Trails and tribulations

Posted on 17 Mar 2017 at 8:15am

Jeep’s Wrangler Unlimited Sahara is built for city to desert

Jeep

Casey Williams | Auto Reviewer

autocasey@aol.com

Jeep would like you to think Wranglers spend all of their miles crawling over rocks, shimmying up steep trails,
    and fording deep creeks. Some do, but most while away their days in fashion mall parking garages, commuting to work, lurching through coffee shop drive-thrus and hauling jet skis. No matter how you use your Jeep, the Firecracker Red Sahara edition has your back.

Neither Jeep nor its customers like radical design changes, so the iconic off-roader retains its tall seven-slot “grater” grille, hood with external latches, big round projector headlamps, beefy bumper and two-box shape that never cozied a wind tunnel. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t recognize today’s design trends, flashing a body color grille and fender extensions, LED floglamps and red hardtop. Remove two panels over the front seats for targa-style air freshening. Sahara editions also come with a soft top for summer months. A rear defroster and wiper/washer keep views clear.

Once you grapple yourself up and inside, the views are excellent and amenities are plentiful. Heated leather bucket seats up front face a simple dashboard with round gauges, large knobs for the automatic climate control system and a notched gear selector. The Uconnect infotainment system is generations behind with a tiny touchscreen, but features navigation, USB input, voice control and Bluetooth. You can still remove the doors to splash through streams, but they contain one-touch down power windows and power mirrors. Five people and their luggage find space.

Jeep-interiorBetween the old-fashioned fenders is a 3.6-liter V6 engine delivering 285 horsepower and 260 lb.-ft. of torque. It routes to the wheels through a 5-speed automatic transmission with manual shift mode. That would normally be ridiculous power in a mid-size SUV, but this one rides on a full frame and smashes every molecule of air it passes by. It takes a firm foot up its throttle to get it moving, but once underway, it can tow 3,500 lbs. Fuel economy ratings of 16/20-MPG city/hwy reflect its weight and shape. I’d put a Jerry can on the back just in case.

If you use all of the Wrangler’s capabilities, you’ll go far from a gas station. This is a serious beast, fortified with Command-Trac shift on the fly part-time four-wheel-drive, Dana 44 heavy duty rear axle and Dana 30 solid front axle. Skid plates protect the transfer case and fuel tank. Dirt-clawing off-road tires work with best-in-class approach angle of 42.2 degrees, breakover angle of 25.8 degrees and departure angle of 32.3 degrees to usher the big Jeep through and over almost anything.

A tight turning radius works just as well maneuvering through tight downtown garages as weaving through trees on-trail. Yet anybody pondering a Jeep Wrangler Unlimited needs to keep a few things in mind. No matter what you do to civilize this brute, and stretching the wheelbase does make it ride and handle better, a Jeep is still a very serious off-road machine that kinda bumps over bumps whether potholes, expansion joints or small critters. Steering is numb and the throttle is soft – perfect for finesse on difficult trails, but annoying in everyday traffic. A Jeep Grand Cherokee or Compass may be better choices for those wanting the Jeep vibe with modern dynamics.

Jeeps cross all demographics — all summed up nicely in the Wrangler Unlimited Sahara. It is stylish, maneuverable, comfortable and innately capable no matter where life travels. A base price of $27,895 ($45,045 as-tested) puts it against the Land Rover LR4, Toyota 4Runner and Chevy Tahoe.           

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition MARCH 17, 2017.

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