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REVIEW: 2014 JEEP WRANGLER -Easy to love, hard to explain

HIGHLIGHTS
ENGINE
3.6L V-6 4WD
POWER
285hp @ 6,400RPM
CURB WEIGHT
1,759 kg
TORQUE
260 lb.-ft. @ 4,800RPM
FUEL TANK CAPACITY
70.0L
ECONOMY
9.3L/100 km
BASE PRICE
$23195
PRICE AS TESTED
NA

2014 JEEP WRANGLER

Price: $19,695 – $35,770
Engine: 3.6L V6
Power/torque: (hp/lbs.-ft.) 285/260
Fuel consumption: (claimed, L/100 km) Two-door -12.7 city, 9.3 highway; four-door ? 13.4 city, 9.6 highway.
Competition: Toyota FJ Cruiser.
What’s best: Off-road fun, everything comes off, cheap.
What’s worst: Noisy, gas-guzzler, convertible roof takes practice.
What’s interesting: In July, Canadians bought 2,797 new Wranglers ? the best month ever for the model.

It has blind spots, fabric roof and bouncy suspension, but Wrangler’s sales are still up

I don’t know what it is about the new Wrangler. I suppose it’s a Jeep thing, which means I wouldn’t understand.

If you’re shopping for a new car and you compare it to others on one of those dry comparison sites, it’ll always come off worse.

For a start, there’s really nothing to compare it to, which suggests not a lot of people want something like the Wrangler. If they did, other manufacturers would build them. Toyota’s FJ Cruiser is the closest thing to a loaded four-door edition and it’s about to be discontinued. But look out the window right now and you’ll see billions of Wranglers on the road.

Chances are their drivers aren’t looking out their window at you because they don’t even have a window. The Jeep is the only car on the market that lets you remove the doors and drive around with your legs hanging out. What’s the point of that? Isn’t that just a Trailer Park Boys car?

And look at what else this basic two-door Jeep Wrangler I’m driving does not have: power windows, power doors, central locking, heated seats, nor even a rear-window defroster. These are all available, but they’re options and cost more.

Combine that with a fabric roof that takes at least five minutes and preferably two people to fold up or down (and which any thief can literally unzip), a suspension that feels like it’ll tip over on every highway ramp and is bouncy enough to make some passengers nauseous, an engine that drinks gas like binge night at a U.S. college, and huge blind spots that are just amplified when the doors and mirrors come off.

Surely it’s a recipe for disaster.

Yet Jeep sales are up 43 per cent, Wrangler sales are up 15 per cent, and I think I’m going to buy one. I’m smitten. How can that possibly be?

It’s because I live in a small town outside the GTA, Cobourg, and I’ve been bombing around in a little red two-door Wrangler that was supposed to be just a novelty car. They’re hugely popular as cottage vehicles, soaking up those twisted, rutted gravel roads that are never cleared when the snow falls.

They’re also popular as city vehicles, with their tight turning radius, soft suspension to soak up the potholes, and tall ride height to see over traffic. It’s just getting between the city and the country that sucks. Literally, with an optimistic fuel consumption rating from its 3.6L V6 engine of 12.7 L/100 km city and 9.3 highway.

It was a loud drive home on the 401 after collecting the Jeep, with little insulation from road noise through the fabric top. I parked the Wrangler and it wasn’t long before I started chatting with Frank Bouwmans, who’s fitting my neighbour’s new kitchen.

Bouwmans has a brand new Wrangler Sport, the same as my press unit, which he just bought for his 17-year-old son, Connor.

The deal is Connor gets to keep it provided he graduates university four years from now.

We parked the two Wranglers together and his towered over my press tester, since he’s fitted it with five-inch lifters, oversized wheels, a winch and lightbar and various other options.

Jeep owners love to accessorize their vehicles, and the Bouwmans installed everything themselves over a couple of days.

All the aftermarket parts were bought in the U.S., where they’re often considerably cheaper.

The base price of both stick-shift Jeeps is $23,195, but Bouwmans estimates his finished Wrangler cost about $30,000. That’s about the same as my tester, which had a few different options like air conditioning and satellite radio, but none of his macho stuff.

His came with a hardtop roof while mine had the soft top. You can order them as you like them from the dealer. It took me half an hour when I first lowered the top to figure out how it came down and strapped into place, and 15 minutes to get it back up.

With some practice, I got the time down to five minutes each way, and another five minutes to remove the doors.

My 14-year-old son and his friend jumped in the red tester and I told Bouwmans I was off to go mudding. ?Have fun!? he said. ?Give me a call if you need to be pulled out!?

Mark Richardson discovers why 2014 Jeep Wrangler owners leave the doors on when they take their cars out mudding.

We set off north of town for Alnwick Hill, which is high enough to have a cellphone tower at its top. Cars can drive close to the tower on asphalt, but the roadways past there are unmaintained and link to snowmobile trails.

In the summer, they’re used only by off-roaders, which means dirtbikes, ATVs and Jeeps. I shifted to permanent four-wheel drive and in we went.

The gearing is different on the Wrangler Sport compared to the older-generation TJ it replaced. It’s taller in the lower gears to give it better gas mileage and a more relaxed shift pattern in town, but it’s not quite as well-matched for the slower pace of ditches and ruts.

I drove the bumpy dirt road in first and second gear, and then when the ruts of the washed-out stretches got really deep, I switched to the Jeep’s lower gear ratio.

This is very short and only designed for brief use to pull yourself out of a sticky situation, which it did with ease. Its 260 lbs-ft. of torque churned away at the dirt and Bouwmans’ phone number stayed safe in my pocket.

Down from Alnwick Hill, we found an impressive dirt bike track and plenty of deep mud puddles. It was here I discovered why Wrangler owners keep their doors on when they get right into it ? the water and dirt came in through the open sides and made a mess of everything.

There’s really no reason for ?mudding? or even off-roading, except it’s a lot of fun and a true challenge. We drove around for a while, exploring places we’d never see from the road, then headed back to town for a date with the car wash.

That’s when I realized I was smitten with the Wrangler. You can have more fun with it than a regular car, and it’s honest ? what you see is what you get. You can upgrade a basic model, or you can choose one of half-a-dozen variants to get the comfort and capability you want, from less than $20,000 to almost twice that, plus taxes and delivery.

The four-door outsells the two-door ? it’s more stable on the road and more comfortable for a highway journey.

But if you want to just strip everything away and don’t mind sometimes getting a little dirty doing so, then there’s a Wrangler waiting for you. If you’re not interested, that’s OK too. It’s a Jeep thing. You don’t have to understand.

The red 2014 Jeep Wrangler Sport is dwarfed by Frank Bouwmans' customized Wrangler Sport.

The vehicle tested by freelance writer Mark Richardson was provided by the manufacturer. Email: wheels@thestar.ca

  • REVIEW: 2014 JEEP WRANGLER -Easy to love, hard to explain
  • REVIEW: 2014 JEEP WRANGLER -Easy to love, hard to explain
  • REVIEW: 2014 JEEP WRANGLER -Easy to love, hard to explain
  • REVIEW: 2014 JEEP WRANGLER -Easy to love, hard to explain

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