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2014 Jeep Wrangler Test Drive Review
When driving a Jeep Wrangler, you’ve got to pay attention, all the time, and the reward is that you get to go places and do things that other people don’t.
Depending on your point of view, a 2014 Jeep Wrangler is brilliant or it is ridiculous. This rugged American icon is built to go just about anywhere at just about any time, and at a surprisingly affordable price. But the Jeep’s uncompromised off-roading capability requires all kinds of compromise during the daily drive, and the love affair quickly sours for anyone blind to the Wrangler’s many warts.
Look and Feel
Out of 10
Do yourself a favor. If you’re thinking about buying a 2014 Jeep Wrangler because you like the way it looks or the image it conveys or you have fond memories of one that a friend had in college, stop and think about something for a moment. This is a vehicle that is designed to go places no other motorized vehicle can, without its roof or doors attached, and with its windshield folded down.
In other words, this is not a conveyance optimized for the daily commute.
People who buy Wranglers for purposes other than serious 4-wheeling usually don’t like them after awhile, and this dissatisfaction is clearly reflected in what owners tell companies like Consumer Reports and J.D. Power. That’s not really fair to the Wrangler. Yes, it is a rough, rugged and unrefined vehicle, one that gets lousy gas mileage, that is loud inside, and that regularly demonstrates questionable ride and handling characteristics when driven on paved roads. If you buy a Wrangler thinking the ownership experience will amount to something other than this, you are fooling yourself.
Now, if you’re ready to accept all that and you still want to buy this Jeep, let’s talk about the 2014 Wrangler. You can get one with a short wheelbase and 2 doors, or you can get one with a long wheelbase and 4 doors. They all have 4-wheel drive, a V6 engine, a convertible top, removable doors and a folding windshield.
Prices start at just $23,390 for a stripped-down Wrangler Sport 2-door, including the $995 destination charge. Buy a Wrangler Rubicon X Unlimited and add every option, and the price tag rises to $46,545. That’s before dipping into an extensive parts and accessories catalog that allows owners to create a more unique and serious off-roader than the Toledo, Ohio, factory can.
Although the 2014 Wrangler’s styling dates to 2007, the last time Jeep’s icon was completely redesigned, nobody really cares if its look is 8 years old. That’s because the Wrangler’s defining design cues—the slotted grille, round headlights, trapezoidal fenders, folding windshield, soft convertible top, exposed door hinges, separate taillights and tailgate-mounted spare tire—all date to the early 1940s, when the original Willys Jeep served American soldiers during World War II. You can understand, then, why it doesn’t really matter how old any given version of the Wrangler is, as long as it looks like a Jeep and goes places other vehicles can’t.
Thankfully, though, the Wrangler’s interior has progressed over the years, and while it still has round gauges and a separate lever for the 4-wheel-drive system’s transfer case, it is a more modern vehicle than ever before. Still, because Jeeps are often driven with the roof removed, and because people wearing muddy boots and clothing frequently clamber aboard, most versions of the Wrangler have interiors designed to withstand such abuse and to clean up with relative ease. Again, if you’re blowing a big fat wad of cash on a loaded Wrangler and you’re expecting a luxury SUV, umm, not so much.
Personally, I’m a big fan of the Wrangler’s look, inside and out, and while I prefer certain versions of this SUV to others, there’s no question that Jeep works overtime to help buyers find a Wrangler that perfectly reflects their preferences.
Out of 10
There are two ways to evaluate a Jeep Wrangler. You can drive one on a difficult and treacherous trail, preferably with significant talent or someone significantly talented aboard as a coach, or you can use one as a daily driver. For this review, I did both.
The first test vehicle was a 2014 Wrangler Sport 2-door equipped with a manual transmission, a new-for-2014 Tire and Wheel Group providing the same 32-inch wheel/tire combo as the Rubicon, a Trac-Lok differential and 3.73 gearing. I drove this Wrangler exclusively on an off-road trail in the desert, with an experienced off-roading instructor aboard, and it absolutely dominated.
