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Jeep Wrangler Unlimited

Mudfest 2013: Tom's Hardware Helps Test 23 SUVs
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Growing up, my parents bought me a red Power Wheels Jeep, modeled after the iconic Willys Jeep. To this day, I think it would be cool to own a Wrangler. The introduction of the four-door Wrangler Unlimited piqued my interest back in 2007, but I was turned off by the ancient minivan motor and sparse interior amenities. Jeep updated the Wrangler in 2011 with a nicer interior layout and materials. The package was sweetened even more in 2012 with the 3.6-liter corporate “Pentastar” V6.

Chrysler brought a 2013 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 4x4 10th anniversary to celebrate the Rubicon trim level’s tenth birthday. The Wrangler sports the same classic rugged Jeep looks. It’s a vehicle built for off-roading. The doors and top are removable for the sun seeking off-roading crowd or the top can open half-way to function as a sunroof for those rare sunny days. When I approached the Wrangler and sat inside for the first time, it felt like hopping in the driver’s seat of an adult-sized power wheels.

Unfortunately the Wrangler Unlimited has the same Chrysler Uconnect 430N (RHB) navigation system that serves as our baseline test vehicle (2011 VW Routan). The annoying separate Uconnect hands-free module for Bluetooth is very annoying and requires pure voice commands to pair a smartphone. The front USB port on the radio did not support our iPad (4th gen) either, but from our experience the front port is just for USB flash drives and a separate USB port that is run off the cConnect module is required for iPod/iPhone compatibility. We were very short on time so we did not have time to hunt down the second USB port in the Wrangler. The navigation system in the Wrangler is as advanced as technology gets since most of the upgraded bits are mechanical.

Powering the Wrangler is Chrysler’s corporate 3.6-liter V6 paired to a 5-speed automatic transmission. A Rock-Trac 4WD system exclusive to the Rubicon trim levels handles power distribution to all four wheels. The Rock-Trac system is an old school setup with a selectable transfer case. There is no part-time 4WD mode in the Wrangler. When the car is in 2-high, the vehicle only sends power to the rear wheels and it behaves as such. There’s a 4-high mode slippery situations that distributes power 50:50 too. Lastly is the 4-low with a 4:1 gear ratio for the off-roading enthusiasts that want to rock crawl and the mode we put the Wrangler in for the hard off-road course. For a vehicle like the Wrangler, the old school manual transfer case and 4WD setup is ideal, especially since our test mule had beefed up Next-Generation Dana 44 heavy-duty front and rear axles.

Driving the Wrangler was an interesting experience. On public roads and the autocross course we found the Wrangler to drive like an oversized power wheels. The car isn’t very responsive and we didn’t expect it to be. It still drives like a truck. The dashboard and seating position took a while to get used to since you pretty much sit up tall and very close to the shallow dashboard.

Taking it to the hard off-road course is where the Wrangler truly shined.  The hard course the Wrangler was certified for is much more difficult and fully takes advantage of the rock crawl gear ratios and protective skid plates. We had fun on the hard off-road course in the Wrangler. It truly shows why people buy Jeep Wrangler’s to begin with – to take off-road. There was some underbody scraping but the Wrangler has protective skid plates throughout the bottom side to protect vital parts so we were able to just keep on going. It’s an off-road machine that lacks road manners we’re typically accustomed but you don’t buy a Wrangler for its road manners anyways.

Vehicle Specifications
Vehicle
2013 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited
Trim level
Rubicon 10th Anniversary
Engine
3.6 L "Pentastar" V6
Transmission
Five-speed automatic
Drivetrain
Rock-Trac 4WD
Infotainment
Chrysler Uconnect 430N
Notable features
Hill-descent control
Hill-start assist
Next-Generation Dana 44 heavy duty front / rear axles
Fuel economy
16 city, 20 highway, 18 combined MPG
MSRP
$43,400
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  • 4 Hide
    Super_Nova , June 13, 2013 11:51 PM
    Very slow newsweek
  • 3 Hide
    flong777 , June 14, 2013 4:12 AM
    Interesting but with so little time per vehicle, the results are obviously suspect. I believe the Wrangler is the best off-road vehicle, not sure about the rest. But that conclusion come from more in depth reviews which actually "review" the vehicle.
  • 0 Hide
    Johnny_C13 , June 14, 2013 5:16 AM
    Well, at least the Grand Cherokee can (literally) run (on) Crysis... but I wonder if it starts faster with an SSD?
  • 8 Hide
    MU_Engineer , June 14, 2013 6:12 AM
    Anybody find it funny that the vehicle largely based on WWII era technology does the best in the offroad tests while the newer, high-tech "tall wagons with AWD" get stuck in more than a couple inches of snow? Just like tablets, phones, and laptops aren't going to make desktops go away, unit-body transverse-engine four-banger cars aren't going to replace body-on-frame trucks with solid axles and leaf springs when you need to do real work. The even funnier thing is that an "ancient" carbureted pushrod V8 and manual transmission would have made the Wrangler perform *better* in the offroad tests than the 8-speed slushbox and fancy twin-cam V6 car engine.
  • 1 Hide
    ammaross , June 14, 2013 6:36 AM
    Stopped reading when I saw the Toyota 4Runner wasn't in the mix.
  • -1 Hide
    ammaross , June 14, 2013 6:37 AM
    Stopped reading when I saw the Toyota 4Runner wasn't in the mix.
  • 0 Hide
    tuanies , June 14, 2013 8:09 AM
    Quote:
    Interesting but with so little time per vehicle, the results are obviously suspect. I believe the Wrangler is the best off-road vehicle, not sure about the rest. But that conclusion come from more in depth reviews which actually "review" the vehicle.


