2013 Jeep
Wrangler

MSRP:
$22,970
MPG:
17 city / 21 hwy
Engine:
3.6L, V6, 285 hp

The 2013 Jeep Wrangler is unlike anything on the road, and it can take you places even your own legs can’t. It’s the perfect set of wheels to tackle the Rubicon Trail, but what if you only need to drive to work?


By Aaron Gold

The Big Picture

Buying a Jeep Wrangler is a bit like buying a pair of Christian Louboutin heels: You look fantastic, but getting around becomes a lot more challenging. The Jeep Wrangler is riddled with inconveniences, because it has always been first and foremost a hard-core off-road machine. I’m not talking about dirt roads or driving over the occasional fallen tree branch — the Wrangler is designed to crawl over terrain that is too steep or uneven to walk. But as with those Louboutin heels, the Wrangler makes those quick trips to the supermarket a bit more difficult.

An Inside Job

Back when the Jeep was invented — we’re talking World War II — it was the epitome of simplicity: A frame, an engine, some seats, and just enough bodywork to protect the greasy bits. The dashboard was just a couple of sheets of metal. Today’s cars are a lot more complex — airbags, air conditioning, stereos, stuff like that — and packing it all in to the Wrangler’s distinctive boxy shape makes for a peculiar interior. I felt like I was sitting right on top of the steering wheel and the dashboard, with the windshield sitting just ahead of my eyes like a giant set of spectacles. It wasn’t uncomfortable, just unusual. The controls are mostly well located and easy to use, but the materials are designed for all-weather durability rather than ambiance and luxury.

One of the great things about the 2013 Jeep Wrangler is that it makes a terrific convertible. With its near-vertical windows and big, burly roll bar, drivers sit in the open air, rather than in the eaves of the windshield as in most modern convertibles. You can even remove the doors if you are so inclined. The standard soft top is the easiest path to the sun, although it’s a pain to fold down and lets in lots of wind noise with the top up. The optional hard top has bulky removable roof panels over the front seats; the rear section can be removed with simple tools, but you’ll need to leave it behind in the garage.

Family Friendliness

The two-door Jeep Wrangler I drove was about as family-friendly as a day pass to an S&M club. Access to the back seats is awkward and there’s not much cargo space. The longer four-door Wrangler Unlimited is only a partial solution: The back seat is roomier and easier to access, but the doors don’t hold themselves open (they’ll smack you in the butt as you strap your baby into her car seat) and the cargo area is barely big enough for a decent-sized stroller. If you’re a family gal who really wants a Jeep Wrangler, I’d suggest waiting until the kids are big enough to walk on their own.

Safety

Safety is not the Wrangler’s strong suit, either. While most vehicles have six to ten airbags, the Wrangler comes with just two front airbags as standard. Front-seat-mounted side airbags are optional ($495) and side curtain airbags, which provide protection in a rollover, are not even offered; instead, the Wrangler has an exceptionally stout roll bar that cages the passenger compartment. There’s a reason for the lack airbags: Jeep enthusiasts use their Wranglers for hard-core low-speed rock-climbing, where a gentle roll-over is almost a non-event. Without an airbag deployment, they can simply push the Wrangler back onto its wheels and try again. But if you’re driving on-road, you’ll want the extra protection that side airbags provide.

The Federal Government has not crash-tested the 2013 Jeep Wrangler, though they gave it only 3 out of 5 stars for rollover potential — no surprise given its narrow stance, short wheelbase (distance between the front and back wheels) and big, bouncy off-road suspension. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the Wrangler a best-possible “Good” rating for front crashes, but side impacts without the optional side airbags were “Poor” (the worst rating) for the 2-door and “Marginal” (second-worst) for the 4-door.

Driving Experience

The 2013 Jeep Wrangler is powered by a 285 horsepower 3.6 liter V6. Acceleration is impressive if you really step on it, but gas mileage is abysmal: EPA ratings are 17 MPG city and 21 MPG highway for both manual and automatic transmissions. I barely managed 15 MPG in a week of mixed driving, and I rarely drove faster than the posted limit.

The Wrangler’s suspension is designed for serious off-roading, with lots of up-and-down travel and fairly stiff shock absorbers. The steering is imprecise, the handling is clumsy, and the ride, while not as abusive as older versions of the Wrangler, is not exactly comfortable. Emergency swerves are dicey at best, though the Wrangler does have electronic stability control to reduce the chance of rollover. For all that, though, I rather enjoyed my seat time in the Wrangler; the driving experience is unique and not entirely unpleasant.