The second test vehicle was the 2014 Wrangler Unlimited in new Dragon Edition guise, a hardtop model loaded with more equipment than I’ve personally seen installed in a Wrangler. I used this model as a family hauler for a week, the tires seeing terrain no more difficult than soft sand during a beach photo shoot.
Each of these Jeeps came with a 3.6-liter V6 engine generating 285 horsepower at 6,400 rpm and 260 lb-ft of torque at 4,800 rpm. The Wrangler Sport had a 6-speed manual transmission, while the Wrangler Unlimited Dragon Edition had a 5-speed automatic. This engine is well suited to its task, rated to return 18 mpg in combined driving, no matter the body style or the transmission.
As mentioned previously, 4-wheel drive is standard, but neither of my test samples had the hard-core off-roading components that come with Rubicon and Rubicon X models. That didn’t stop the Wrangler Sport, which did have the new-for-2014 Tire and Wheel Group that installs the Wrangler Rubicon’s 32-inch B.F. Goodrich off-road tires and 17-inch aluminum wheels. Equipped specifically to deliver the best off-road capabilities at the lowest possible price, this model effortlessly ascended and descended steep desert hills that would prove impassable to the vast majority of SUVs.
Several weeks later, the new Dragon Edition arrived in my driveway, equipped with black paint, subtle dragon decals and gold trim for the wheels, grille, headlight surrounds and various interior bits and pieces, appearing to channel Burt Reynolds just as much as it did Bruce Lee. This version of the Wrangler, to quote the infamous Sheriff Buford T. Justice, is an attention getter.
Based on the Sahara model, the Dragon Edition feels softer and more supple than the rough-riding Rubicons I’ve driven previously, but with the more composed ride quality comes extra body pitch, dive and roll as well as exaggerated lateral ride motions that are decidedly unsettling. Given the Wrangler’s slow, numb steering, which lazily points the Jeep in the general direction you’d like to travel and demands constant monitoring and maintenance, my preference is the Rubicon and its performance suspension, which feels better connected to the road even if it could loosen a few tooth fillings.
Nevertheless, I love driving Jeep Wranglers, in part because I love driving. A Wrangler is continuously engaging, a vehicle that makes you feel alive, delivering a visceral experience that represents the utter antithesis of an autonomous vehicle. When driving a Wrangler, you’ve got to pay attention, all the time, and the reward is that you get to go places and do things that other people don’t.
Though designed and built to go just about as far off the beaten path as is possible, a Jeep Wrangler is not without merits in urban driving situations. You may have noticed that our nation’s infrastructure is crumbling, creating heaves and holes in roads. Wranglers traverse these with a shrug, while lesser vehicles may suffer blowouts and bent wheel rims. They also prove impervious to curbs, both in terms of wheel rash and lower body damage, and are remarkably maneuverable in tight parking lots.
An unruly beast if you’re unprepared for its choppy ride, vague steering, iffy handling, Category 5 level of wind noise and seemingly unquenchable thirst for fuel, a Jeep Wrangler isn’t for everybody. As evidenced by sales figures, lots of people buy them who shouldn’t, and they won’t understand why I give it such a high rating for performance. That’s perfectly okay with me. You see, I’m rating it based on what it is designed to do, rather than on how most people actually use it.
Form and Function
Out of 10
Getting into or out of a Jeep Wrangler takes effort. The doorsills are high and wide, the door openings are narrow, and because fabric straps hold the doors in place, they don’t have any detents, leaving them to flop about. You must take care when it comes to adjacent vehicles and smaller children. Then, once you’re in, or out, you’ve gotta slam the doors shut. Hard. Every time. Oh, and check your pants. If the Jeep is dirty, chances are that now your clothing is, too.