    Its a great offroad vehicle for the price. The other two are capable vehicles, but the buyer demographic will never take them offroad.

    Quote:
    Anybody find it funny that the vehicle largely based on WWII era technology does the best in the offroad tests while the newer, high-tech "tall wagons with AWD" get stuck in more than a couple inches of snow? Just like tablets, phones, and laptops aren't going to make desktops go away, unit-body transverse-engine four-banger cars aren't going to replace body-on-frame trucks with solid axles and leaf springs when you need to do real work. The even funnier thing is that an "ancient" carbureted pushrod V8 and manual transmission would have made the Wrangler perform *better* in the offroad tests than the 8-speed slushbox and fancy twin-cam V6 car engine.


    Mechanical technology has its uses but the WWII Era vehicles are awful for comfort and driving feel. Not going to lie though, the G-wagen is one sexy beast IMO. The Wrangler is only a 6-speed auto iirc, but there's a company that offers HEMI conversions :D .

    Quote:
    Stopped reading when I saw the Toyota 4Runner wasn't in the mix.


    Toyota didn't submit any vehicles, disappointingly. Was hoping the 5th Gen 4Runner and new RAV4 would be there :( .
  • 1 Hide
    joe gamer , June 14, 2013 8:15 AM
    Holy crap these are expensive vehicles, who is buying these monsters? I make $60k a year and live comfortably but there is no way I could afford any of these. The HYUNDAI clocked in at over $35k....The painfully anemic Subaru(with what has to be the worst manual I've ever used) is still over $20K and it's terrible, poor power, poor gas mileage, poor off road performance, ugly styling, shitty electronics, and only moderate interior room...but that's the only one in my price range? How poor am I exactly?

    Seriously the WRX transmission is quite nice, how the hell did all of their others end up to be so godawful?

    Guess I'm stuck with my 1999 Isuzu Rodeo until I can win the lottery...oil burning, gas guzzling eyesore it may be but hey the money I saved will buy me a decades worth of gas.
  • 0 Hide
    tuanies , June 14, 2013 8:19 AM
    Quote:
    Holy crap these are expensive vehicles, who is buying these monsters? I make $60k a year and live comfortably but there is no way I could afford any of these. The HYUNDAI clocked in at over $35k....The painfully anemic Subaru(with what has to be the worst manual I've ever used) is still over $20K and it's terrible, poor power, poor gas mileage, poor off road performance, ugly styling, shitty electronics, and only moderate interior room...but that's the only one in my price range? How poor am I exactly?

    Seriously the WRX transmission is quite nice, how the hell did all of their others end up to be so godawful?

    Guess I'm stuck with my 1999 Isuzu Rodeo until I can win the lottery...oil burning, gas guzzling eyesore it may be but hey the money I saved will buy me a decades worth of gas.


    Nothing wrong with an old Isuzu, before GM raped and pillaged them :( . Cars are so expensive nowadays, you're about as poor as I am, but add in two kids and a wife. The WRX has a nice manual because its a performance vehicle. Manuals in economy cars are usually sloppy. long throws and not very exciting, which is why I hate to say to get the auto in economy cars. But, the XV Crosstrek could probably be fixed with a short throw shifter, that usually does wonders.

  • 3 Hide
    JPNpower , June 14, 2013 9:23 AM
    Why are you using SUVs in the mud!!! These things belong in parking lots at the mall!
  • 0 Hide
    internetlad , June 14, 2013 10:08 AM
    Tom's Carware
  • 0 Hide
    brenro12 , June 14, 2013 10:43 AM
    Mechanical technology has its uses but the WWII Era vehicles are awful for comfort and driving feel. Not going to lie though, the G-wagen is one sexy beast IMO. The Wrangler is only a 6-speed auto iirc, but there's a company that offers HEMI conversions .

    My Wrangler has a 6 speed manual and AEV can only do engine swaps on 2011 and older Jeeps. Not that there were many takers. 20 grand, an extra 500 lbs. in an already porky vehicle, and a peaky engine that doesn't really have the grunt an off roader needs. Even on road a 392 hemi Wrangler is less than a second quicker to 60 than a stock Pentastar due to aerodynamics and that heavy duty drive train. Waste of money.
  • 2 Hide
    slomo4sho , June 14, 2013 10:47 AM
    Since when do people come to Tom's to formulate a decision on which vehicle to purchase?
  • 2 Hide
    JPNpower , June 14, 2013 11:14 AM
    Quote:
    Since when do people come to Tom's to formulate a decision on which vehicle to purchase?


