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2016 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited

2016 Jeep Wrangler Black Bear Edition.

Base Price: $28,690
Price as Tested: $47,620

One of those vehicles nearly everyone covets at some point in their driving life, the Jeep Wrangler doesn’t skimp on passion. Although I prefer the two-door version – no kids to load in and out of the thing – I was quite happy with the four-door Jeep Wrangler Unlimited that Jeep put me in on a recent 10-day South Florida adventure.

Although Wrangler is much more civilized today than it was even a decade ago, it’s probably still a bit rough around the edges for a lot of people. The ride is stiff, the steering a little squirrely, mileage isn’t awe inspiring, it’s not as quiet as some others and technology isn’t exactly leading edge. You know what? I don’t care.

Designed and engineered to go just about anywhere, Wrangler is all about individuality, ruggedness and capability. That’s exactly the image I want to project. I suspect so do most Wrangler owners.

Had the weather cooperated on my Florida trip, I would have not only removed the top, but the front doors as well. (The JP016_012WRf9j13kd9abcc3mh9ebi72uccshwindshield can be folded flat, too.) My test Jeep had the three-piece hardtop with removable panels over the front seats. Removing the entire top would have been a chore; not to mention I would have had no place to store it, but I might have done it anyway. Because it spent a couple of days in an airport parking lot and rained nearly every other day I was in the Sunshine State, sadly I had to keep things buttoned down. But it was great at wading through the large pools of water prolonged hard rains leave all over South Florida streets.

You can buy the entry-level two-door Wrangler Sport for roughly $5,000 less than the Unlimited’s $28,690. Other than the two extra doors, the additional five grand gets you air conditioning and a four-gallon larger fuel tank. Unlimited is about 20 inches longer than the regular Wrangler. That only translates into less than three inches of additional rear-seat legroom, but nearly 19 cu-ft of extra cargo space behind the second-row seat swelling the total to more than 31 cu-ft.

No matter the number of doors, every Wrangler turns all its wheels with a 285-horsepower 3.6-liter V6 engine. A six-speed manual transmission is standard on every grade. Ponying up $1,350 gets you a five-speed automatic transmission with hill-descent control. Both body configurations with either transmission deliver 18 mpg in combined city/highway driving. The two-door does it with 17 mpg city/21 mpg highway with either tranny. Unlimited provides 16 mpg in the city with either transmission, but 21 mpg highway with the manual and 20 mpg with the automatic.

JP016_013WRemg6uai7984nkn0o1jnen197lmMy Wrangler Unlimited was the top-of-the-pecking-order Rubicon Hard Rock model, which gets Rubicon’s beefier 4WD system with locking differentials both fore and aft, and a disconnecting front sway bar. The Sport and Sahara grades have a more traditional 4WD system with a limited-slip rear differential.

My Unlimited’s eye-popping Hydra Blue exterior color made it easy to see on the street and simple to find when you exit the grocery store. It was a standout to be sure. A buddy tracked me down in a restaurant because he spotted this Wrangler in the parking lot as he was driving by. It’s not a color vehicle in which you want to commit a crime: “No, I didn’t see the doer’s face, but his getaway car was a neon-blue Jeep!”

Following that rugged/capable approach, there is nothing fancy about the interior. It’s well made, but rather basic. Interior designers didn’t obsess over the shape or layout of the dashboard. Everything is easy to see and operate, but the styling is rather simple. Utility is the name of the game and all the systems operate with as few buttons, knobs and switches as possible. The front seats are comfortable enough with sufficient side and back support. Even in the four-door Unlimited, the backseat, which accommodates three, isn’t tremendously welcoming.

You have to add a lot of stuff to the Sport grade to boost its starting price by nearly $20,000 to get it to my test Rubicon Hard 2016 Jeep Wrangler Black Bear Edition.Rock. Bare bones by most standards, the Sport trim lacks air conditioning, power windows, locks or outboard mirrors. It does come with cruise control, skid plates and an eight-speaker audio system.

By the time you reach the Rubicon’s Hard Rock grade, which is actually a $4,800 option package, standard features include not just the more sophisticated and capable 4WD system, but full power accessories, remote keyless entry, air conditioning, rock rails, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, auto headlights, and a 115V household power outlet.

Also contributing to that 20 grand price difference was another $4,135 in options and packages that added the automatic transmission, rear window defroster/wiper, the hardtop, remote start, and upgraded audio system with 6.5-inch touchscreen, USB port and navigation system.

Most of us will never do the hardcore rock crawling for which the Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon is engineered; but when it comes to showing off some machismo, it’s at the top of the heap. And, if you do want to some serious off roading, it’s about all the vehicle you will need.