The driver’s seat offers a manual height adjuster, and I raised the seat to its highest level, providing an expansive view of the hood and front fenders. The near-vertical windshield, the dashboard, and the steering wheel are right in the driver’s face, delivering an experience unlike any other vehicle on the market.
If you’re planning to carry passengers on a regular basis, get the Wrangler Unlimited. This 4-door model provides more rear-seat room, combined with a large 31.5-cubic-foot cargo area. That makes it possible to carry 4 adults and lots of luggage, though rear legroom remains snug for taller people. Also, thanks to the relatively vertical seatback angle, the rear seat is not conducive to slouching or lounging.
Here’s another compromise Wrangler owners make when buying this Jeep. Loading cargo isn’t easy. I can’t comment on how this works with the Wrangler’s standard soft-top, because I didn’t attempt to put anything in the Wrangler Sport’s cargo area during my desert off-roading excursion. I seem to recall from previous experience, though, that zippers and Velcro are involved if what you want to load doesn’t fit through the tailgate.
The Wrangler Dragon Edition’s hardtop is easier to use. As is true of any Wrangler, the tailgate swings from left to right, creating a problem when the Jeep is parallel parked. The tailgate is also heavy, because the spare tire is mounted to it. And if you don’t open it all the way, it has a tendency to swing back toward you if you’re not parked on level ground. Once the tailgate is open, you can lift the flip-up rear glass to maximize loading capacity. To close up, reverse the process, and make sure to slam the tailgate shut.
If you need to maximize the Wrangler Unlimited trim’s cargo space, which measures 70.6 cubic feet, the rear seats collapse with relative ease. The large rear head restraints don’t require removal; instead, they automatically move into a stowed position that, unfortunately, leaves them exposed to damage if you load sharp objects into the cargo area.
As far as interior quality is concerned, the thing to remember is that Wrangler designers build this vehicle with the expectation that it will be exposed to the elements. Rightly, then, the materials are engineered to withstand atmospheric and environmental abuse. If you’re looking for a plush, luxurious, upscale vehicle, shop elsewhere.
Removing a Wrangler’s convertible top is no easy task, but it is simpler today than it has been in the past. Regardless of the roof type, it is better if 2 people collaborate on the project, a multi-step process measured in minutes, perhaps even quarter-hours, rather than seconds.
For the standard vinyl or optional Sunrider fabric soft-top, remove the plastic windows, release several latches, and the top will fold back over the roll bar and stack itself in the trunk. Raising the roof and re-attaching the windows is a similarly complex exercise, best performed in advance of rain or sunset. Most people are likely to want the Sunrider top option, which offers a quick and simple way to bathe front-seat occupants in sunshine beneath a huge sunroof.
My Wrangler Dragon Edition had a hardtop with 2 removable roof panels over the front seats. Again, the process of unlatching and unscrewing these roof panels, and properly stowing them in the padded bag in the trunk, takes several minutes rather than a few seconds, so if it looks like lousy weather is about to strike, it's best to get them back on sooner rather than later. The entire plastic hardtop can also be removed, requiring at least 2 people, disconnection of a wiring harness and a Torx socket set to remove the screws that hold the hardtop in place. You’ve also got to have a place to store the hardtop, preferably a soft surface to avoid damage.
Removing the Wrangler’s doors is a comparatively easy task. Using your Torx socket set, remove the screws that lock the doors to their outside hinges, remove the strap securing the door to the interior, and disconnect the wiring harness from underneath the dashboard.
Yeah, I agree, all of this sounds like a tremendous pain in the you-know-what. But the end result is that you’ve got an open-air vehicle unlike anything else on the market, and it will go places few other vehicles dare to travel. Ultimately, if that’s what you want in a new vehicle, the compromises and effort are well worthwhile.
Out of 10
Aside from automatic climate control, heated front seats, a premium audio system and an available Uconnect infotainment system with Bluetooth connectivity, a 6.5-inch color touchscreen and a navigation system, the 2014 Wrangler doesn’t offer much in the way of modern technology. If you ask me, that’s just fine. The items listed above are useful to any Wrangler owner, which means this Jeep doesn’t unnecessarily complicate life.
