Written by James Hamel
Overview (Final Score after 8 Categories: B -)
The 2015 Jeep Wrangler comes in myriad variations on generally the same off-roader theme with either soft or hard top models available as well as a two-door and four-door extended wheelbase version called the Unlimited. Some Wrangler's go a step further with their off-road 4x4 capabilities and none does this in a more hardcore fashion than our tester that we spent a week testing—it's known simply as the Wrangler Willys Wheeler in a tribute to the original military Willys Jeeps from which sprang this modern day utilitarian rock climber.
Even though a two door Wrangler starts at an insanely reasonable $22,395, we still thought that given all of the very impressive off-road features added to our Willys that its near $26,000 base price was quite reasonable. All told once we got done adding Jeep "luxuries" like power windows, locks, mirrors and a killer upgraded sound system with speakers in the roll bar overhead the sticker was nearing $30,000. Still, given the fact that you can remove the soft top, lower the front windshield (only off-road please!) as well as remove the doors means that having features like power windows was an engineering difficulty in itself. (Note: In case you were wondering, when you remove the doors you simply unplug a cord to cut power to the windows.)
What We Loved about the 2015 Jeep Wrangler
What We Didn't Love about the 2015 Jeep Wrangler
- Its hardcore off-road capabilities are world class
- Interior materials and noise suppression is better than in years past
- The prices are very reasonable considering what it can do
- Still a bit too much wind noise with convertible top
- Side impact protection could be improved according to IIHS
- Not the most practical daily driver on city streets and freeways
Exterior View (10 out of 10)
The 2015 Jeep Wrangler Willys Edition pays visual homage to the original Willys Jeeps from the 1940's which bear more than a passing resemblance to the off-roader you see today. Sure, the Wrangler has been modernized in appearance somewhat over the decades but it is instantly recognizable as a Jeep. In fact, despite Jeep also offering models like the Cherokee and Grand Cherokee many consider the Wrangler the one tried and true Jeep that keeps the core brand values of go anywhere freedom alive.
But seriously, can visual cues from a new SUV/off-roader really say all that loudly, "get out of my way rocks, fallen trees and muddy ravines because I am either going over or across you without breaking a sweat?" Yes, in fact the 2015 Wrangler is so macho it may frighten someone in a RAV4 as you drive along behind them in a supermarket parking lot. The Wrangler rides up high, is square and blocky with oversize tires so it can cast a menacing shadow. Mainly, the Wrangler has always looked cool and still does today. It's truly a design that will never look dated.
Interior Comfort, Quality and Overall Ease of Use (7 out of 10)
Jeep refers to the Wrangler as "the official vehicle of Summer" and with the top off, the doors removed and the windshield lowered as you put it in 4-wheel drive low and crawl the muddy slope to the local watering hole then sure we would have to agree. But in reality most Wranglers don't spend their Summer vacations getting muddy in rural areas far off the beaten path but rather they are used to cruise along the Pacific Coast Highway to Malibu with Barbie and Ken behind the wheel. Surely they know a lot more about how often to inject botulism into their faces to keep signs of aging at bay as well as the possibility of making any facial expression that about what a Wrangler is really built to do. And that is to get dirty.
So that is part of the reason that the interior of the 2015 Jeep Wrangler Willys is nicely designed, solidly assembled but uses a lot of plastics and exposed metal around the interior because engineers no doubt felt slathering the cabin in wood trim, delicate aluminum trim and acres of soft touch plastics would not survive a weekend crossing off-road trails in the Smoky Mountains. Or Lord help you if you take it to the mud-fest known as "The Redneck Games" where many put their off-road vehicles through muddy torture tests in giant muddy bogs. And a lot of people with big bellies drink lots of beer. Attend at your own risk.
But if you do decide to take your Wrangler out on some mad adventure you can always rest easy knowing that you can hose out the interior entirely should it become accidentally caked in deep Tennessee mud. You know, these things happen and if you do off-road with the convertible top removed you are just asking for a dirty interior now aren't you? So why not, pardon the pun, go the whole hog and beat the summer heat like 600 pound prize county fair pigs do by covering themselves in mud, water and lots of dirt. Really, the Jeep Wrangler is the only car you can safely do this in without coming dangerously close to voiding your warranty.
Technology (7 out of 10)
Technology is a relative term in the 2015 Jeep Wrangler Willys Edition as it does offer buyers all of the latest and most highly respected off-road technology like the latest Dana axles with a 30 solid front axle and a 44 Heavy Duty Rear Axle both making appearances with a Trac-Lok differential rear axle and performance suspension all adding to this off-roaders ridiculous abilities. The Willys comes standard with Jeep's most impressive fully locking Command Trac Shift on the Fly 4wd system and tire pressure monitoring should you need to let some air out of the tires to get through some tough terrain. If you do so you need to make sure all four tires still have the same amount of pressure.
Otherwise, it was just a few years ago that the Wrangler even began to offer power windows, door locks and mirrors and here along with keyless entry it all adds $1,195 to the bottom line. For power windows? There was a USB/i-pod port and for $695 extra we got the U-Connect system that adds Bluetooth, HD radio yet no navigation which would be extra. There are only six-speakers with the audio system but they are located cleverly even above your head in the roll bar. The system makes a good effort to drown out wind noise at least to certain speeds.
