The Jeep Wrangler is the most off-road capable production vehicle on earth that normal humans can afford. What do you need to know before you buy a Jeep Wrangler? Don’t worry, we’ll tell you everything right here in the Ultimate Buyer’s Guide.
Bugatti Veyron, Lamborghini Aventador, McLaren P1, Ferrari La Ferrari –these cars garner respect from people all around the world for the advanced engineering that went into making them some of the most track-capable cars on the planet.
Then there’s the Jeep Wrangler JK, the polar opposite of these hypercars. It has excessive body roll in turns, the brakes might as well be bottle caps, and much of the technology used to build it dates back to the 1800s.
But the Wrangler is a hypercar, because it is the absolute best at what it does. It is a vehicle whose limits span far beyond what 99 percent of its drivers will ever use. It’s a purpose-built machine capable of conquering nature’s most grueling terrain, and it’s better off-road than any other vehicle sold in America by a huge margin.
It is the king of off-roading, rivaled by none, respected by all.
You see those vehicles in the picture above? Those were once stock Jeep Wrangler JKs, but their owners threw some lift kits on them and a set of 37-inch tires.
And that’s a big part of the Jeep Wrangler ownership experience: taking advantage of the best aftermarket on earth, modifying, and off-roading with other Jeep enthusiasts.
Buying a Wrangler is so much more than just taking ownership of a new SUV. It’s the beginning of a camaraderie dating back to World War Two. Have you ever seen two Wrangler owners drive past one another and wave? That’s the “Jeep Wave,” and it represents a bond between people who just love their rough-riding, seven-slotted off-roader.
Driving the Wrangler makes you feel like you’re part of something. Sure, the ride quality is terrible, there’s tons of wind noise, the clutch has really long throws, and it sucks gas like a semi truck. But the character of the Wrangler outweighs all of that and makes it one of our favorite SUVs on the market.
The JK Wrangler debuted for the 2007 model year, and the big story then was the Unlimited model, which was the first four-door Wrangler ever. “Blasphemy!” cried the diehards. “That’s no real Jeep!” the enthusiasts exclaimed.
But the Wrangler Unlimited is selling at about 75%, with the short Wrangler making up the other quarter, so clearly it was a good financial move by Jeep.
That 2007 model came with a weak-sauce 202 HP 3.8-liter minivan boat anchor of an engine and a 4-speed slushbox (a solid Daimler-sourced 6-speed manual was available, too). The pairing was absolutely atrocious, and even with the proper off-road gearing, a modified Wrangler could barely get out of its own way.
The interior quality of the early JKs was also horrendous. Hard-touch plastics that plagued the entire Chrysler lineup made the interior of the Wrangler feel like a recalled Cozy Coupe.
Then 2011 came along, and Fiat fixed the interior. Then the following year, the Wrangler got the powertrain it always deserved: a 285 HP 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 and a Daimler-sourced, bulletproof A580 5-speed automatic transmission.
Changes since 2012 have been minor. The seats, audio system, soft tops, and trim levels have changed here and there, and Jeep keeps bombarding the world with “buzz models,” but otherwise, the 2015 Wrangler is very similar to the 2012.
The Wrangler comes with a 3.6-liter V6 that cranks out 285-horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. No, it’s not your old 4-liter. This is a high-revving engine and isn’t the most torquey down low in the rev range. Still, it feels plenty strong for the Wrangler.
Transmission options are either a beefy 5-speed auto or a tried-and-true 6-speed manual. The 5-speed is well suited for the Wrangler, but we prefer the manual. Yes, the clutch pedal doesn’t do too much until you get to the end of its extremely long throw, and the shifter shakes like crazy, making you feel like you’re driving a big rig. Still, it’s a good transmission, and the short first gear makes off-roading more than doable.
2015 Jeep Wrangler Engine Options
|Engine||Max Horsepower (hp)||Max Torque (lb-ft)|
|3.6-liter Pentastar V6|
285 @ 6400 rpm
The Jeep Wrangler has an enormous drag coefficient. Its brick-like aerodynamic qualities, coupled with the huge rolling resistance of those wide tires mean the Wrangler has to make stops at gas stations very regularly— especially the 2-door with its smallish 18.6-gallon gas tank.
2015 Jeep Wrangler Fuel Economy Ratings (City/Highway/Combined)
| Fuel Economy- Auto||17/21/18 (2-door)|
|Fuel Economy- Manual||17/21/18 (2-door)|
Trim Level Breakdown
The Jeep Wrangler comes in three basic trims: Sport, Sahara and Rubicon.There are a few sub-trims in there like Sport S, Willys Wheeler, Freedom Edition, Willys Wheeler W, Altitude, X, and Rubicon Hard Rock, but they all build around the “Sport, Sahara, Rubicon” foundation.
Every Wrangler has a body sitting on a ladder frame, solid axles front and rear, recirculating ball hydraulic power steering, and 4-wheel drive.