In keeping with their off-road mission, all Wranglers have part-time four-wheel-drive (meaning that power goes the rear wheels until you shift to 4WD mode) and a low-range transfer case that provides extra power for low-speed off-roading, with an optional Rock-Trac system that has some extra tricks up its sleeve*. The Wrangler makes off-roading easy: Select 4WD Lo, take your foot off the brake and/or clutch, point the Wrangler at the rough stuff and let it do all the work. It will deftly crawl over tortuous terrain that would eviscerate an ordinary car. That said, if your biggest concern is getting through a bad snowstorm, the Wrangler is overkill.

* (The Rock-Trac system has lower low-range gearing, lockable front and center differentials, and an electronically disconnecting sway bar for better front-axle articulation. If that reads like gobbledygook, you probably don’t need it.)

Gizmos And Tech

Electronic wizardry is limited, but the Wrangler does offer an excellent navigation system that uses Garmin software, which is easy to program and use. The Bluetooth speakerphone works fairly well, although it’s nearly impossible to hear your calls when the top is down or the roof panels are removed.

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Pricing and Trim Levels

2013 Jeep Wrangler

Wranglers do not come cheap! The basic Wrangler Sport model, with a manual transmission and no air conditioning, costs $22,970 for the 2-door version and $26,470 for the 4-door. The 2-door Wrangler Rubicon model I tested, with the RockTrac 4WD system, hard top, and navigation, listed for $35,515. A 4-door Wrangler Unlimited with all the option boxes checked off can top $46,000.
2012 Jeep Wrangler Sahara

Final Thoughts

For all its foibles, I really enjoyed my week-long test of the Wrangler. It's exceptionally good at what it was designed to do -- but it's important to understand that the things we normally do with our cars, like driving to work, are secondary priorities for the Wrangler. Driving one on paved roads is a compromise, and if you have to swerve to avoid a crash -- or worse yet, if you get into a crash -- the Wrangler will not provide the same protection as a normal car or SUV. If you just want to feel the wind in your hair, a regular convertible like the Mazda Miata is a good choice. If you want a Jeep to do some occasional hard-core off-roading, the 2012 Toyota FJ Cruiser can go nearly as far off the beaten path, and it drives more like a conventional SUV, though it's roof is not removable. Nissan makes a convertible version of the Murano SUV, although it feels a bit bodged together. If you have your heart set on a Jeep Wrangler, well, I can't say I blame you -- there really is no other vehicle quite like it. Just remember to drive carefully!

Everything about it is unique

Great open-top experience once you wrestle the roof off

Marginal safety, lousy fuel economy

Off-Road Fun
On-Road Comfort
Style

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13 Responses to “Jeep Wrangler”

  1. Sally says:

    hmmm. interesting.

  2. Dana Bensen says:

    Don’t forget about the ‘cool’ factor though! Jeeps are just plain cool and you will look pretty cool driving it!

    • Dan says:

      Don’t be fooled ladies. This is my 9th Wrangler. I have never had a single one of them off road. So they are not just for the “off road” crowd. With the new improvements, they are alot more quiet than they used to be and they are alot smoother on the open road. Granted, it’s not as smooth as, say a Cadillac, but they are as good as just about any vehicler out there.
      Sure, the gas mileage in town has a bit to be desired, but on the highway at 55mph, I am getting 30 to 32 mpg. At 65 it gets around 27mpg.
      Now, the biggest selling point that you don’t see much is … it’s a convertible in the spring, summer, and fall. It’s also the best 4×4 in the winter and snow. Ever since Chrysler bought Jeep, they have put in real sized heater cores, so you get PLENTY of heat.
      I do not now, nor have I ever worked for Jeep. They are not paying me to rave about the Wrangler. After a NEW 1997, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2012 and 2013, and a USED 1995 and a 2010, I feel quite experienced with the Wranglers. So if you have any questions, just post them and I will try and answer.

      Dan

      • Chad says:

        30 – 32 mpg is a pipe dream. I guarantee that you are NOT getting anything near that, not even the 27 mpg you claim.

      • Anas says:

        hi Dan,

        I am planning to buy one and not to off road driving at all, just on road driving in the city and to work. What do you recommend on road mode package to purchase? Smother and comfort as much as can.

        sorry for my english if its not that good :)

        regards,
        Anas

  3. Pam says:

    Thanks for the review. I live in Michigan and when I bought my Jeep Wrangler back in 1994 (factory ordered) it was because I was driving 30 miles each way to work in a pre- mobile phone era. I wanted 4WD for winter driving and I wanted a convertible for the summer. Only the Wrangler gave me both. It is now 19 years old and I’m looking to replace it before it starts needing repairs. At this point, it has only needed routine maintenance. I had my jeep before my kids and even though it was a hassle, I climbed in the back with the baby seats and made due with the inconveniences because I really loved my jeep. I still love it. My husband wants something with 3rd row seating so we can haul our older kids around plus their friends and it is almost devastating to me to consider not having a Wrangler.