Fuel Economy (7 out of 10)
EPA fuel economy estimates are 17 city/21 highway on regular unleaded which is what you should expect from a vehicle of this type and capability. Also keep in mind the Wrangler isn't the most aerodynamic vehicle on the road yet still we managed 19.8 miles per gallon as our average during a week of testing on road, on freeway and off-road. Granted, heavier off road use will see your fuel economy numbers fall.
Predicted Reliability and Initial Quality Ratings (7 out of 10)
J.D. Power and Associates gave the Wrangler 3 stars out of five for quality in its annual ratings of new cars, trucks and SUVs with long term reliability predicted to be 2 stars out of five. This means that the quality ratings of the Wrangler are average and in the long run it should prove decently reliable. Some owners clearly complained about the somewhat crude nature of the Wrangler but really they should have known what they were buying. A serious off-road tool.
Safety (7 out of 10)
The Wrangler may be a rugged beast out on a rocky trail but it doesn't fare quite as well in controlled crash tests meant to simulate impacts on normal city streets. Although the Wrangler got a "Good" front impact score it managed to score the lowest "Poor" rating in side impact tests which is worrying especially when you just have the soft-top. In the new small overlap front test the Wrangler got a "Marginal" score which is better than many other SUVs have managed. The Wrangler as of yet has no active safety systems like Blind Spot Warning or Impact Warning.
Performance (10 out of 10)
We approached this category in a totally different way for this review because if a normal driver were to get behind the wheel of a 2015 Jeep Wrangler Willys Edition like our tester they would no doubt not be impressed by the general lack of civility and the cacophony of wind and tire noise that fills the cabin should you decide to take a ride down the freeway. The short wheelbase of the two door version also ensures a choppier ride than if you pay the extra for the Wrangler Unlimited with its four doors.
Sure, the 3.6 liter Pentastar V6 with 280 horsepower/260 lb. feet of torque puts down enough power to get the Wrangler moving but this engine sounds a lot different in a Durango or Jeep Grand Cherokee thanks to the fact those vehicles have actually been designed with sound deadening measures in mind. The Wrangler is quieter than those from years past but an isolation chamber from the elements it is not.
To street drivers the steering will feel like it is slow to react, that the six-speed manual gearbox has too long a throw and feels like something you would use to make a combine start moving forward to begin harvesting this season's banner crop of wheat. Or corn. And don't get us started on how the Wrangler isn't too keen on high cornering speeds enjoyed by those kids in the slammed and tuned Integras.
But if those things concern or irk you then you don't truly understand the reason or rhyme of the 2015 Jeep Wrangler whose slow steering is to ensure on narrow trails a driver won't slightly overcorrect and wind up falling into a ravine, the gearbox is slow, steady, rock solid and precise so the driver can easily modulate the low RPM clutch work required on terrain that requires the utmost traction. And if you want the freedom of being able to remove the doors, drop the windshield, remove the convertible top and feel a lot like Indiana Jones heading off to some ancient city filled with treasure you have to lose some of the stuffing in the doors that quiets things down on the freeway in your Prius.
The 2015 Jeep Wrangler Willys also comes with Hill Descent Control and Hill Start Assist to make going up or down any slope easier and safer. Front and rear there are Dana axles with Tru-lock locking differentials to ensure the utmost in off-road capability which is also enhanced by a front axle sway bar disconnect function that allows the Wrangler greater ability to articulate motion up and down off-road. Designed to tackle sand, snow, mud and everything in between, the Jeep Wrangler PERFORMS like no other SUV or off-roader on the market.
Pricing and Value for Money (9 out of 10)
If you take into account the mind blowing off-road capabilities and usefulness of this rough and tumble all terrain warrior, it's easy to see that the $22,695 base price for the entry level Wrangler is a true bargain. Our out the door price with all of the hardcore off-road goodies and Willys appearance enhancements as well as the optional power windows, locks, mirrors, Bluetooth, heated side mirrors, 17-inch alloys covered in hardcore BSW off-road tires, a standard six-speed manual gearbox and a 3.6 liter 285 horsepower/260 lb. feet of torque Pentastar V6 perfect for low gear crawls along rock strewn muddy riverbeds. The final tally? A totally reasonable $30,980 with destination and fees. That's about the same as a nicely equipped Toyota RAV4 but just try to do anything the Wrangler can do in a RAV4.
"The Final Numbers" and the Competition (64 points out of 80)
Beyond a Sherman Tank, we can't think of any true off-road competitors for the Jeep Wrangler that are this iconic, offer this much capability as well as easy transformation into a convertible. Granted, the Toyota FJ Cruiser which goes away this year can keep up on many trails but it is odd looking, a bit wide for easy trail use and the interior is more plastic fantastic than the Wrangler's. Your only other option is a used Land Rover Defender which is truly bare bones, rare but should keep up with the Wrangler even though it is no longer imported to the United States.
But be sure you really want the full fat Jeep Wrangler experience because despite constant improvements this heavy duty SUV is still loud at freeway speeds, has a less than smooth ride and on the street the steering feels slow and dim witted. It is, of course, calibrated that way to keep you from sneezing on a tight trail, turning the wheel and going head first into a 1,000 ft. canyon. Off-road you want your movements slow, controlled and constant which is what this Jeep can easily provide. If you just plan on driving it around town might we recommend something in a Cherokee or Grand Cherokee? It's why Jeep builds those too.
Photos by Jon Gala and Courtesy of Jeep