Test Drive: 2010 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited

The Jeep occupies a unique space in the pantheon of automobiles. Born of the need for an indestructible go-anywhere military vehicle, the Jeep has survived more or less unchanged since it was invented just prior to World War II. Sure, the modern version has four doors, nice upholstery, GPS navigation, air conditioning and all that good stuff, but it?s still a squared-off real honest-to-God short wheelbase Four Wheel Drive vehicle.

And there?s something about a Jeep ? like the Corvette, Mustang, and other iconic vehicles, a Jeep really does mean something to its devotees. If a person drives up in a Jeep, you already know something about them. Now, Jeep devotees come from all walks of life, but you can bet that they enjoy the outdoors (at least in theory) and are more likely to have actually used that 4WD than your average crossover utility vehicle pilot.

The latest invention to bear the Jeep name is the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited – this is the extended wheelbase four-door version of the classic Jeep. You also get a bit more storage space behind the rear seat. The Unlimited is a direct descendant of the old Jeep CJ-8 Scrambler – which provided a longer truck-style bed behind an extended wheelbase Jeep. You get a bit more utility out of the original sport utility vehicle by making it a bit longer, so the Unlimited is a step up from the basic Wrangler, in my opinion.

The big drawback of the Jeep has always been its on-road handling. Nothing in this world comes for free, and the suspension and transmission that allow the Wrangler Unlimited to command the trails and laugh at rocks and logs and splash right through mud and snow take their toll on the freeway and curvy roads.

If you?ve ever driven a really premium supercar, you?ve probably had the experience of cruising along on the freeway wondering why everyone?s going so slow today ? then you glance at the speedometer and notice that you?re doing 90 MPH in perfect comfort.? Well, driving the Wrangler Unlimited on the freeway, I was wailing along with my usual gutsy disregard for speed limits and wondering why everyone was in such a damn hurry ? and then I looked at the speedometer and found I was driving a stately 50 MPH, and I really didn?t want to take the Wrangler much past that pace.

So if you?re going to drive a Jeep, you really need to be OK with noodling along at a comfortable speed; this thing ain?t a Ferrari, but it can pull a Ferrari out of a canyon.

So, let?s have a look at the test vehicle ??It?s a 2009 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon edition. The base price is $32,090 ? which seems like a lot for a Jeep. For that, you get a nice 3.8-liter V6 engine that delivers 15/19 fuel economy. Hmmm, not great. The engine delivers 205 horsepower and 240 pound-feet of torque. Again, not a lot of power for a 3.8-liter engine, but I?m going to argue that this is not a bad thing. Low power output from a comparatively large engine means that the power plant is not seriously stressed and should last a long time. Especially if you end up scrambling up some hillsides and over rocks and mud.

For your money, you also get heavy-duty Dana front and rear axles, locking differentials, a CD stereo, lots of air bags, traction and stability control, AC, and power everything.

Options on this car included $1,625 for the dual top option (hard top and soft top), $825 for an auto transmission, and $1,275 for a fancier stereo with navigation. I?m happy to see prices for GPS navigation coming down. A few years ago they were all $3,000, and now they?re just included with the better stereo package. Pretty soon they?ll be standard, I predict.

The test car also had a $270 trailering package ??well worth the money. I always advise people to take the trailering package on any vehicle on which it?s offered. They don?t cost much and they give you useful features you might need.

So the bottom line on the sticker of the Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 4X4 actually comes to a pretty whopping $37,545. That?s a big pill to swallow if you?re not a Jeep fanatic, but I can safely say that Jeep fans will like this Unlimited chassis and the Rubicon package. The Wrangler Unlimited in 2009 combines the original Jeep capability with modern conveniences and even luxuries.


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