Expert Reviews

Test Drive: 2015 Jeep Wrangler Sahara

AutoTrader SCORE
This score is awarded by our team of expert reviewers after extensive testing of the car

If you've not seen it, HBO's Band of Brothers remains one of the finest accounts of WWII you can watch. Winters, Malarkey, Nixon, Lipton, good ol' soft-spoken Shifty Powers – with ten episodes to explore the triumphs, defeats, wounds, and sacrifices of the men of Easy Company, a greater story is told than any movie, even Saving Private Ryan, can manage.

Having just watched the series in its entirety, it's with Dick Winters' final words – “a company of heroes” – and the memory of that rising, mournful brass crescendo that I picked up the keys to this week's tester. A Jeep, a proper Jeep – in a way, the last real Jeep you can still buy: the Wrangler.

Seventy years after WWII ended, the Wrangler's a hell of a lot more civilized, but the bones of the original are still there.

The word “iconic” gets thrown around quite a bit these days, but there's something about the squared-off shape of the Wrangler that echoes all the way back to those military roots in the 1940s. And, if you missed out on the cues, then Jeep has thoughtfully hidden silhouettes of the original on its 18-inch alloys, and inscribed the passenger grab-handle with the phrase, “Since 1941.”

Real subtle – but then, there's not supposed to be anything subtle about a Jeep. This one's fire-engine red, and it’s got a seven-bar grille, round headlights, functional hood tie-downs, and the doors swing open without any resistance when you open them. You could easily show a picture of this to any of the men of the 101st airborne, and they'd recognize it. Seventy years after WWII ended, the Wrangler's a hell of a lot more civilized, but the bones of the original are still there.

For one thing, you can take most of this exterior cladding off. The roof comes off, you can fold the windshield down, the exposed hinges of the doors mean you could take those off too. It's all a big Mechano-set of a thing, held together by Torx screws – a toolkit to take it all apart is included. However, it's colder than Bastogne out today, so I'll be keeping this wheeled foxhole buttoned up, thank you very much.

The inside of the Wrangler is actually pretty nice billeting for such a rough-and-tumble exterior. Being an Unlimited trim, this Sahara comes with heated seats, a USB connector, power windows with one-touch down for the fronts, and a pretty kickass Alpine sound system with speakers mounted in the roof and a touchscreen display. This last is slightly on the small side, but works just fine.

Other amenities include automatic headlights, an automatic transmission, remote starter, auto-dimming rearview mirror – this particular Wrangler is anything but bare bones, and it's got the price tag to match. However, as a relative value, it's not bad. Compare the Sahara to similarly equipped sport truck like the Tacoma we reviewed not that long ago, and pricing is fairly close with more equipment available.

This isn't the most hardcore Jeep you can get. Those who intend to beat the bejesus out of their machines would probably be better off getting a more basic Wrangler and then letting the aftermarket be their guide. Either that or, if budget is not really a restriction, then the Rubicon models can be cranked up with Mopar parts to make a costly plaything that'll just look better the more dents you get in it.

This Sahara Unlimited isn't exactly the city slicker version, but it is the most livable of the range, and will probably see the lightest use (this one's really quite expensive as equipped). As such, I first went exploring the city to see how it handled urban warfare.

Fitted with a Dana solid axle front and rear, and heavy-duty shocks, the Sahara ain't no magic carpet ride. However, certain expectations are created as soon as you swing open that detachable door, so it's a surprise to find that the ride is a bit rough but not punishing. It's actually bearable.

So, too, is the maneuverability. Being a four-door, this Wrangler's a little lengthy when it comes time to parallel park, but with upright glass and a clear view of each corner, underground parking proved pretty easy. I strapped in a child seat, hustled off to get the groceries and – turns out the Jeep's a fine grocery getter. Bet the guys driving the originals through the surf on D-Day never thought anybody'd be saying that.

Get it out on the sweeping curves of the Sea-to-Sky highway in search of some rougher roads, and the Wrangler's suspension and steering is a bit, y'know, sort of, like... -ish. And by that, I mean it's vague, vaguer than a teenager's answer to “How was your day?”

Thing is, it's not really a big issue. With cruise control on and the five-speed automatic transmission bumbling along happily in top gear, the lil' red Wrangler's an agreeable road trip companion. Spend a couple hours behind the wheel and you'll probably need a break, but it might actually be more agreeable to drive than a Mercedes Gelandewagen (and look how much they charge for those).

The 3.6L V6 produces an adequate 285 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque. It might actually rate higher than adequate in the shorter-wheelbase version, but this four-door explorer clocks in at a curb weight approaching 2,000 kg. Towing capacity for the four-door is rated at just under 1,600 kg when properly equipped, but a fully laden one of these would take some stirring up to get to the summit.

With just me and my camera in the cabin, the Wrangler was perfectly happy to sail up to Squamish, and then out on the backroads to find a little snow and gravel to play in. It was at this point that I discovered both I and the Jeep were wearing the wrong shoes.

The OWL off-road tires might look the business, but when faced with icy hard-packed snow, they're not. Despite a directly engaged four-wheel-drive system, the Wrangler skittered nervously over the snow, and when I had to move into deeper ruts to let another vehicle pass the other way, it had a heck of a time getting back on the gravel. This just goes to show you should always make sure your machine is shod properly for conditions – and your feet, too (I got wet socks thanks to my Vans).

At the end of the week, fuel mileage rated a fairly unimpressive 14.5 L/100 km, thanks perhaps to the cold, damp weather, but still scoring between the official 15 L/100 km city and 11.4 L/100 km highway. Besides, what else did you expect when you signed up?

I'd like to see an diesel option, out of interest, as horsepower's less important in a Jeep than torque is, but as it stands, the Wrangler's biggest surprise is not being all that agricultural. With Land Rover killing off the Defender – not that it was ever really offered here – Toyota putting a bullet through the FJ, and the future of the Xterra uncertain, the Wrangler is almost one of a kind these days.

Their owners, those happy few, those band of brothers, have surprisingly little compromise to make these days. Those that went before already blazed the trail, so there's an easier path to follow. Still, make sure you bring the right shoes.

3 years/60,000 km; 5 years/100,000 km powertrain; 3 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 5 years/100,000 km 24-hour roadside assistance

Nissan Xterra
Toyota 4Runner
A Kubelwagen

Model Tested 2015 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 4x4
Base Price $35,395
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1695
Price as Tested $45,250
Optional Equipment
$8,060 (Automatic Transmission - $1,495; Connectivity package [Bluetooth hands-free, tire-pressure display] - $525; trailer tow package - $475; front side airbags - $400; rubberized floormats - $50; limited-slip differential - $525; automatic A/C - $225; heated front seats - $400; Freedom removable hardtop - $800; Alpine premium audio - $695; Uconnect - $1,725; Sirius radio - $350; remote start - $395)