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Mudfest 2013: Tom's Hardware Helps Test 23 SUVs

Jeep Wrangler Unlimited

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
Vehicle2013 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited
Trim levelRubicon 10th Anniversary
Engine3.6 L "Pentastar" V6
TransmissionFive-speed automatic
DrivetrainRock-Trac 4WD
InfotainmentChrysler Uconnect 430N
Notable featuresHill-descent controlHill-start assistNext-Generation Dana 44 heavy duty front / rear axles
Fuel economy16 city, 20 highway, 18 combined MPG
MSRP$43,400
  • Super_Nova
    Very slow newsweek
    Reply
  • flong777
    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.
    Reply
  • Johnny_C13
    Well, at least the Grand Cherokee can (literally) run (on) Crysis... but I wonder if it starts faster with an SSD?
    Reply
  • MU_Engineer
    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.
    Reply
  • ammaross
    Stopped reading when I saw the Toyota 4Runner wasn't in the mix.
    Reply
  • ammaross
    Stopped reading when I saw the Toyota 4Runner wasn't in the mix.
    Reply
  • tuanies
    10968917 said:
    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.

    10969315 said:
    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.

    10969432 said:
    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 :(.
    Reply
  • joe gamer
    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.
    Reply
  • tuanies
    10969918 said:
    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.

    Reply
  • JPNpower
    Why are you using SUVs in the mud!!! These things belong in parking lots at the mall!
    Reply