grip on slippery, low-traction situations, such as deep snow or ice.
The Jeep Wrangler Rubicon model is equipped with an Off-Road Rock-Trac NV241 two-speed transfer case with a 4.0:1 low-range gear ratio, as well as electric front- and rear-axle lockers, an electronic sway bar disconnect and 32-inch BF Goodrich off-road tires.
The Jeep Wrangler retains the body-on-frame chassis. High ground clearance combined with short front and rear overhangs give the Wrangler the ability to conquer incredibly challenging off-road obstacles—especially severe inclines. Whether it’s sand, snow or the worst of Vermont’s mud season, the Wrangler can march right through were most other vehicles simply can’t go. And surprisingly, on the highway, Wrangler’s ride and handling compares favorably with that of many high end SUVs.
Off-road enthusiasts will recognize these key numbers: for the Rubicon model, an approach angle of 44.3 degrees, breakover angle of 25.4 degrees and departure angle of 40.4 degrees. Underbody protection is provided by three skid plates to protect the fuel tank, transfer case and automatic transmission oil pan.
Jeep Wrangler models feature standard stability control, electronic roll mitigation, all-speed traction control, tire pressure monitor, Brake Assist and Hill-start Assist, which prevents rollback on a graded surface. In addition, available Trailer-sway Control monitors vehicle movement relative to the intended path, and engages differential braking and power reduction to regain stability.
There’s an array of infotainment technologies for driver safety and passenger enjoyment. The features enable drivers to safely communicate, navigate and select entertainment options using advance voice recognition controls. Passengers can stay entertained with a multitude of features, including SIRIUS Satellite Radio, Bluetooth streaming audio, Uconnect Navigation, Uconnect Phone and Uconnect Web.
Forget about days past when Jeeps were simple and inexpensive. Prices start at $22,045 for the Wrangler Sport and top out at $29,055 for the Sahara. You can get the Wrangler Unlimited Sport for as little as $24,545 or as much as $29,945 for the Sahara.