By KBB.com Editors - Updated Date: 7/8/2011
In addition to being one of the parents of the Mustang and righting the financial shipwreck that was Chrysler in the 1970s, Lee Iacocca's most significant contribution to American motoring may have been the purchase - under his watch, as chairman of Chrysler - of American Motors Corporation. Not only did its purchase get AMC out of the hands of the French(!), but it secured a path to market for those Jeep products on the cusp of introduction, including the trendsetting Cherokee and its stablemate, the Grand Cherokee. The success of those launches has only enhanced the viability of the iconic Wrangler, now in its biggest, boldest and - in the guise of the Unlimited - most accommodating iteration. For 2011 the model news and marketing push may be with the all-new Grand Cherokee, but that shouldn't reduce the importance of some very credible enhancements to the established Wrangler recipe.You'll Like This Car If...
If you have a real need for all-season capability, or simply a strong desire to depart the beaten path, the 2011 Jeep Wrangler is a tough recipe to beat. And with city streets and freeways providing an increasingly unfriendly atmosphere to standard, car-based suspensions, large tires and real ground clearance are increasingly handy for the committed urbanite.You May Not Like This Car If...
In its most recent evolution the Wrangler has grown significantly and is currently some five inches wider than its predecessor. In combination with a heavy, overbuilt - yet strong and rugged - platform is an old-design 3.8-liter V6 engine that offers less power yet greater thirst than that provided by the Grand Cherokee's standard 3.6-liter V6. The new powertrain is coming to the Wrangler - projected for the 2012 model year - and for those wanting to maximize their automotive efficiency it may be worth the wait.What's Significant About This Car?
If you believe beauty is on the inside, you'll love the modifications made to the Wrangler's interior for model year 2011. New seat fabric, available leather, an all-new instrument panel with revised air ducts, a redesigned center stack and revised radio lineup are just a few of the many changes wrought by Jeep's product team. Although "soft-touch" may seem like a less-than-dirty word to a committed off-roader, it perfectly describes these interior updates, in combination with improved ergonomics and a quieter ride.Driving It Driving Impressions
Truck-based, solid-axle platforms are perfect for boulder hopping, but less perfect for negotiating Boulder, Colorado. With that as the obvious, the engineering team at Jeep has done an amazing job enhancing the Wrangler's off-road credibility while improving its on-road prowess. You won't confuse the 2011 Jeep Wrangler - despite its open top - with any of the current crop of sport roadsters, but neither does it generate the on-road angst of Jeeps of early generations, where the steering sometimes seemed connected to the front wheels by a loose rope and applying the brakes did not necessarily bring things to a quick stop. As noted earlier, we're fans of the Rubicon for its aggressive off-road capability, and wish a Wrangler Sport had more in the way of standard rubber, but you can't argue with the success in crafting this oh-so-careful balance, and doing it for under $25,000. Credit a vastly improved structure for the improvements to its handling and the contributions those handling improvements have made to active safety - the all-important ability to avoid an accident before it happens.Favorite Features
Sunrider Soft Top
Lets the sun shine in when you want it, while keeping the elements out when you need it. And it's accomplished with the convenience of opening a sunroof.
The four-door Wrangler allows you to share the goodness of "Jeeping" with more than one friend. And, if you just have one friend, the Unlimited allows you to pick the friend with a lot of stuff.
As noted in "What's New," the news for model year 2011 is an inside story. The Wrangler has been through evolutionary improvements throughout its seven decades of development, but rarely has the interior displayed so much reinvention. Recognizing that, all of the cloth, leather and soft-touch upgrades in the world won't disguise the very real need to climb into the passenger compartment of a Wrangler and become engaged, whether - at the end of a long day in the office - you really want to be or not. In short, despite a concerted effort to broaden the Wrangler's appeal through a host of 21st-Century niceties (new cloth, leather, instrumentation, center stack and audio offerings), its furnishings remain much more closely aligned with the Greatest Generation than Generation Y.Exterior
Few in the industry better understand their brand than those assigned to Jeep. (And we'll excuse - for the moment - the aberration that is Jeep's Compass). The functionality - in the guise of removable doors and foldable windshield - still remains in the 2011 Jeep Wrangler, as do those traditional cues that are sometimes found elsewhere (for example, the Hummer showroom) but will always refer to Jeep. However, today's Jeep is fully invested in the modern world, with proportions and capability that make it far more viable in current automotive environs. The bigger dimensions may marginalize it slightly on a tight trail, but work far better in the cut-and-thrust that is urban driving and, for that matter, dealing with the larger proportions of adjacent cars and trucks.Notable Standard Equipment
The beauty of the 2011 Jeep's Wrangler is, in large part, its utter simplicity. To be sure, standard Command-Trac shift-on-the-fly part-time 4WD is notable at a $22,000 base price but, then, who'd want a 2WD Jeep? And the continued availability of a standard six-speed manual for the U.S. is both notable and encouraging, suggesting that for the present time a small percentage of Americans can shift gears and talk on their hands-free cell phones at the same time. A Media Center may sound too sophisticated for Wrangler intenders, but it's included as standard equipment and located right next to the steering wheel.Notable Optional Equipment
Given the Wrangler's all-season drivetrain, the availability of a "Freedom Top" three-piece hardtop is not only notable, but viable. And, in the Sun Belt, A/C can be a lifesaver. We're most impressed, however, by not one option but a collection of them - all under the guise of the 2011 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon. No carmaker offers such credible off-road capability for under $30,000, and it's unlikely that anyone ever will again. If your hope is to go beyond the Barnes & Noble adventure section the Rubicon is the best buy in or near the showroom.Under the Hood
The 2011 Jeep Wrangler is still powered by a 3.8-liter V6; this despite the majority of Chrysler Corporation products now enjoying a much more modern 3.6-liter engine. Not only is this incumbent powerplant less powerful than the 3.6 - it's substantially thirstier, as well. With that, we'll admit that its torque - 237 pound-feet - is perfectly adequate for both off-roading and accelerating up to traffic speed. The power is distributed through one of two part-time four-wheel-drive systems, either of which offers a two-speed transfer case. In terms of drivetrain and suspension, the best Jeep of the bunch is the aforementioned Rubicon, where everything is beefier - and its overall capability is beastier. If you're opting for a Jeep, get as much "Jeep" as you can afford.
202 horsepower @ 5200 rpm
237 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4000 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 15/19 (4WD, manual), 15/19 (4WD, automatic)
The 2011 Jeep Wrangler's starting price of about $23,000 is - in relative terms - chump change, making it an ideal first car for the college grad and third car for the committed outdoorsman. Of course, the American consumer is all about options, and within its three variations - and two wheelbases - one can spend (or borrow) well into the upper $30's. To negotiate your best deal, be sure to refer to KBB's Fair Purchase Prices, providing you with a handle on real-world prices in your own shopping area. And, when considering competitors, remember that no one delivers the intrinsic character of a Jeep. Nissan's Xterra and Toyota's FJ Cruiser may aspire to Jeep's mantle, but no one delivers like the original - and that is typically seen in the Jeep's resale value.