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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