The legend continues
THE GOOD
  • Off-road capability
  • Resale value
  • Legendary styling
THE BAD
  • Road noise
  • Highway handling
  • Cost of admission

The roots of the modern Jeep Wrangler can be traced back to World War II and the production of the Willys MB.

It’s come a long way in the 80 years since mass production got underway, but the same styling elements and functionality remain intact. Offered in two- and four-door configurations with a handful of trims and packages, there are no less than 16 versions of the Wrangler on the market right now. And that’s just the beginning, with a dizzying array of engines, packages, and options to add from there.

The classic two-door Wrangler now accounts for less than 10 per cent of all models sold, with the four-door Unlimited proving incredibly popular since its introduction back in 2006. Its longer wheelbase offers a smoother ride and more space for passengers and cargo, plus additional towing capacity.

Despite the obvious evolution that’s happened here, this is still very much the utility vehicle that launched all those years ago.

Styling: 9/10

There are few vehicles in history that are as easily recognizable and universally adored as the Jeep Wrangler. Large, round headlights divided by the classic slotted grille; big, bulky hinges; removable doors; and a front windshield that can be lowered – all of these elements remain intact. The interior is much more modern and less sparse than it was in years prior, but it maintains its sense of sturdy functionality.

Available in both two- and four-door variants, the 2021 Jeep Wrangler Sport 80th Anniversary Edition honours the tradition of rugged, go-anywhere versatility with special emblems adorning its cloth bucket seats, floor mats, and centre console, as well as a unique plaque inside the tailgate that shows the similarities and differences between the 1941 and 2021 models.

It also gets Anodized Gunmetal instrument panel bezels, Light Tungsten interior accents, a grey and black trail-rated badge, grey bumpers, a body colour grille, and 18-inch Granite Crystal aluminum wheels. It makes for a fitting tribute – particularly in the so-called Sarge Green of this tester.

Safety: 7/10

Safety features here are fairly basic, with a government-mandated back-up camera, anti-lock brakes, traction control, multi-stage front airbags and seat-mounted side airbags, and electronic roll mitigation. The optional Safety Group ($895) adds LED taillights, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, and rear parking sensors. Getting active safety systems requires adding the $1,450 Advanced Safety Group, which includes adaptive cruise control and forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, though lane-keep assist isn’t offered.

Features: 8/10

The 8.4-inch touchscreen infotainment screen is fitted with Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto connectivity; built-in navigation; and an upgraded audio system.

As far as functionality, this Wrangler comes decently equipped out of the box, with fuel tank, transmission, and transfer case skid plates, and solid axles front and rear, which are more robust than independent suspension setups. The more you spend, the more amenities and off-road capability you get. This tester featured an upgraded transfer case that can automatically engage four-wheel drive based on conditions ($795) and a limited-slip rear differential ($525).

Stepping up to the hardcore Rubicon gets you locking front and rear axles, a transfer case with upgraded low-range gearing, unique suspension, and electronically disconnecting sway bars, as well as 33-inch off-road tires. The aftermarket is seemingly infinite for those who have money to spend, but the prowess of even a stock Rubicon is astounding.

This tester was loaded up with options, including LED fog- and headlights, a remote starter, heated steering wheel and front seats, tow package, a three-piece modular hardtop, side steps, and a fuel-filler door.

User Friendliness: 8/10

Once you get accustomed to the power window switches being located on the dash, you’ll find few vehicles more intuitive than the Wrangler. The interior features robust handles, buttons, and knobs that are easy to operate with gloves on, and the infotainment system is easy to navigate. Activating the heated steering wheel and front seats no longer requires scrolling through multiple screens, as they have their own dedicated dash-mounted buttons.

The raised seating position and shape of the windows allow for decent visibility, while the rear camera and parking sensors make parking simple. Made for those with an active lifestyle, you may find getting in and out a bit of a challenge if you have mobility issues.

Practicality: 7.5/10

It’s a convertible with five seats in the summer and a rugged SUV in the winter that can tackle challenging terrain all year long. The passenger compartment features drain plugs so it can be hosed down. Removing the roof panels, windows, and doors with the tool kit provided can be time-consuming, but the more you do it the faster the process becomes. Be sure to lock any valuables in the glove box to keep them away from prying eyes if you’ve got the roof or doors off. Opting for the Unlimited version also ups the towing capacity from 907 kg (2,000 lb) to 1,588 kg (3,500 lb).

