By Don Fuller, Contributing Editor
KBB Expert Rating: 7.7
If any vehicle needs no introduction it’s the 2016 Jeep Wrangler. Take a basic concept that’s been unchanged for three-quarters of a century, add continual refinement and development, and you have defined the reliable, go-almost-anywhere, do-anything, on-and-off-road vehicle for all of us. The three trim levels are base Sport, mid-range Sahara and hard-core Rubicon, but they are all capable of fulfilling every requirement of what it means to be a Jeep. All have Chrysler’s smooth and strong 3.6-liter, 285-horsepower V6 engine which, thanks to excellent gearing and powertrain choices, provides the Wrangler with exceptional off-road capabilities. Any competition? Toyota 4Runner? Nissan Xterra? Not really. It’s about more than just 4-wheel drive; the Jeep Wrangler delivers that elusive, but certain, intangible that makes the difference.
If you’ve decided you want a Jeep Wrangler you probably don’t want anything else. It can go anywhere sanity (and even a slight dose of insanity) allows, it’s not expensive and it has an inherent ruggedness borne of fundamental simplicity. This is the original.
If you seldom – or never – are going to use the Wrangler’s capabilities you’re not going to like it. It’s loud, the suspension is stiff, creature comforts are minimal; for around-town, the home-to-work commute or hitting the freeway, it can quit being cute and settle into a grinding annoyance.
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For 2016 the Wrangler’s changes are pretty much limited to trim and color additions. The new Black Bear Edition adds content to the Sport S model, including off-road rock rails; and the Sahara gets some appearance updates, including new wheels, a body-color bumper applique and an Olive Green interior.
With front and rear solid axles and a body-on-frame layout, the 2016 Jeep Wrangler is built with conceptual technology that peaked about 75 years ago; which is precisely why it...
... works so well off-road. The requirements don’t change: generous ground clearance, minimal overhangs, capable 4-wheel drive, compliant suspension, rugged construction. All that makes the Wrangler nearly unstoppable off-road. Yet, it's not quite as awful as you might imagine on pavement. The suspension deals with road irregularities about as well as can be expected, and the precise steering is as welcome off-pavement as on. Still, the ride is not that of even a mid-range sedan, it's ridiculously loud at highway speeds and its barnlike aerodynamics means you'll use a lot of gas to not go very fast. Instead, get away from pavement, take advantage of the excellent Pentastar V6 engine and the Wrangler's marvelous off-road capabilities, and enjoy yourself.
3.6-LITER PENTASTAR V6
Chrysler's Pentastar V6 is the best thing to happen to the Jeep Wrangler since aftermarket winches. With smooth operation, nice throttle response and even decent fuel economy, it's just about as perfectly suited as it can be. In addition to the 6-speed manual transmission there’s an available 5-speed automatic.
COMMANDING OFF-ROAD CAPABILITY
If you're not buying a Jeep Wrangler for its off-road capabilities, then why? Solid axles, generous ground clearance, short overhangs, compliant suspension, rugged construction, terrific 4-wheel-drive systems, tidy size; no wonder it’s so good away from pavement.
Even with the available leather, the 2016 Wrangler’s interior does not qualify as plush. The main requirement is durability, which describes the Sport model’s cloth seats and the hard plastic surfaces. But there’s plenty of versatility: The rear seat will fold flat for carrying gear and that in the 4-door Unlimited models will accommodate three people. The instrument panel is not necessarily stylish but does have the control functions within easy reach. And, as it has been for years, if the interior gets really dirty you can pull the handy drain plugs and clean it out with a garden hose.
The 2016 Wrangler's styling is unmistakably that of a Jeep. The original box-on-wheels shape, with no compound curves, was engineered for ease of manufacture; Jeep wouldn’t dare alter it any more than you’d change the shape of a Coke bottle. The upright windshield allows great outward visibility and folds down for those times off-road when you need to lean over the hood. Tires pushed out to the corners give the Wrangler unmatched approach and departure angles. From time to time there are minor changes, but the Jeep shape remains among the most enduring, and endearing, on the planet.
Two major items are standard on every 2016 Jeep Wrangler: a 285-horsepower 3.6-liter V6 engine and 4-wheel drive with a low-range transfer case. Beyond that are stability control with roll mitigation, hill-start assist and trailer-sway control. Doors are removable, and there’s a tool kit for doing just that. What is not standard on the base Sport model are power windows, door locks and air conditioning.
The 2016 Wrangler options list is impressively comprehensive and, primarily, aimed at additional enhancements and capabilities for increasingly serious off-roading. Many of the options are in the 14 packages, some of the more important being: the Wrangler Rubicon Hard Rock Package, Willys Wheeler Package, Sport S Package, Connectivity Group, Power Convenience Group, Trail Kit, Trailer-tow Package and the Dual Top Group. With the packages and various options, the buyer can easily order and build the Wrangler of his or her dreams, which is the way we’d recommend doing it. There's also a huge aftermarket industry of third-party parts and accessories.
The only engine for the 2016 Wrangler is Chrysler’s terrific 3.6-liter Pentastar V6, with 285 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque; it’s one of our favorites. Its smooth power delivery makes easy work of highways or rock crawls, and it's by far the best engine ever in a Wrangler. A 6-speed manual transmission is standard and a 5-speed automatic is available as an option. In the 2-door Wrangler, there's no difference in fuel economy between the two. There are so many variations of axles and gear ratios that both the manual and automatic gearboxes work well on or off highways, and we’re enamored enough of 3-pedal driving that we’d probably choose the manual.
285 horsepower @ 6,400 rpm
260 lb-ft of torque @ 4,800 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 17/21 mpg (Wrangler), 17/20 mpg (Wrangler Unlimited, automatic), 17/21 mpg (Wrangler Unlimited, manual)
For all its capabilities, the 2016 Jeep Wrangler is surprisingly affordable. The basic Wrangler Sport has a Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) of right around $24,500, including destination. The 4-door Wrangler Unlimited Sport is about $2,800 more. On the other end of the spectrum, various packages and options can start running up the price, and a fully loaded Sahara or Rubicon can easily exceed $40,000. Wranglers enjoy historically high resale values, with 3-year residuals around the 60-percent level. If you are considering aggressive off-roading, choosing a fully loaded top-of-the-line Rubicon with appropriate options and packages can be a true bargain compared to the cost of upgrading a more basic Wrangler Sport through the 4WD aftermarket – and it will all have a factory warranty. To make your best deal, be sure to check KBB.com's Fair Purchase Price to see what others in your area typically pay for a 2016 Jeep Wrangler.