Take a look at the SUVs that populate most dealerships, from Chevys and Fords to Hondas and Toyotas, and you’re sure to find a lot of common ground among the vehicles. Americans have been driving up demand for SUVs for a few decades now. At this point, drivers know what they like, and automakers want to give it to them. The same body styles and features, from fold-flat rear seats with a 60/40 split to a car-like crossover bodystyle with unibody construction, tend to be used by just about everyone. But head to a Jeep dealer near you, and among the Grand Cherokees and Compasses, you’ll find an iconic outlier: the Jeep Wrangler.
The Wrangler has forged its own identity to the point where most people who drive one would be unlikely to say, “I drive an SUV,” and more likely to proudly proclaim, “I drive a Jeep.” Because of this loyal following, the Wrangler has been less affected by popular trends. Instead of trying to appeal to everyone, it focuses on its core demographic and carves out a unique niche. Today we’re going to take a look at the various ways the Jeep Wrangler stands out among a crowd of interchangeable SUVs.
Jeep Sticks to Its Roots
Generally speaking, the longer an SUV has been around, the more drastic changes it has undergone. If you look at an original Chevy Suburban next to the modern model, it’s hard to believe they share a nameplate. But put today’s Wrangler next to the Willys MB that served in WWII, and it’s clear that the two are related. Today’s Wrangler is definitely different, of course, with improved powertrains, modern safety features, and cutting-edge convenience tech. Still, through all those upgrades, Jeep has kept the Wrangler’s roots in mind and made sure not to go so far as to make the iconic vehicle unrecognizable. Its boxy shape and seven-slot grille create consistency and allow drivers of modern Wranglers to connect to the long history of the vehicle.
You may be able to get a moonroof on a luxury SUV or an upper-level trim, but good luck trying to take the whole top off of your CR-V. Most SUV drivers aren’t looking to feel the wind in their hair as they drive through the wilderness. With a Wrangler, on the other hand, it’s easy to modify your ride, and you can switch back and forth between a fully-covered vehicle that’s ready to hit the highway and an open-air safari car that puts no barriers between you and nature. You can remove the roof, the doors, and even the windshield for thrilling off-road adventures. These are the kinds of features that keep Jeep fans loyal since they’re hard to come by anywhere else.
A Two-Door Setup
Not long ago, a two-door variant wasn’t a unique feature, even among SUVs. For example, the Ford Explorer was offered with either two or four doors throughout the 1990s. However, the two-door option was dropped in 2004, leaving only the four-door option behind. But the Wrangler, ever a traditionalist, has kept its two-door variant alive and well. In fact, it didn’t even get its first four-door model until 2007.
The two-door setup is more compact compared to the four-door. This means less room for cargo, but that could be a fair trade-off if you’re often tackling tight trails where having a nimble vehicle is imperative. Since the two-door Wrangler takes fewer parts and less material to make, it doesn’t cost as much as the four-door, giving drivers a chance to shave a few bucks off the sticker price if they’re willing to forgo dedicated back-row doors.
It Still Has a Stick Shift!
Take a look at the list of 2023 models that are offered with a manual transmission, and you’ll find a selection of sedans and coupes, mainly sporty vehicles popular with driving enthusiasts. But when it comes to SUVs? You can count them all on one hand and have fingers left over. Subaru’s Crosstrek still has one for now, but it’s not expected to be around for much longer. The Ford Bronco has offered one since the nameplate was revived for the 2021 model year, but since the Bronco is pretty clearly gunning for the Jeep driver demographic, that’s not terribly surprising.
The Wrangler still comes standard with a manual transmission and offers it across a variety of trim levels and powertrains. This gives driving enthusiasts a chance to get that extra level of control over their vehicles and feel more attuned to the mechanical process. It also means Jeep lovers can stick to tradition and give themselves an extra challenge to conquer on the trails. Of course, these days, Jeep offers an automatic transmission as well. But continuing to give drivers a choice between manual and automatic is almost unique in today’s SUV market.
You Only Pay for What You Need
Beyond the transmission, there’s a whole laundry list of modern conveniences that don’t come standard on the most basic trim of the Jeep Wrangler. The 2023 Wrangler Sport isn’t loaded with the driver-assistance tech that’s becoming more and more common as standard fare on other SUVs. Nor does it automatically come with things that seem like basics these days, like power door locks and power windows. That’s right, the Wrangler still comes standard with crank windows.
However, the Sport isn’t completely devoid of technology. It has all the required safety features, of course, from full airbag coverage to ABS, traction control, electronic stability control, and a backup camera. The Wrangler Sport also has standard cruise control, illuminated cup holders, and smartphone connectivity.
A lack of features might not seem like a big draw, but there are a few things you have to keep in mind. First, the Wrangler is offered in several trim levels, so you can absolutely get a version that comes loaded with dual-zone climate control, remote keyless entry, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, and various other modern features. You can also add optional packages to get these features included on lower trim levels.
The second thing worth mentioning is that many Jeep drivers are captivated by the idea of “roughing it.” If you want to head into the wilderness, get off the grid, and leave modernity behind, then the ability to get a safe, modern vehicle that isn’t loaded up with a bunch of extra bells and whistles can be a bonus, not a drawback. Finally, offering a bare-bones model lets Jeep give drivers the freedom to strike their own balance between budget and convenience features, upgrading the vehicle as they see fit.
A Lone Wolf
The Wrangler is an SUV that’s hard to compare to its contemporaries. Like the adventurous souls drawn to its tough construction and storied legacy, the Wrangler has taken the path less traveled. It has forged its own way rather than playing it safe and going down roads clogged with the rush hour traffic of the dozens of similar SUVs on the American market. While this strategy has ensured the Wrangler will never be on the list of top bestsellers across the auto industry, it has earned this iconic model a dedicated following of drivers who appreciate the uniqueness it brings to the table. As the Wrangler continues to slowly but surely evolve, we’re sure it will hang into its one-of-a-kind personality and stay true to its historic roots.