Comfort: 7/10

While the Wrangler does offer modern amenities that increase the comfort of its occupants such as a heated steering wheel, leather heated seats, and power windows, those looking for a luxury vehicle may be turned off by its ruggedness. It provides off-road readiness with suspension that coddles its occupants over bumps, but it lacks the refinement, quietness, and serenity that you’d expect from a modern SUV. As long as you approach it with these reasonable expectations, you won’t be disappointed.

Driving Feel: 7.5/10

Not much more aerodynamic than a cinder block, the Wrangler’s design has received subtle tweaks over the years to make it more comfortable and fuel-efficient, but wind and road noise increase the faster you drive.

The vague steering may take some time to get accustomed to for those who are new to the Jeep world. It wanders at highway speeds and becomes skittish when carrying too much speed into a corner. However, the same suspension that aptly handles off-road obstacles is also keenly helpful at navigating pothole-riddled urban streets.

Power: 7.5/10

The standard powertrain is a V6 that makes 285 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque mated to a six-speed manual transmission. An eight-speed automatic transmission is available across the board. The optional 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder engine makes 270 hp and 290 lb-ft of torque. Jeep has also been adding powertrain options – including a torquey diesel V6 that will set you back an additional $9,190, a plug-in hybrid, and a simply bananas 6.4L V8 packing 470 hp that will be available later this year.

The model tested featured the much more sedate four-cylinder engine mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission, which proved more than sufficient for daily use. A mild chatter is noticeable at start-up, but otherwise it performs better than the six-cylinder engines of old with better fuel economy, thanks in part to the turbocharger and eight-speed transmission.

Fuel Economy: 7.5/10

The fuel economy ratings for the optional 2.0L four-cylinder engine are 11.5 L/100 km in the city, 9.9 on the highway, and 10.8 combined. Over the course of a week driving around the city, on highways, and even some off-road exploring sprinkled in, the final tally stood at 11.5 L/100 km. The six-cylinder offers slightly more horsepower but less torque, with fuel economy ratings that are only slightly higher at 12.3 L/100 km city, 9.9 highway, and 11.2 combined.

Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) ratings are only a vague guideline, but its annual fuel consumption estimates put the V6 at only $100 more to operate than the optional four-cylinder over the course of a year’s driving. The manual transmission that’s exclusive to the V6 is slightly higher than that. The diesel offers the longest range and most fuel efficiency, with a rating of 11.2 L/100 km city, 9.0 highway, and 10.2 combined, but the much higher cost of entry means it will take longer to show any sort of return.

Value: 9/10

Jeeps are not cheap. But you’ve got to pay to play, as they say. And, as a trip to the AutoTrader.ca marketplace will demonstrate, they also hold their value incredibly well – regardless of trim, age, condition, or mileage, it would seem. In order to experience the real value of a Wrangler, one needs to utilize its vast capabilities by travelling off-road, engaging four-wheel drive, and popping off the top for some fun in the sun.

The Verdict

In their wildest dreams, the enlisted men in the 1940s who unboxed Jeeps likely couldn’t have imagined its modern successor would have satellite navigation, voice-command capability, and a heated steering wheel. Surely the simplicity of having a roof that didn’t leak would have been an indulgent luxury at the time.

Most road-first SUVs will demonstrate their shortcomings the moment they leave the asphalt, but this is the Wrangler’s wheelhouse. Many people who own a Jeep won’t stray from the tarmac, but those who do know the true value of what a Wrangler brings to the table.

Competitors

Specifications

Engine Displacement 2.0L   Model Tested 2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sport S 80th Anniversary
Engine Cylinders I4   Base Price $48,060
Peak Horsepower 270 hp   A/C Tax $100
Peak Torque 295 lb-ft   Destination Fee $1,895
Fuel Economy 11.5 / 9.9 / 10.8 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb   Price as Tested $61,635
Cargo Space 898 / 2,050 L seats down  
Optional Equipment
$11,580 – 2.0L four-cylinder turbocharged engine, $1,795; Cold Weather Group, $995; Safety Group, $995; Convenience Group, $150; LED Headlamp & Fog Lamp Group, $695; Trailer Tow & HD Electrical Group, $895; Advanced Safety Group, $1,450; Black Freedom Top 3-piece modular hardtop, $1,295; Black Mopar fuel-filler door, $200; Black Mopar tubular side steps, $800; Mopar hardtop headliner $495, Remote proximity keyless entry, $495; 2.72:1 Selec-Trac full-time 4WD system, $795; Trac-Lok limited-slip rear differential, $525