How do you honour the 80th anniversary of the Jeep Wrangler, the WWII battle-birthed, time-tested icon that remains one of the most capable, most recognized on- or off-road warriors in the world?
Simple. Stick with the strengths – the toughness, the time-tested trail abilities, and temper those with increased on-road civility, those blended qualities framed by the trademark cues of a seven-slot grille, traditionally round headlight housings, trapezoidal wheel flares, the fold-down windshield, bulky-hinged removable doors and a mix of strip-down roof choices to further every Jeep owner’s fantasies of open-air exploration.
Then keep adding techs and tweaks – more driver assists, more amenities, more choices. And maybe celebrate the milestone with a special 80th Anniversary edition.
For 2021, Jeep claims a four-model Wrangler JL lineup – the Sport (two-door only), Sport S, Sahara (four-door only) and Rubicon. But, click on the Jeep.ca website and, yikes, you’ll find a bewildering choice of fifteen different editions, even before adding other packages and options.
To start, let’s skip the two-door models. Yeah, I realize their appeal with a $3K-$4K cheaper starting price, shorter wheelbase and the nimbler mass that make them the true Jeeps for weekend warriors. I know a two-door owner who refers to the four-door Unlimited versions as “minivans”. But the four-door Unlimited models have all but taken over the niche with smoother ride and handling, stretched-out accommodation for five passengers instead of four, more than twice the cargo space, a higher tow rating and more trim and power choices.
The Unlimited’s popularity is obvious. Jeep doesn’t publicize the sales split but my extremely scientific study, based on noting oncoming Wranglers whenever I didn’t forget to do it, revealed a 10-to-1 ratio after counting off about a hundred plus Wranglers – 10 Unlimited four-doors for every single two-door.
Wrangler Unlimited powertrain choices normally start with FCA’s 3.6-litre Pentastar ESS V6 (285 hp, 260 lb-ft) mated to a six-speed manual. Upgrading to an eight-speed automatic adds eTorque tech for a mild-hydrid assist to the V6 engine.
A normally optional 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo, offering almost equivalent power (270 hp, 295 lb-ft) and thriftier gas mileage through the 8AT, comes standard on the 80th Anniversary edition tested here. I managed a decent 10.3L/100 km (comb) fuel econ average, not bad for two tons of fun with a design ethic that’s as aerodynamic as an outhouse. The powertrain was also complemented by the optional 2:72:1 SelecTrac full-time 4WD system ($795) and Trac-Lok limited-slip rear differential ($525). And, yes, it has earned a TrailRated badge.
There’s also an available 3.0-litre V6 EcoDiesel (260 hp, 442 lb-ft) with more grunt and even better fuel economy but, unless you’re a die-hard diesel fan, I wouldn’t bother. If you drove the 7,100 km cross-Canada run from St. John’s to Vancouver, the diesel might save you about a hundred bucks compared to the 2.0-litre gas version (not counting DEF costs). So, hardly worth it, considering its $7,595 added cost (or $9,190 in other trim packages). Besides, all four power variants share the same 1,588 kg (3,500 lb) tow rating, anyway.
Our 80th Anniversary edition builds on an Unlimited Sport S entry model that starts at a $44,095 price point. But it doesn’t stay there long. A Customer Preferred package ($2,995) adds functional bonuses like a heavy-duty suspension with gas shocks, bigger 18-inch tires, automatic headlamps and more. Inside, the UConnect 4C system with Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, Nav & Sound Group displays on a 7-inch screen. And there’s 80th Anniversary badging on the console, seats and floor matts, along with a unique 80th Anniversary plaque mounted inside the swing gate.
A Cold Weather Group ($995) adds heated steering, heated seats, remote start and this is where I grumble about features that come standard in economy cars at half the price. But the list of add-ons gets longer with an LED Group, Trailer Tow package and a myriad of driver assist tech packages until this 80th Anniversary edition finally gets tricked out with a few last Mopar extras – a black Freedom Top modular three-piece hardtop, black tubular sidesteps, even a special black fuel filler door, topping this collection of extras out at a significantly upgraded $60,220, including all fees.
The sum total of all that effort is a capable and civilized all-purpose, all-weather, all road conditions family hauler with the special 80th edition cachet. Yes, it still feels ‘trucky’ and still wanders in its highway lanes more than your average sport ute but if burly, bush-bashing Wrangler potential is not your cup of tea, you should probably be shopping in the soft-roading sport cute aisle.
I should mention that, along with the updated powertrains this year, added Wrangler features for 2021 include two new USB power ports, some trim-specific packaging changes, a new available TrailCam forward-facing off-road camera and, along with the 80th Anniversary model, a new Tiki-flavoured Islander model with available hood decals and trim specific treatment.
Jeep will also soon be adding the new Wrangler 4xe plug-in-hybrid, first in a line of future electrified models and, at the other end of the power spectrum, the amusingly insane 470 hp Rubicon 392 high-performance Jeep Wrangler.
I’ve always chuckled at the Wrangler decal that says, “It’s a Jeep thing. You wouldn’t understand.”
But while the coming Ford Bronco may provide a novelty factor and new segment competition, Jeep customers understand very well that traditions and traits, carefully blended with some of the upcoming innovations listed above, should keep the Wrangler in its position as the best-selling Jeep in Canada well past its 80th celebration.
The vehicle was provided to the writer by the automaker. Content and vehicle evaluations were not subject to approval.