You want to be popular in Southern California? Drive around in a Jeep Wrangler! The iconic Jeep Wrangler continues to soldier on seemingly against the social grain. It doesn’t even try to be green and in fact has the tools to do the reverse by driving through America’s back roads and trails. It still deliberately resembles the Willys Jeep made famous in World War II and in the civilian version in the 1950s. Curiously, the Wrangler series from Jeep only officially debuted in 1987 though most people think it’s been around forever especially in the Philippines since we use our own translation of the Jeep via our legendary Jeepneys.
What distinguishes Jeep Wranglers in the past and is still consistent today is that they are all true compact 4-wheel drives with lockable differentials and live-axles on both the front and rear suspension for serious off-road use. When we were still at University, while I drove around in a Honda Accord, my buddy and one of C!’s founding writers Nick Underwood had a black Jeep Wrangler until 1994. It was a two-door soft top with a 5-speed manual and a 180 bhp 4.0 liter inline-6 engine! Great fun as long as you know its limitations on the road! On the highway, you would have to wrestle to keep the old Jeep on track. The brakes were more suggestive so you would really have to work the gears for serious braking. The suspension is well suited for any rough surface at low speeds and the steering had the precision and feel of a drunken sailor on acid. Still, we all loved it, it had character and it magically drew the lovely ladies. Nick’s brother Richard had it before him, and let me tell you that the Jeep saw more action on the beach with hot blondes than any trail.
It was great to drive the new 2011 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 4×4 after 16 years since our last exploits on a Wrangler. Much to my surprise, the overall character still remains intact. That rugged, spartan, yet keenly focused packaging makes no excuses. It’s an updated dinosaur that still manages to elicit huge smiles and laughs. The Unlimited platforms are the long-wheelbase variants of the model range and the Sahara designation describes the trim level. There is as much that is different as there is the same, Volkswagen did this in Africa, Mexico and Brazil with the Beetle.
What was once regarded as a cult favorite has ballooned into a community of Jeep enthusiasts and for them, this test unit would be their Holy Grail. The Sahara is the most mature and most refined Wrangler there is, it’s got the next generation Dana 44 and 30 axles, traction control, 365-watt Infinity audio system, Sat/Nav, 30 GB Media center, enough chrome to be seen from space, Command-Trac-shift-on-the-fly 4×4 making off-road jaunts effortless, a height-adjustable driver’s seat, 60/40 split-folding rear seat, a 22.5-gallon fuel tank, power everything, and air conditioning.
On the safety side, it now has standard dual front airbags, tire-pressure monitors, ABS, and electronic stability control with rollover mitigation. Our test unit had the optional Trailer Tow Group that adds a class II receiver hitch, trailer sway damping, and a trailer tow with 4-pin wiring connector as well.
Except for the obvious luxury upgrades in the Sahara, it still drove similarly to the older generation Wranglers. Its off-road ability has been further improved and it is considerably easier to engage the drive systems for whatever purpose required. After all these years though, it is still a thirsty bugger and it doesn’t make much more power given its size and weight gain. It does track and ride vastly better though on the road thanks to the better setup suspension, stiffened chassis and long wheelbase. But ultimately, it’s way too lumbering and lazy for me. The Sahara will certainly make its target audience drool and it is definitely at its best, yet there are still better alternatives out there albeit without the personality or character.
Specification – 2011 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 4×4
Engine: V6, 3778 cc, sohc 12V, 4-speed AT
Max power: 202 bhp @ 5000 rpm
Max torque: 237 lb ft @ 4000 rpm
0-100 km/h (0-62mph): 11.4 sec.
Top Speed: 160 km/h (100 mph) Governed
Fuel Mileage: 15 mpg City & 19 mpg Highway
Price as tested: US$ 36,430.00
+ Rugged good looks, purposeful, at its utilitarian best
-Its focus is sound but it loses major points for its archaic engine and transmission
C! RATING 7.5/10