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A close up of the headlights and grille on a green 2021 Jeep Wrangler Willys.

The Willys Wrangler: An Overlooked Off-Roading Machine

In the world of Jeep Wranglers, there are a lot of trims floating around out there. While trims like the Sport, Sahara, and Rubicon are present at car dealers every year, many special editions and unique Wrangler trim options exist. When you want a well-rounded Wrangler experience though, no model can outshine the Willys trim. Don’t get us wrong! We do believe that each Wrangler trim brings something to the table; it’s just that the Willys trim is one of Jeep’s greatest creations yet.

Some Willys History

Back in 1940, this model wasn’t the “Jeep Wrangler Willys.” Instead, it was the Willys Overland “Quad.” This model was a prototype designed specifically for the American military. The Willys Quad went over well, leading to better military-specific models like the Willys MB, which lasted from 1941 to 1945. Famed WWII reporter Ernie Pyle even said that the Willys MB was “faithful as a dog, as strong as a mule, and as agile as a goat.”

When the war ended in 1945, Jeeps became available to the public, and by 1947, Jeep trucks made it into the picture as well. The modern Wrangler appeared in 1986 with the introduction of the YJ and has been a hit all the way through to the current JL lineup, but that classic “Willys” title still carries the most weight. That’s why Jeep introduced the Willys Edition trim in 2020, creating an off-road-ready version that’s more affordable than the well-known Rubicon.

A true Jeep enthusiast trim, this special edition model serves two purposes–to pay homage to Jeep’s origins and to serve as a powerful, mud-ready SUV. (If standard 32-inch mud tires don’t signal a vehicle’s capability, we don’t know what does). Let’s take a closer look at what the Willys trim has to offer.

A close up of the 4-Wheel Drive sticker on a green 2021 Jeep Wrangler Willy is shown.

Special Branding

Subtle details go a long way when it comes to styling, and the Willys trim is no exception. There are several exterior features that make the Willys stand out from other Wranglers. Firstly, this model includes the word “WILLYS” in all caps and black font along both sides of the hood. In addition to this decal, there’s also a fun “4-Wheel Drive” black stamp on the right side of the rear door, promoting the model’s off-roading capability. It also serves as a snarky reminder that other vehicles can’t make it where you’re going.

Have you ever been driving down the road and seen a Wrangler with a black grille, but the body color is white, red, or another color? You might have spotted a Willys! This is part of what makes the Willys branding stand out as well, as a black front grille comes standard on this model no matter what body color you choose. This, plus 17-inch black wheels and headlamp inserts, gives the Willys model a dark accent theme that pairs well with any color. Overall, this trim gives you a nice, on-the-house start on Jeep customizations and mods.

Off-Roading Capability

Willys models from 2020 and 2021 are well-packed with standard off-roading features such as 32-inch mud tires, an underbody skid plate, and off-roading shock absorbers. The Willys model also includes rock rails in place of side steps to help protect from gravel and off-road debris. The 2022 Willys model also includes these standard off-roading features, but this model year brought a whole new opportunity to the table–the Xtreme Recon Package.

The 2022 model adds this formerly Rubicon-exclusive off-roading package to the Willys trim. When drivers opt for the Xtreme Recon, those standard mud tires go from 32 inches to 35 inches. Jeep also throws in a 1.5-inch lift, giving the vehicle even more height. (Those rock rails are nice, but you may want to add on side steps when you choose the Xtreme Recon package!)

Most importantly, this package helps the Willys trim reach the Wrangler’s best-in-class off-roading specs. These include a better approach angle (47.4 degrees), departure angle (40.4 degrees), ground clearance (12.9 inches), and an impressive 33.6-inch water fording rating. Those are better numbers than a stock Wrangler Rubicon!

Willys vs Rubicon

When it comes to off-roading, the differentiating factor between the Willys and the Rubicon is their four-wheel drive systems. The Willys model comes with Jeep’s “Command-Trac” system, while the Rubicon houses a “Rock-Trac” system. This essentially means that the Rubicon has a leg up for those who enjoy rock climbing versus mudding.

That said, this does not mean that the Willys is the lesser model. The Command-Trac system is one step up from the Wrangler’s Selec-Trac System and one step behind the Rubicon’s Rock-Trac. Right in the middle, this makes the Willys a perfectly balanced Wrangler model. This is because it’s off-road capable, but it’s also a great daily driver.

While all Selec-Trac-equipped Wranglers are still more off-road capable than ordinary vehicles, the Willys Command-Trac throws in a 2.72:1 low range for steep inclines and serious climbing. The Rock-Trac System does have a “better” 4:1 low gear ratio. But unless you’re planning on using your Wrangler for hardcore, frequent off-roading, the Willys offers more terrain capability than most drivers will ever need.

A silver 2020 Jeep Wrangler Willys is shown off-roading after visiting a Jeep car dealer.

Packed with Modern Features

Jeep is often criticized for their lack of standard features, but that’s changing with models like the Willys trim. In order to access modern tech, you don’t have to jump straight up to a Rubicon. While the Willys pays homage to its classic, 1940 origins, its tech features move beyond those early days.

The Willys Wrangler includes several tech updates such as dual-zone automatic climate control, heated, power mirrors, LED headlights and fog lights, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity. Willys drivers also get all-weather rubber floor mats (great for mud and deep water) and convenient keyless entry with push-button start.

Jeep’s Sun and Sound Package is also available as an add-on for the Willys trim. This is for drivers who want a luxurious driving experience with the Sky One-Touch Power Roof, a larger 8.4-inch infotainment screen, built-in navigation, and much more. Other available packages include the Technology Group and the Cold Weather Group.

The Technology Group upgrades the Willys with a 7-inch digital driver display, along with a complimentary six-month subscription to SiriusXM Radio. Outside of these packages, drivers can individually add on an Alpine Sound System and a Wi-Fi Hotspot if desired. Given that Jeep’s standard speaker system is mediocre, the Alpine Sound System is well worth the investment.

Our main takeaway from these tech assets is that they’re definitely handy, but with one exception–the One-Touch Skyroof isn’t really necessary for off-roaders. Sure, it’s cool that the Sun and Sound Package is now available on the Willys model, but if you’re like most Willys drivers, it’s not worth the extra price. A power sunroof takes away from the fun customization that comes along with removable tops and is more popular for street Jeepers. When you’ve got a Willys, the three-piece hardtop is definitely the way to go, with a convenient soft top on the side for trail days.

Let the Underdog Shine!

Rubicons are everywhere, especially in the off-roading world, but it’s time to put the good old Willys trim up on top of the off-roader list. Now that 2022 Willys models offer the Xtreme Recon Package, gaining some headway shouldn’t be too difficult. That 1.5-inch suspension lift plus upgraded tires and rear axle poses a challenge to other Wranglers while making Bronco drivers shutter.

We’re not saying that the Willys trim is better than the Rubicon. What we are saying is that it deserves a lot more trail credit than it’s getting. That, and we believe it is the best model for folks who want a capable off-roader and a handy, all-weather-capable daily driver. Whether you’re heading to work or hitting the trails, the Willys will never disappoint you.

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