2014 Jeep Wrangler Willys Wheeler Road Test

A niche within a niche.

What It Is
A special-edition Wrangler with exceptional off-road capability.
Best Thing
It's one of the best affordable off-road vehicles you can buy.
Worst Thing
Try holding a conversation going 70 mph on the highway.
Snap Judgment
Excellent off-roader, but impractical for the daily drive.

Drive down the road in a bright orange Wrangler and you're bound to be noticed. We've driven plenty of cars, but with a few notable exceptions (like the Tesla Model S and Chevy Corvette), very few have turned more heads than the Wrangler. Most of the attention we received was from other Wrangler owners, and the comradery among this group quickly became obvious.

Since it's such a niche product, qualities that would normally be unforgivable on a regular car are somehow charming on this model. But overall, the Wrangler requires significant compromise that, frankly, a good majority of buyers would not want to live with on a day-to-day basis.

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What We Drove

We drove the special-edition 2014 Wrangler Willys Wheeler, which features enhanced off-road capability. While a standard Wrangler would normally go for $23,390, our model totaled $30,980 thanks to the $5,700 Willys Wheeler package as well as Uconnect and a power accessories package.

Our Wrangler Willys Wheeler came with off-road tires, a performance suspension, and a Dana 44 rear axle with Trac-Lok limited-slip rear differential and 3.73 gears. Cosmetic upgrades include 17-inch high gloss black wheels, a black Willys Wheeler grille, a Willys Hood decal, and other unique badging. On the inside, look for a leather-wrapped steering wheel, Mopar slush mats, and charming backpack style handles to assist passengers upon entering the vehicle.

Standard safety features on the Wrangler include multistage front airbags, electronic stability control, traction control, electronic roll mitigation, hill start assist, and four-wheel disc brakes. Unfortunately, the government has only released partial crash test information for the 2014 Wrangler. The vehicle earned a mediocre three stars in rollover tests.

The Commute

When Monday morning comes, the only thing you really want is a comfortable and quiet ride to work. Although we didn't expect this from the Wrangler, we didn't know exactly what we were in for.

Entering the vehicle is the first challenge. It can be tough for petite drivers and passengers to hop in the high-riding Wrangler, and the position of the handle bars on top of the roof don't do much to help. Once you're in, the drive starts out smoothly. Hit the road, and you'll notice shifting with the standard six-speed manual transmission is a breeze once you get used to the long throws. Just be careful when switching to sixth gear, as it can easily be confused for Reverse thanks to the positioning of the gears. The overall drive inspires confidence, except for the occasional creaks and croaks of the car when making a turn. We found this gives the SUV a bit of its charm.

But there was one unescapable part of the vehicle's performance that many drivers will get likely never get used to. When traveling above 40 mph, excess road noise permeates the cabin, and when you hit highway speeds, you have to yell to carry on a conversation with the person sitting next to you. Much of this noise comes from the tires, and the retractable soft top doesn't do much to stop wind noise. You can hear a Prius whiz by.

At slower speeds, or while parked, the Wrangler is perfectly comfortable. The cloths seats are surprisingly cushy, and even after long drives, we were supported and ache-free. The Wrangler's Uconnect infotainment system features straight-forward, user-friendly controls. But it was about a 50/50 shot if the Bluetooth would sync up my phone's music without displaying an "Error Occurred" message.

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The Grocery Run

Behind the Wrangler's rear seats is 12.8 cubic feet of storage, which doesn't afford much room for groceries. For extra room, you could look in the rear passenger compartment, but we couldn't fit a single paper grocery bag between the front and rear seats. If you're looking for space to fit groceries for a whole family, take the Camry.

Fortunately, the Wrangler fits into almost any parking space thanks to its short body. Its tight turning radius made it easy to navigate in tight parking lots. Its athletic prowess is one the Wrangler's biggest attributes, something we were just beginning to learn during our time with the vehicle.

The Weekend Fun

The Wrangler is best known for its off-roading performance, so we took it to Stoddard Park in Barstow for an adventure. Our special-edition Wrangler came with a performance suspension, which is also standard on the Rubicon model, and made our time off-roading quite comfortable and enjoyable.

The Wrangler provides a surprisingly comfortable ride off the beaten path. It feels stable over large rocks with little vibration coming into the cabin. Here the ride wasn't too loud. The SUV's smaller size makes it maneuverable and stable on the road compared to off-road trucks with heavy back ends, but its shorter wheelbase also causes shaky steering on uneven roads. This is trade-off is easily overcome by paying a little more attention to the steering wheel.

Our long weekend drives on and off the highway drained the vehicle's fuel tank quickly. Despite its relatively large gas tank, at 17/21 mpg city/hwy, drivers can expect to be stopping at the gas station pretty frequently. We sure did.

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At the end of our week with the Wrangler, we knew that there were plenty of drawbacks to the Wrangler. Its tiny back seat, lack of storage space, questionable safety ratings, poor fuel economy—and most notably—its heavy road noise make it a bit impractical for most drivers commuting to work everyday. But something about the Wrangler lured us in and made us forgive many of its flaws. For off-roaders, we can't think of any better options in the same price range. We think it will be a favorite among Jeep loyalists and drivers looking for real outdoor adventure that a typical crossover just can't provide.

Spec Box

Price-as-tested: $30,980
Fuel Economy
EPA City: 17
EPA Highway: 21
EPA Combined: 18
Estimated Combined Range: 335
Intellichoice Cost of Ownership: Excellent

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I don't know if this particular 'Editor' is ignorant, or Jeep pissed in his Wheaties or what, but  these 'reviews' are supposed to provide USEFUL information to MT's readership, something this article TOTALLY missed.

Firstly, if you're gonna review a particular model, it'd be a good idea to find out which variation of said model is most popular, so the information you provide will have the widest impact across your readership.

With the Wrangler, be it the Willys, Sport, Rubicon or whatever, the most popular model is OVERWHELMINGLY the Unlimited-4 doors-.

Secondly, I personally don't know what the ratio of automatic trans to manual trans sales are, but I'd be willing to bet it's 90% or more, in favor of the A/T. 

Lastly, methinks about the same percentage of Wranglers that roll out of the dealer(s), are equipped with the HARD-TOP. 

So what Willys Wrangler did M/T choose to 'review'? The two-door, soft-top, manual trans of course.

Not only that, but if this article was your only source of information on the subject-a goal M/T is SURELY striving for-, you wouldn't even know the Unlimited exists!

Where this 'Editor' exposed either his ignorance or bias, is when he actually complained about road noise coming through the soft-top.

Like he was expecting a soft-top to have a ton of insulation? Of course it's not gonna shield the occupants from such things as road noise, and the fact that HIS editor actually approved this crap makes you wonder just how smart they think their readership is!

If M/T 'reviewed' the Willys Wrangler that is OVERWHELMINGLY chosen-Hard-Top, Auto Trans, FOUR-DOORS(!)- this 'review' would've looked TOTALLY different.

Assuming M/T knows the popularity of the various options(one would think Jeep at least would've told them when presented with a request for this particular Wrangler), yet STILL chose to go ahead with the 'strippy' anyway, they should've at LEAST mentioned the fact that it IS possible to equip your Wrangler with 4-doors, an A/T and a freaking HARD-TOP, and heck...while they're at it, maybe mention the fact that the MAJORITY of Wranglers( be it the Willys, Sport, Sahara or Rubicon) sold, are actually equipped with those 3 items(I guess technically, when you add the two extra doors in, it actually becomes FIVE items, but I digress.)

But that would've made everyone question WHY M/T chose to 'review' a model/vehicle NOBODY buys.

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