I'm a fan of simple automotive joys. Of cars with purpose. Consider the Miata, where civility is pared away to allow engagement. Or the Miata's inverse, the Lincoln Town Car, where everything stiff, sporty, or generally annoying was sacrificed for comfort. You'd assume Jeeps fit, too.
But it's not that simple with the current Wrangler. At a glance, I do love the iconic Jeep. The Wrangler buzzes like a wasp's nest on the highway, it's suspension careening over potholes with little interest in comfort or self-preservation. The interior feels substantial and chunky, built for easy cleaning and operation with gloves. The Wrangler's tires are gigantic, knobby, and ready from the factory for serious trail work. The Jeep allows you to summit mountains, drop its doors, ford streams, and ditch its roof. Anything to make you, the off-roading buyer, engaged in the experience of wheeling. Everything else on the truck is tinsel.
Yet those unnecessary add-ons can double the price. And more and more, checking every box seems to be the norm. The last Wrangler I drove, an Unlimited Sahara model with the diesel engine, stickered for $53,325. Last year, I had a Wrangler Rubicon with the eTorque four-cylinder powertrain that was even pricier: $56,765. For a Jeep. Spring for the diesel and other options and it's possible to get a $60,000 SUV that still doesn't have power seats.
Now, I have nothing against loading up a vehicle with goodies. A fully-kitted Ram 1500 does an entirely passable impression of a luxury sedan, while also towing your boat. But for cars like the Wrangler, where glory is derived from the vehicle's simplicity, excess fat is sinful.
No matter how much you spend on leather seats and LED lights, your Wrangler is not and never will be a luxury SUV. An upgraded stereo is great, but it's still going to be fighting the wind noise seeping in through the roof. Adaptive cruise control is incredible, but it won't turn the Wrangler into a docile and settled vehicle at 80mph. Nothing you can option will change the vehicle's no-compromise colors. You're better off spending that money on a Grand Cherokee, which is built to deliver comfort, rather than Jeep's least-civilized model.
But if you want to have fun, if you want to live the Jeep life, don't buy anything else. In fact, the base-model Wrangler is incredible. It's plucky and durable off-road, with an endless aftermarket. It looks great, can fit four people comfortably, even in two-door spec, and feels special every time you drive it.
The Wrangler also benefits from being one of the coolest cars on sale. BMWs and Mercedes can pass through my driveway with almost no attention given. But even my most apathetic, car-agnostic friends love the Jeep. When my garage held a doorless Gladiator next to a $170,000 Acura NSX, the people filtering into my sister's bachelorette party only had eyes for the Jeep. "Can we go for a ride?" one family friend asked, inexplicably gesturing to the truck.
Sure, there are sacrifices to be made. A base model Jeep will not have the creature comforts that you'd expect in a Camry or an Accord. The Wrangler will be loud and disinterested in long-distance driving. But the same could be said of a Miata or GT3 RS. Those cars don't have massaging seats or perfuming systems, because that doesn't contribute to their mission. The fact is that—if you want to be the best at one thing—you have to be willing to sacrifices others. A base model Jeep understands that; it's a spectacular, mission-focused, absurd vehicle that'll make you grin daily. Don't dilute that by spending $20,000 on options that don't make it any better.
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