Reviews

2011 Jeep Wrangler Walk Around

The Jeep Wrangler is one of the most widely recognizable vehicles in the world. Most important, Wranglers have always had a distinct family resemblance to the original Jeep of World War II fame.

Up front you'll find the classic round headlamps, Jeep's seven-slot grille, and a front bumper with integrated fog lamps. The upright windshield is slightly curved for better aerodynamics and reduced wind noise. It can be folded down to rest on the hood for true open-air motoring, but that is not a simple chore as it once was. Likewise the doors can still be removed, but check your state's rules about driving with no side mirrors.

Along the sides, many Wranglers have assist steps under the doors to make climbing in easier, and fender flares that are bolted on, so they can be easily taken off for repair or replacement. This generation Wrangler may look as square as the first Jeeps, but not a single panel on it is completely flat. Remember that before you start fabricating add-ons.

The standard soft top is relatively easy to remove and install. The Sunrider soft top slides back half way, like a huge sunroof over the front seats. The optional three-piece modular hard top (Freedom Top) has two front panels that easily pop on and off like a T-top, and can be stored behind the rear seat. The third panel over the rear seat can be removed separately and stored in the garage.

For 2011 the windows in the hard top are notably larger, helping driver vision and passenger claustrophobia. On Sahara models the top can be ordered painted to match the rest of the bodywork.

Under the body, there's a boxed frame with seven crossmembers. Wide-spaced frame rails cradle the fuel tank between the wheels. Skid plates protect any vulnerable bits, and tow hooks are standard.

Interior

For 2011, nearly every part of the interior has been updated, but you can still hose out the floors (the carpet is easily removed) after a day in the mud. Door panels have new surfaces, armrests, storage nets (nets drain better than pockets), and door pulls that won't break fingernails. The center panel controls have been moved closer to occupants for an easy reach, omni-directional air vents, and a lockable center console; some models offer a 115-VAC power outlet.

Wranglers have traditionally been known as compact inside. The comfortable high-back front seats are surrounded by more shoulder and hip room than previous-generation models, and the removable rear seat provides more shoulder, hip and leg room for each of the two passengers. There's also more space behind the rear seat, which folds to provide nearly twice the cargo capacity as before; with the rear seat removed the two-door has 61 cubic feet of cargo space, more than many midsize SUVs.

The Unlimited is larger. The Unlimited offers more than 80 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seat folded flat. The headrests flip back, so they don't need to be removed, making it easy to switch between cargo and rear-seat-passenger modes. In the rear seat, the Unlimited offers 1.6 more inches of leg room and a whopping 12 inches more hip room than two-door models. The Unlimited can seat three in the back seat. The reason: Rear passengers in the two-door Wrangler sit between the wheel wells, while in the Unlimited they sit ahead of the rear axle.

Instrumentation is clean and simple, against a background of dull (neither flat nor gloss) plastic. Solid square buttons look good and are easy to understand and operate. There's a new steering wheel with integral cruise and audio controls. The materials have more feel and texture yet remain easy-to-clean plastic that works well in the utilitarian Wrangler.

The Wrangler is available with heated leather seats, upgraded USB input, Bluetooth streaming audio, power heated mirrors, multiple power outlets, and automatic temperature control. All have additional noise abatement measures but don't think of a Wrangler as a car.

The optional 368-watt Infinity sound system comes with seven speakers, including a subwoofer. That might seem a lot for a Jeep, but it translates to decent sound with no top. The upgrade includes Sirius satellite radio, good for keeping up with the news when out in the boonies. Located under the sound system controls are big climate control knobs, with buttons for available power windows above that.

Between the seats are the shift lever, a short four-wheel-drive lever, two cupholders, emergency brake handle, and a locking center console that's wide and deep, if not long. The locking glove box is big and there's a convenient grab handle above (it also helps direct the air bag, so don't remove it). This is a Jeep, after all, so the grab handle will be used on bouncy roads, or where there are no roads at all.

The Freedom Top modular hard tops feature sections that easily lift off and can be secured behind the rear seat. The larger section over the rear seat can also be removed but cannot be stored in the vehicle; you'll have to leave it in camp or at home. We found storing the two roof panels eliminates most of the cargo space: Cargo space is not unlimited in the Unlimited. We couldn't fit four carry-on-sized bags behind the rear seat. And watch out for any Wrangler's hard top rear window; like many hatchbacks it rises on its own when opened, and may whack you on the chin (or forehead, or nose) if you forget to step back.

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