In addition to these conventional features, the 2014 Wrangler Rubicon is available with mechanical technology designed to further its mission as an unstoppable, rock-hopping machine. This model adds Dana 44 front and rear axles, 4.10 front and rear axle ratios, Tru-Lok front and rear locking differentials, an electronic sway-bar disconnect system and a Rock-Trac transfer case with 4:1 4-Lo gearing. The result for this model is an astounding crawl ratio of 73.1:1, which helps the Rubicon to inch down, up and across portions of the Earth that appear impassable.
Choose the new-for-2014 Rubicon X model, and the Wrangler is equipped with a winch-ready steel front bumper with removable end caps, a steel rear bumper and larger rock rails than those that come on the standard Rubicon. Additionally, Jeep offers a new Trail Kit for 2014 that is equipped with gloves, D-rings and a tow strap. Feeling like you need a translator to understand all this stuff? Again, perhaps you should re-think your Wrangler purchase.
Out of 10
In addition to dual front airbags and antilock brakes with brake assist, the 2014 Wrangler is equipped with hill-start assist, an all-speed traction control system with a special setting for driving in 4-Lo, a stability control system with electronic roll mitigation technology and trailer sway control. Front-seat, side-impact airbags are optional. And that concludes discussion of the Wrangler’s safety features, unless you need to have its giant roll-bar protection system pointed out.
As far as crash-test ratings are concerned, the Wrangler could benefit from improvement. In assessments performed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the standard Wrangler 2-door gets a Good rating for its performance in the moderate overlap frontal-impact test, a Marginal rating for small overlap frontal-impact and rear-impact injury prevention, and a Poor rating in the side-impact test. The Wrangler Unlimited 4-door hasn’t been tested for small overlap frontal-impact performance, but does improve in terms of side-impact protection, from Poor to Marginal.
In the Jeep’s defense, it is probably unreasonable to expect a vehicle equipped with thin, lightweight, removable doors to be a side-impact test rock star.
Out of 10
Given what you get for the price, a 2014 Jeep Wrangler represents extraordinary value. Iconic, aspirational vehicles usually cost at least twice the amount Jeep asks for the Wrangler, if not much more. Better yet, according to ALG, which gives the Wrangler a 5-star depreciation rating, this Jeep holds onto a good chunk of that original change.
Overall cost of ownership is not as impressive, according to Cars.com. It gives the Wrangler a 3-star rating in this regard, with fuel expenses outranking depreciation as taking the biggest bite out of your wallet. That makes sense, given that every version of the Wrangler is rated to get 18 mpg in combined driving. My Dragon Edition, a loaded Unlimited with a heavy hardtop, returned 17.1 mpg during a week of driving.
Fine, you say, you’re ready to buy a whole bunch of gas. The question is: Does the Wrangler prove dependable? Since Jeep performed a Wrangler reboot during the 2011 and 2012 model years, customer complaints have dwindled. Historically, though, owners have griped about a number of things associated with this SUV, including items related to quality, dependability and how the Wrangler drives.
People still buy ‘em, though. This year, Jeep is on pace to sell 150,000 Wranglers, 10,000 more than last year, with many of them going to people with zero intention of using the Jeep in the manner for which it is designed. That means that aside from a subsidized lease special, there are no deals on the 2014 Wrangler. They’re simply not having any trouble moving these off showroom floors.
Christian Wardlaw has nearly two decades of experience reviewing cars, and has served in editorial leadership roles with Edmunds, Autobytel, and J.D. Power and Associates. Chris prefers to focus on the cars people actually buy rather than the cars about which people dream, and emphasizes the importance of fuel economy and safety as much as how much fun a car is to drive. Chris is married to an automotive journalist, is the father of four daughters, and lives in Southern California.
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