The Jeep Wrangler has endured on the road and on the trail, decades after it was conceived as a military all-purpose vehicle. It’s spawned its own cult, and still mints money for its parent company.
It’s still faintly terrible to drive on public roads, but get some dirt in its squirmy tire treads, and all is forgiven.
Sold in Sport, Sport S, Sahara, and Rubicon editions, the 2018 Jeep Wrangler earns a 4.8 out of 10 on our ratings scale. It does one thing extremely well—off-road driving—but falls down in almost every other category we measure. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Review continues below
Aerodynamic as a barn door, the Wrangler silhouette is shorthand for off-roading. It’s still recognizable as the same World War II-vintage shape, though it’s become faintly progressive with LED lighting and other minor details. The core still is intact, from the fold-down windshield to exterior hinges for the removable doors. The convertible SUV has a modern and useful interior by Jeep standards, but it lacks even the niceties you’d find in a new Jeep Compass.
The Wrangler’s V-6 prioritizes torque at the low end, and supplements 285 horsepower with a healthy dab of grit. It’s sent through a 5-speed automatic that’s better than it sounds or a 6-speed manual. It manages respectable fuel economy, but the Wrangler’s heel is its nervous stance and wandering steering that keep us from daily-driving one.
Off-road, it’s an entirely different story. There’s nothing quite competitive with the Wrangler, from its skid-plated underbody to its extreme approach and departure angles, its choice of axle ratios, its wide palette of tires and top designs, all of which compile into an unparalleled off-road ride. Electronic controls crop up where they make sense, in the form of hill-start assist and sway-bar disconnect. It’s an extraordinary vehicle for those extraordinary circumstances. No wonder it has its own cult.
It has to be a cult, because no other logic explains the folks who daily-drive the Wrangler with its noisy cabin, cramped rear seats (on two-doors), and its jiggly and unrefined on-road ride. (Unlimiteds are better, but it’s relative.) Or the poor souls who tackle its soft top on a regular basis; give us the relatively simple Freedom Top and its removable hard panels.
Crash-test scores are miserable, and base two-door Wranglers omit air conditioning and power equipment, even for a mid-$20,000 price. Jeep wraps more expensive Wranglers with leather, fits them with touchscreen satellite radios and Bluetooth and navigation. In Wrangler Rubicon territory, the Jeep’s sticker pushes past the $45,000 mark.
You’d think there’s opportunity for the best scratch-and-dent sale on earth with the Wrangler, and there is. It’s called Craigslist.