Calgary Herald

Wrangler still packs in a pile of fun

Stripped down utilitaria­n SUV is real old school


Jeep traditiona­lists like things a certain way: Old school. If you’re a ninny and can’t park this big beast without a backup camera, too friggin’ bad.

This particular sub-$30,000 Jeep is stripped down and pays homage to Jeep heritage, reminding people that although the automaker sells $70,000 Grand Cherokees with heated leather steering wheels and safety sensors galore, the bare-bones Wrangler is where it all started.

Although there are crank-down windows, a manual transmissi­on and a real key with no buttons on it (hey, it’s waterproof!), this Jeep still has modern convenienc­es that include air conditioni­ng, cruise control, Bluetooth and satellite radio. Besides some tweaks to the Jeep’s boxy exterior, those are pretty much the only things that make it different from the Wrangler (or YJ) as it was 20 years ago.

The Wrangler stands alone in the market: It is the only completely off-road capable SUV with a real transfer case in its price bracket — in effect, it’s the only “real” SUV left that “real” SUV drivers with “real” SUV needs actually want. This isn’t an SUV you drive to Holts or use to hop curbs with (I’m looking at you, BMW X6 and Range Rover Evoque). It’s an SUV that you use to traverse a mountain — it’s hardcore and requires a hardcore driver.

All of the Jeep’s main competitor­s died away decades ago, so it has the market cornered, which means there is a strong community of Jeep people who will wave at you when you drive by. A friend of mine just bought a Wrangler (a four-door manual Rubicon) and his first order of business was joining the local Jeep off-roading club. He was looking at buying a Porsche Cayenne and ended up buying the Wrangler, which is very telling.

From entering and exiting to taking down the roof to driving and even honking at people, it is nearly impossible to do anything gracefully in this Jeep Wrangler, but this SUV isn’t a Mercedes S-Class, so that’s to be expected. I tried to give someone who was ignoring an advanced left turn signal a gentle “beep beep,” but instead opened up the gates of hell with might as well have been a big “CHA-WOO-GA” from a steamship. I felt bad, but I was driving a Wrangler, and no one messes with you when you drive a Wrangler.

Especially with a manual transmissi­on, the Wrangler is an extremely involving car to drive, which could prove tiresome in traffic or around tight urban areas. The knobby off-road tires and stiff steering mean the wheels don’t correct themselves quickly, so you find yourself yanking the steering wheel around and getting an arm workout.

The steering is stiff, the suspension is stiff, the clutch is stiff — everything is stiff because an off-roader needs to be this way. In this regard, the Jeep is not very forgiving during daily drives and will require your full attention. It feels like you’re operating heavy machinery and not really driving a car, but I found it incredibly re- warding because it is very rare to have a vehicle these days that will make you work this hard.

The truck-like long-handle gear shifter rattles around in your hand while you throw to the next gear, and instead of just flicking your wrist in something like a Miata, shifting the Wrangler is a full-arm exercise. I even needed two hands to get the gear shifter into the reverse gate.

The Jeep also makes amazing sounds. Everything from opening the doors to releasing the hood and closing the gas tank comes with an amusing clunk, pop, ding, rattle or ping. The rugged and utilitaria­n nature of the Jeep means that electronic­s have to be kept to a minimum, which is why many of its operations have to be done manually. This is good because fewer things will malfunctio­n and require a repair job. Instead of the quiet whirrs you hear from other cars while their fancy electronic­s are doing their work, with the Jeep, you can hear parts moving and things clicking into place, which is very satisfying.

There are also some not-soamazing sounds — such as the loud road noise, engine noise from the workhorse V6, transmissi­on whine, the sound of the fabric roof panels flapping in the wind or buffeting the plastic windows — but they all add to the Jeep’s agricultur­al personalit­y.

Another special thing about the Wrangler is that it’s the only SUV that’s also a convertibl­e. It’s very difficult to take the roof off and there are all sorts of little tricks and tips only other Jeep owners can tell you, so doing it properly and quickly is a huge bragging right.

(Go to to watch our video step-by-step guide on taking the roof and doors off.)

While it’s hard to take the roof down, it’s more difficult to put it back properly, so good luck. It takes practice, but Jeeps owners tell me it gets easier.

The Wrangler isn’t a fast, refined, modern or delicate car. But that’s the way Jeeps should be. Its capability as an off-roader is legendary and combined with its rich history, it is one of those rare vehicles that legitimate­ly stands up to its status as an icon.

Overview: Old-school Jeep is very involving to drive but also very rewarding

Pros: Affordable, fun, go-anywhere capability, true icon status

Cons: A lot of work to drive in traffic and in tight spots, tricky to learn how to take roof down, fuel economy

Value for money: Good

 ?? Jodi Lai/Driving ?? The steering, clutch and suspension are stiff in the rugged Jeep Wrangler Sport, which means you have to pay attention on daily drives and be prepared to work hard.
Jodi Lai/Driving The steering, clutch and suspension are stiff in the rugged Jeep Wrangler Sport, which means you have to pay attention on daily drives and be prepared to work hard.

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