    It isn’t for everyone, but there really is nothing else like it. If you are a jeep girl, the less plush attributes won’t bother you in the least.

    Pam

  4. jpmama says:

    Jeeps don’t come with roll bars. They have sport bars and are not connected to the frame. If you want a proper roll cage, talk to the Jeepers who go rock-crawling.

  5. Tina says:

    I read many things before purchasing my 2014 Wrangler Unlimited Sahara. I was more interested in the leather heated seats, nav, hard top, etc than the off-road extras that come in the Rubicon. This is my first Jeep. I also have a Mazda Miata for the ‘wind in the hair’ effect. People tried to discourage me from this purchase, saying the Jeep was uncomfortable, not safe, etc. I tell people routinely I’m so glad I made my own decision and did not listen to those around me. I absolutely love this thing and I drive strictly on the paved roads. I go about 30 miles each day to work and the seats are beyond comfortable, much more so than they are given credit for. I’ve also been in one hard swerve so far to avoid a head on collison and the Jeep did fine. Steering is very precise and it is super in heavy rain. Don’t let the comments dissuade you, these are great vehicles for women and men alike. I hate that I waited all these years before purchasing one.

    • DSunny says:

      Hi Tina, may I ask if up to now you are still content with your Jeep?
      I’m about to buy one but everyone around told me it would be a very bad
      choice. Thanks.

      • Yes, I do love Jeeps. They’re well priced, fun, and are more fuel efficient than previous models!

        • Georgia Girl says:

          Love my Jeep Wrangler Unlimited more every time I get behind the wheel. It is nothing like what I planned to purchase. Drove a Mercedes SUV for years, professional female in dress clothes, heels etc.

          So glad I made this one crazy purchase! Even the dealership owner (a friend) was sure I would not enjoy the two day test drive and would go back to looking at traditional SUVs.

          I commute daily in Atlanta traffic and have no trouble at all in my four door Jeep. In fact, love knowing I can take my Jeep over the curb if cornered. I’ve never owned a vehicle that felt so fun and makes me happy just to be heading down the road with CCR on the radio and wind in my hair.

  6. ande smith says:

    I am over 40 female…not really doing any off roading…unless you count New England snowstorms as such… thinking of getting a jeep sahara but the negative reviews have me perplexed….I am really concerned about the taking curves..or the swerving to avoid ….is it really as bad as they say….here in CT curves and hills are all around……I also have a lead foot at times…in my car now i have to slow to below 60 to take a curve…what about the negative comments about the braking …any help would be appreciated…

  7. tennistom says:

    I came across this thread by accident, don’t know if it’s still alive but will contribute my 2 bits for posterity. I’m a car collector and if I was forced to own only one vehicle it would be my Jeep Wrangler. It’s a 2009 4-door Rubicon manual trans, soft-top. Jeeps don’t like being called “cars”–vehicle or truck please. 30 mpg’s is a fiction, maybe if they’re Imperial Gallons. I average 15mpg, it’s called physics, it’s a heavy-duty vehicle. As far as safety, I feel safer it it then I would in anything else outside of a tank. Go to a Jeep message board and read the accounts of incidents and look at the pics of encounters with such as Toyota Corollas–the Jeep always wins. The other car is totaled and the Jeep driver pulls the bump in the rubber bumper out and drives home. Handling? My 4-door handles as well as a 2009 Toyota Landcrusier, which I also have. It’s night and day from the previous Jeep TJ models like a 2006 Unlimited, which I also still have. The old Jeeps were tippy but the new ones are a pleasure to drive anywhere and I’ve burried the needle on long stretches in Nevada. The brakes are not a problem. If you have any adventure in you and don’t fret about ruining your manicure, Just Do It! A bonus is all the other Jeepers out there who wave at you and won’t leave you stranded by the side of the road or in out in the wilderness, they come with a support system. I do know something about performance cars too owning a Viper and a Lotus Elise SC–but if I was forced by a totalitarian dictatorship of a government to choose only one mode of conveyance, it would be my JK Jeep Wrangler Rubicon, soft-top, manual.

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