THE PROS & CONS
- What’s Best: Traditional Jeep styling values blended with bigger four-door roominess with most of the mod cons.
- What’s Worst: Still requires Jeep frame of mind. Would wish for folding rear headrests, telescopic steering and rearview camera (difficult due to removable top).
- What’s Interesting: Loyalists might consider the four-door Unlimited a “Jeep minivan” but along with real off-road abilities, its sales help keep the two-door in existence.
For 75 years, Jeep has built on one of the most recognizable and iconic shapes in automotive history, stewarding a storied legacy of utilitarian toughness while stroking the original recipe to keep it relevant to today.
The first Jeeps were, arguably, the origin of the SUV species, with a history traced from Bantam beginnings to trial by fire in WWII, and through all of the following CJ, YJ and TJ generations to culminate in today’s Wrangler.
I’d also argue that one of the bigger milestones was the 2007 introduction of a bigger four-door Unlimited model.
The four-door Unlimited stretches both the wheelbase and overall length by about 524 mm (20.6”). The track, width, height, lift over height, ground clearance and front and rear overhang measurements remain unchanged for manufacturing practicality but everything behind the front seats suddenly became more usable.
With 137 mm (1.6”) more rear legroom, a little more hip and shoulder room, more cargo room (892 litres, 1,999 litres behind first row, compared to 362 litres, 1,600 litres) and with a combined passenger/cargo interior volume of 4,295 litres it is far batter compared to the two-door Wrangler’s 3,339 litres. The longer wheelbase even gives the Unlimited some towing ability.
This expansion of product caused some moaning and needless distress among die-hards who, after all, still have the original two-door version to turn to with its nimbler handling, shorter turning-circle, better break-over angle, lighter weight and correspondingly better fuel mileage.
But the four-door Unlimited lineup enticed an entirely new customer base to the Jeep brand, adding practical, family-friendly usability to the fabled brand ethos. And, as they say, if you build it, they will come.
On an earlier Jeep Unlimited review, I kept an unscientific count of models seen on the road over the course of a week, and the results were roughly three four-door models spotted for every single two-door version.
Pretty impressive considering the Unlimited’s relatively recent history. I didn’t bother trying to count this year because it’s an annoyingly hard habit to break, almost as bad as that “punchbuggy” thing.
Instead, I just soldiered on in the macho ambiance of a 2017 Wrangler Unlimited, nicely appointed in Sahara trim, coated in Granite Crystal Metallic, one of two special optional colours ($195) along with seven no-charge choices in the palette.
There’s also a brilliant shade of Xtreme Purple ($50), which takes a special kind of courage to order.
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All Wrangler models carry over roughly unchanged for 2017 except for a new optional LED lighting package ($495) and a cold weather group available to some of the trims.
Inside, this Wrangler Unlimited Sahara tester combined a black interior with optional Dark Olive leather seats that gave the vehicle a military flavour.
This already well-equipped Sahara model has been pimped with $10K worth of options including exterior accents, the LED group, remote start, a Max Tow package, an Alpine Premium audio system and more.
It all blends together for a comfortable cabin, still snug with upright seating, but with much more usable space and with all the mod cons blending stand-issue FCA instruments and controls with Jeep styling cues. And, yes, adults can fit into the second row with some compromise from front seat passengers.
The Wrangler Unlimited is powered by FCA’s 3.6-litre Pentastar V6 engine that makes 285 hp and 260 lb/ft of torque with a fuel economy rating of 14.7/11.7L/100km (city/hwy). My mixed driving bag averaged a realistic 13.2L/100km (comb).
Wranglers come standard with a six-speed manual transmission but this tester featured the optional five-speed automatic ($1,495). And, being a Jeep, power is translated through all four wheels, in this case, through a Command-Trac part-time, shift-on-the-fly 4X4 system.
The powertrain delivers acceptable acceleration and the Jeep feels less “trucky” with the automatic, compared to earlier experience with the long-stick, manual shifter.
Yes, there’s still a bit of bounce in this buggy, because of it’s off-road potential. But the longer wheelbase of the Unlimited offers a smoother ride, less jiggle, and eases the small-boat-in-a-big-sea pitch-and-yaw sensations of the shorter wheelbase two-door version even though there’s still a bit of the feeling of pivoting on an axis when you turn into a corner.
This tester bolsters its on- and off-road behaviour with an anti-spin rear differential axle and Trail-Rated kit along with all of its inherent dynamic aids – hillside assist, electronic stability control and roll mitigation, traction control and trailer sway control.
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So, how do you sum up the Wrangler Unlimited?
Well, the extra size and convenience does away with the sacrifices of comfort and civility once made for the sake of the Jeep brand cachet. And the four-door premium of $2,400 – $2,550 (depending of trim) over comparable two-door models seems a small price to pay for that added room and convenience.
Looking down the road, further lineup changes will include a new Ram-based Jeep Unlimited pickup version in the near future as the Jeep lineup continues to evolve for the future, seeking new milestones beyond its 75th anniversary, and blending new qualities with traditional substance and style.
2017 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 4X4
BODY STYLE: Five-passenger SUV
DRIVE METHOD: Front-engine, Command-Trac 4WD, six-speed manual standard, five-speed automatic optional
ENGINE: 3.6-litre VVT V6 (285 hp, 260 lb/ft)
FUEL ECONOMY: 14.7/11.7L/100km (city/hwy); as tested 13.2L/100km (comb)
CARGO: 892 litres; 1,999 litres with 60/40 second row folded
TOW RATING: As tested 907.1 kg (3500 lb) with 3.21 rear axle and Max Tow Package
PRICE: 2017 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 4X4 $40,245; as tested $50,540 including leather seats ($1,375), 5AT ($1,495), Anti-spin rear diff ($525) 6.5 In Touch radio/nav ($1,225), Alpine audio ($695) and more. Destination ($1,795) not incl.
WEB SITE: www.jeep.ca