    CPU=Engine
    Cores=cylinders
    Hyperthreading=DOHC
    OC=Turbo
    SLI/CF=4WD/AWD
    Motherboard tech=Gearbox tech

    see it's more related than you think.
  • 0 Hide
    troyellisonjr , June 14, 2013 11:48 AM
    Very strange that no Toyotas were in this...
  • 1 Hide
    slomo4sho , June 14, 2013 12:06 PM
    Quote:

    CPU=Engine
    Cores=cylinders
    Hyperthreading=DOHC
    OC=Turbo
    SLI/CF=4WD/AWD
    Motherboard tech=Gearbox tech

    see it's more related than you think.


    I'll stick to Car & Driver :) 

  • 0 Hide
    tuanies , June 14, 2013 1:00 PM
    Quote:
    Very strange that no Toyotas were in this...


    I was told they changed PR agencies to one that has never done a car company before and don't quite understand what they should do with the auto press.
  • 2 Hide
    trumpeter1994 , June 14, 2013 1:07 PM
    Need a Land Cruiser in the mix.
  • 0 Hide
    brentsv , June 14, 2013 1:07 PM
    Great article, and very timely considering I just wrapped up 4 months of research on SUVs before purchasing a 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit. I test drove about everything out there (Land Rover, Audi, BMW, etc.) and the new Jeep GC just did everything that I wanted from an SUV, and for thousands $$ less then it's competitors. People who down-play the Grand Cherokee should stop comparing the versions earlier to 2011. Remember that Mercedes owned Chrysler/Jeep at that time and put a lot of engineering into the new GC. The Jeep GC even shares the same platform and air-suspension as the Mercedes ML350. The Summit trim level that I bought has the upgraded leather seating, nicer head-liner, and an 825 W Harmon Kardon stereo system that was mentioned as lacking in the article. (BTW, I think the Harmon Kardon system is the same one they offer as an upgrade on the Mercedes M and G class SUVs). I actually think the UConnect is fantastic, and think it is easier to use than most of the systems out there. Besides handling all the entertainment duties, it really cleans up and simplifies managing a lot of the other features in the car (e.g. heated and vented seats, etc). When I test drove a Porsche Cayenne I was just over-whelmed by all the buttons in the car. Just too much to manage and too much to clean!! What initially attracted me to the GC was the new diesel engine option. But after tons of analysis on my part, I actually decided to go with the V6. Matted to the new 8-speed transmission the V6 really has plenty of power for most drivers (and is also several hundred pounds lighter than V8 and diesel). I've achieved 25 mpg on some trips with the V6, which makes the $5k premium for the diesel (and it's 28 mpg) just not worth it. The only reason I'd recommend getting the V8 is if you need the 1 second faster 0-60 and top-end speed (sorry, if I need a sports car I'll buy one) or if you need the towing capacity of the diesel. Since I also drive a 2007 Corvette and previously owned an Infiniti FX (also a great handling SUV), I can tell you the V6 gives you ample power for this vehicle. The biggest drawback of the V6 is that it does not come with the rear electronic limited slip, nor does it have the hill-ascent feature (both these features are limited to V8 and diesel). This car has tons of tech in it for the $$. My only complaint would be that Uconnect is limited to 3G, so downloading aps or using it as a wifi hot-spot will be slow compared to 4G/LTE. It also has integration limitations with iPhones compared to Android. I'm hoping Apple's announcement of better integration with vehicles will be backwards compatible with my 2014 GC. In closing, don't dig on the Grand Cherokees until you have gone out and test drove one of the new 2014s!!

    Note to Author: Why in the h?!? was the GC Overland not rated for the hard off-road course? With the terrain select, 2-speed gear box and air suspension, it will go everywhere the Range Rover will go. I've done the "Land Rover Experience" at Quail Lodge in a new 2013 Range Rover, and I honestly feel like my GC can go anywhere that car can go, and for half the price!!!

    Comment to those missing the Toyota 4Runner: Have you stepped into one of those lately? That SUV feels incredibly dated! Toyota is long overdue for a complete refresh of that car...
  • 0 Hide
    tuanies , June 14, 2013 1:15 PM
    Quote:

    Note to Author: Why in the h?!? was the GC Overland not rated for the hard off-road course? With the terrain select, 2-speed gear box and air suspension, it will go everywhere the Range Rover will go. I've done the "Land Rover Experience" at Quail Lodge in a new 2013 Range Rover, and I honestly feel like my GC can go anywhere that car can go, and for half the price!!!


    Because Jeep already had enough firepower to embarass the uber expensive ones with the Wrangler :) .

    Its ok though, I took the Jeep for a week and had some fun with it. Impressive car. Here's a preview of what we did with it.


    P1040212 by tuanies, on Flickr

    That's my buddy's lifted WK with beefy off-road tires. I made it just as far up the remnant snow that he was comfortable going up (it was mostly packed snow and ice). This is with a bone stock 2014 GC with stock tires. I am in love with the air suspension.
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