- Sport: Starts at $22,995 for 2-door, $26,795 for 4-door. Notable standard features: 6-speed manual transmission, 3.6-liter V6 engine, cloth seats, Dana 30 front axle, Dana 44 rear axle, steel wheels, soft top, tow hooks, small 225/75R16 tires, eight-speaker audio system, 3.21 axle ratio, skid plates for fuel tank, transfer case, and automatic transmission oil pan, hill start assist, air conditioning (4-door only). Notable options: Connectivity Group: Leather-wrapped steering wheel, chrome/leather wrapped shift knob, tire pressure monitoring display, Uconnect in-car communication, remote USB port ($670); Power convenience group: Power locks, power heated side mirrors, power windows, remote keyless entry, security alarm ($1,545+Sport S or Freedom Package); Trailer-tow Package: Receiver hitch with four-pin connector and Trailer sway Control ($395); Max Trailer Tow Package: trailer-tow package with 3.73 axle ratio (4-door only: $845); half-doors ($0); 9-speaker audio system ($845); Air conditioning (2-door only: $1,295); hard top ($995+soft top delete); Dual top group ($2185+Sport S or Freedom Package or Willys Wheeler Package); Air conditioning, power windows and locks, tinted windows (4-door only), 17-inch aluminum wheels (total: $25,805- 2-door, $29,995- 4-door); Freedom Package: Painted bumper inserts, painted front grille, 17” aluminum wheels, body color fender flares, sidesteps, tail lamp guards, badging and seat embroidery, power windows and locks (4-door) slush mats, AC (Total: $28,890 for 2-door, $32,90 for 4-door); Willys Wheeler Package: Trac-Lok limited slip differential, 3.73 axle ratio, black 17” alloy wheels, black grille, 31” mud-terrain tires, rock rails, black front and rear bumper appliques, unique decals and badging, Connectivity group with Sirius XM Radio (Total: $26,995 for 2-door, $30,795 for 4-door).
- Sahara: Starts at $28,995 for 2-door, $32,795 for 4-door. Standard features over Sport: automatic headlamps, body-color fender flares, heated power mirrors, tubular side steps, premium soft top, 18” aluminum wheels, power door locks, power windows, leather-wrapped steering wheel, Aluminum wheels, Air conditioning, option of Power Convenience Group - Standard on 4 door and available on 2-door. Power locks with remote keyless entry, windows, auto dimming rear view, silver front and rear bumper overlays, silver interior HVAC vent bezels. Notable options: Connectivity Group ($595); hard top ($995); body color hard top ($1,995); dual top group ($2,185); Trailer-tow Package: Receiver hitch with four-pin connector and Trailer sway Control ($395); Max Trailer Tow Package (4-door only: $845)
- Rubicon: Starts at $32,195 for 2-door, $35,995 for 4-door. Standard features over Sport: Dana 44 front and rear axles, 4:1 transfer case, locking front and rear differentials, sway bar disconnect, rock rails, 255/75R17 BFG mud-terrain tires, 17” aluminum wheels, air conditioning. Notable options: Dual top group ($2,185); Hard top ($995); body-color hard top ($1,995); Max trailer tow package: receiver and wiring (4-door only: $495).
There’s also the Willys Wheeler W, which is the base Sport with the Willys Wheeler package, standard AC, and the Power Convenience Group (4-door only, optional on 2-door). Slotting above the Rubicon are the Altitude, X, and Rubicon Hard Rock.
The Altitude and X are basically a Sahara with power-bulge and power-dome hoods, respectively. They also get leather interior, rock rails, a body color hardtop, a nice speaker system, and special interior and exterior colors. The Rubicon Hard Rock is the Rubicon with a power-dome hood, leather seats, 9-speaker audio, and interior niceties not found the the standard Rubicon.
We think there are only three Wrangler trim levels worth considering: Sport, Willys Wheeler, and Rubicon. The Sahara is just a dressed up sport, and the Rubicon Hard Rock is a ridiculously expensive, fancy Rubicon.
But the Sport, Willys Wheeler, and Rubicon offer great value, and choosing the right one depends upon how much off-roading you’re going to do.
If you’re going to heavily modify your Wrangler with one-ton axles and beadlock wheels, buy the Sport and maybe go for the air conditioning. There’s no point up-optioning if you’re really only using the JK frame and body as a platform to heavily modify. Those base stripper models come in at $22,995 for the 2-door and $26,795 for the 4-door. Tack on $1,295 for AC.
If you’re going to do moderate off-roading, the Willys Wheeler offers great value with its big mud-terrain tires, limited slip rear axle, and rock rails. Opt for the premium sound and air conditioning, and you’ll have a reasonably comfortable daily driver and a very competent off-road wheeler. You’ll be in $30,130 for the 2-door and $32,635 for the 4-door.
If you want to do heavy off-roading right out of the box, the Rubicon is the only way to go. It gets big axles, rock rails, a disconnecting front sway bar, and, most importantly, lockers. It also comes with AC. All in, you’ll be spending $33,190 for the 2-door and $36,990 for the Unlimited.
No matter which trim you choose, you’ll own a vehicle with one of the best resale values of anything on the market.
MSRP: $22,995-$36,695 (2-door), $26,795-$40,495 (4-door)
Max Advertised Towing Capability: 3,500 pounds (4-door)
MPG: 17 city/ 21 hwy / 18 combined [2-door]
Engines: 3.6L V6
Curb Weight: ~3,760-4,340 pounds IIHS Rating: Not A Top Safety Pick
Transmissions: 6-speed manual, 5-speed Automatic
Drivetrain Layout: Front engine, RWD/4WD
Photo credit: Jeep