Jeep Wrangler - turns 60

No vehicle is more American than the Jeep Wrangler. Opening a photo album from across the decades, it would be hard to imagine G.I.s in World War II crossing Europe without their Jeeps. After coming home, they started the first SUV boom when they civilianized the little four-wheelers for fun, sun, and toil. Jeeps fought in Korea, ravaged the jungles of Vietnam, and still had time to boogie through the 70s as fashion accessories.

 Daisy Duke looked wicked sexy in her shorts – never more so than when driving her white Jeep CJ7 Golden Eagle. Pick any era since 1941 and you’ll find Jeeps in the background.
It’s easy to spot them as they haven’t changed much. The 2011 Wrangler’s design looks more like a proposal for the next Model T than shapes that came out of a 21st Century design studio. Jeep’s famous “grater grille” flanked by round headlamps and exposed bumpers form the front. Separate fenders and domed hood lead to an upright windshield that can still fold forward as in the war years. Exposed door hinges, external pull-type hood latches, plastic fender extensions, and a rear as vertical as the Chrysler Building is the definition of form after function. Elegantly curved windshield glass, slightly raked-back grille, and 17” aluminum wheels blend the line between then and now.

Refinement is in the details. New Wranglers are wider and longer than previous generations to add stability on road and off while smoothing the choppy ride. You can get a folding soft top as in the old days, but I prefer the hard top that allows passengers to just remove panels over the front seats, or to disassemble the entire thing for total open air. Doors can still be removed for running naked through the breeze. One can button up like a storm cellar or fling it wide open as if on a beach.
Besides the optional lack of top and doors, riding in the Wrangler is like no other automotive experience. You heave yourself up inside by grabbing the steering wheel, roll bar, and probably both. Passengers tug at the grab handle above the glovebox. Dashboards were redesigned for a more curvaceous Grand Cherokee look while the Wrangler adopts its upscale sibling’s primo three-spoke leather-wrapped steering wheel with integral audio controls. Everything inside, including the doors with roll-up windows, can be hosed down after mud-filled fun. Increased acoustic materials hush the interior dramatically on the highway compared to the thrumming of earlier Wranglers. It’s almost civil, but probably not the best Autobahn cruiser.

All Wranglers, including our Sport model, come with a 3.8-litre V6 that generates 202 horsepower and 237 lb.-ft. of torque. Hard-core rock crunchers will choose the six-speed manual transmission, but a four-speed automatic is available to make city life easier. Engineers are apparently trying to get the best fuel efficiency possible because fifth and sixth gears are useless for anything other than highway cruising. Even mild Texas-grade inclines sometimes urge downshifts to maintain 70 mph. You can shove this brick through the wind, but you’ll only get 15/19-MPG city/hwy.

Running all day at Interstate speeds really isn’t the point of the Wrangler anyway. You could buy any other Jeep if that’s really your mission. It’s the chassis and 4x4 systems that are the font of Wrangler’s talent. Solid front and rear heavy-duty axles articulate over almost anything, allowing the tuned shock absorbers to tame rough trails and pot-holed city streets. Skid plates protect the fuel tank, transfer case, and oil pan. All of that allows the Wrangler Sport’s part-time 4x4 system with high- and low-range gearing to tackle sand, gravel, snow, ice, or mounds of muck with ease.

Until I started looking around my neighborhood, I didn’t realize how many Jeep Wranglers are on the road. College kids, old men, high school girls, CEOs, lawyers, mountain climbers, handsome gents, Southerners in short shorts, and club queens all drive them. Everybody relates to the simple honesty of the Jeep. It is the perfect summer car with the top removed and transforms into a storming sled with four-wheel-drive and hard top installed. Wrangler does it all, and looks fabulous no matter the season, location, or decade.

The fact that Jeep has been controlled by the French (Renault), Germans (Daimler), and Italians (Fiat) over the years does nothing to diminish the Jeep’s status as an American hero and symbol of freedom around the world. Imitators come and go, but nothing has matched its simple style, incredible capability, and relative affordability. Perhaps no vehicle has remained as original for so long without losing relevancy. As Jeep celebrates its 60th Anniversary, the iconic Wrangler proves age only makes some things more enjoyable. Price as tested came to $26,310.

2011 Jeep Wrangler Sport
Four-passenger, 4x4 SUV.
Powertrain: 202-HP 3.8-litre V6,
6-spd. manual trans.
Suspension f/r: Solid axles
Wheels: 17”/17” f/r.
Brakes: disc/disc fr/rr with ABS.
Must-have feature: Authentic!

By Casey Williams - MyCarData