In an age when the Ford Explorer and Dodge Durango SUVs have now become crossovers, Jeep has done no such thing with the classic Wrangler. The Wrangler is, for better and for worse, mostly the same as it's always been for decades. The 2011 Jeep Wrangler still has no direct competitors and sales have remained at a level that keeps the SUV relevant.
As before, the Wrangler combines real off-road capability with a rugged image at an accessible price. A 2011 Wrangler carries a sticker price of about $23,000 for a basic two-door model while a loaded Unlimited four-door model can rise above $34,000. No powertrain changes have been made to the Wrangler in the 2011 model year, and the same six-speed manual and four-speed automatic transmission are offered.
The 3.8-liter V-6 makes 202 horsepower at 5200 rpm and 237 pound-feet of torque at 4000 rpm. Consumers who want a 2011 Wrangler to do double duty as a weekend off-roading toy and a daily commuter should be prepared for poor fuel economy. The four-wheel-drive Wrangler with a manual transmission is rated 15/19 mpg city/highway and 16 mpg combined while the automatic-transmission model gets 15/19 mpg but 17 mpg combined. Rear-wheel-drive Wranglers were last sold in the 2009 model year.
Want a Wrangler with better fuel economy? Automotive industry rumors suggest the Wrangler could be receiving a serious upgrade in engine technology for the 2012 model year. Chrysler's new 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 engine has been used in the new Grand Cherokee, Chrysler and Dodge minivans, as well as the Dodge Charger and Chrysler 300 sedans.
Jeep has provided a few meaningful upgrades to the Wrangler for the 2011 model year designed to increase its day-to-day livability. A number of interior improvements make the 2011 Wrangler more civilized inside than many current Wrangler owners probably thought possible. To the right of the redesigned center stack is a new lockable console. Better door armrest areas are complemented by a new steering wheel with audio controls. Bluetooth streaming audio is an option with the new USB device interface. The automaker claims that the interior has significantly reduced noise. Jeep has even managed to make the rear side windows larger, for increased livability. For some design flair, the passenger grab handle has an inlay that reads, "Jeep, Since 1941."
Exterior changes are limited to a body-color hardtop on Sahara models and new colors including variants of yellow, red, tan, blue, and white. Regardless of what color you choose, all Wranglers have a five-link coil suspension setup with tuned shock absorbers, along with Dana 30 front and heavy-duty Dana 44 rear axles -- the Wrangler gets Dana 44 axles front and rear. Go for the more expensive Rubicon model and you'll also get Jeep's active sway bar system, an electronic-disconnecting front stabilizer bar. The Rubicon two-door model has an approach angle of 44.3 degrees, a breakover angle of 25.4 degrees, and a departure angle of 40.4 degrees.
Adding to the Jeep's charm are the removable doors and fold-down windshield. Clearly, the 2011 Wrangler offers a driving experience you can find nowhere else in the U.S. market in two- or four-door form.
Motor Trend magazine's driving impressions in a recent test of the Wrangler simply support this idea. "Jeep managed to make the Wrangler more user-friendly, more comfortable, and more luxurious, without taking away any of the things that make this model legendary."
Safety, unfortunately, is not the Wrangler's strength. In safety tests conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration before the more stringent standard in 2011, a 2010 Wrangler received five stars in the front driver and passenger categories and three stars (out of a possible five) in the rollover test. At the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, frontal impact tests were again rated "good," but side impact tests were "poor" for a two-door model and "marginal" for a four-door Wrangler.
People who buy Wranglers usually know the advantages and disadvantages to owning such a classic off-roader. The only word of caution we have is for consumers who have the luxury of waiting to remember that a serious engine upgrade is likely coming to the Wrangler in the near future.