Entry Price: $23,295
Price as Tested: $37,960

This week, we’re driving the 2017 Jeep Wrangler two door, the smaller version of the Wrangler family that also offers an extended wheelbase four door version called Wrangler Unlimited. Our smaller Wrangler Sahara perhaps zeros in closer to the true Wrangler legacy, which dates back to the World War II era.

The modern day Wrangler not only shares DNA with the original 1941 Willys Jeep, it to this day has no real market competitor. This comes thanks to Jeep loyal (and even cult like) consumers who, regardless of age demographic, gleefully enjoy an ever expanding Wrangler lineup that now boasts over 26 different Wranglers to choose from in two or four door trim. Other manufacturers have tried to compete along the way, but none have been able to penetrate the magic of owning a Jeep Wrangler.

To further explain the Jeep legacy, in 1941 Willys-Overland took the newly developed 80-inch wheelbase transport military vehicle (see photo) direct to Washington D.C., and had then Senator James Meade of New York along with four passengers, drive the new Willys “Scout” Jeep straight up the 365 steps that lead to the U.S. Capitol. Meade turned around at the top and drove the Jeep back down the steps without a hitch much to the surprise of the many government officials and press photographers that had gathered. Not surprisingly, Willys-Overland won the military contract on the spot.

Fast forward to 2017, and Fiat Chrysler hasn’t forgotten these family tree roots. Of the 13 distinct two door Wrangler models available, you’ll find two models that utilize the branding birthright, namely a Willys Wheeler W 4x4 that starts at $30,395 or a Willys Wheeler 4x4 that starts at $28,295. The difference between the two is a heavy duty Tru Lok rear differential in the “W” model versus a conventional rear differential in the standard Willys Wrangler. All Wranglers, however, come with a distinctive “since 1941” logo in the interior that reminds the driver of where the Wrangler came from.

For those working on a tight budget, the entry Sport 4x4 four passenger two-door starts at just $23,295 and then graduates through 11 more models to the ultimate Wrangler Rubicon Recon, that starts at $39,145. Our “in-between” Sahara starts at $30,445 and comes with a heavy duty gas shock suspension. The Sahara package costs $1,400 more and also adds body colored grille with silver metallic and a five-speed automatic, which replaces the standard six-speed manual transmission.

Our tester also featured an optional $1,995 Freedom Top hardtop, which is a color matched three piece design that replaces the high quality Bestop manufactured soft top, the latter which is standard equipment on all Wranglers since 1986. What’s really neat about all Wranglers is that when the sun shines and you want to frolic at the beach or in the mountains, it literally transforms into an open air fun machine as the doors and top are removable for ultimate open air adventures be it Freedom hardtop or Bestop soft top.

Under the hood sits a powerful 24-valve 3.6-liter V6 engine putting out 285 horses and 260 lb. ft. of torque. The heavy duty five-speed automatic transmission comes with hill descent and is designed especially for more rugged 4x4 outings. A Command-Trac shift on the fly 4x4 also deserves mention. Our Sahara came with extra sturdy Dana brand axles, skid plates front and rear, four wheel ABS disc brakes, modern safety and traction assists, and all the necessities for some serious off-road excursions.

Built in Toledo, Ohio, all Wrangles are classified as SUVs and do not compare well to automobiles in safety ratings or ultimate comfort features. Some will find entry to be cumbersome, road noise high and handling not that great. But when you take this same Jeep off road or drive in a snowstorm, the Wrangler then becomes an outstanding vehicle. Further, if you drive the smooth freeways, a Wrangler is comfortable considering its multi-tasking genes. Granted, Sahara’s on/off road 18-inch Bridgestone Dueler A/T tires do make some highway noise, but they sure perform well in off road and poor climate conditions. Notable is a full-size spare located on the rear door.

Other options our tester included were a remote start for $495, enhanced air conditioner with automatic temp control for $395, an Alpine Premium stereo upgrade for $945 that adds a 40 gig hard drive, nine speakers with all-weather subwoofer, NAV, 6.5 inch touch display, SiriusXM for one year and a five year SiriusXM travel subscription. An engine block heater for $95 and delivery charges of $995 brought the final tally to $37,960 retail.

Important numbers include a wheelbase of 95.4 inches, 3,976 lb. curb weight, 18.6 gal. fuel tank, 17 city and 21 highway fuel mileage, 2,000 lb. tow capacity, 8.3 inch ground clearance and 12.8 to 56.5 cu. ft. of cargo capacity.

In summary, until you own a Jeep Wrangler you just won’t understand why this vehicle is so darn popular. You’ll quickly become aware of the many Wranglers on the road, which was half the fun of this test drive. Then, when you add the other Jeeps like Grand Cherokee, Cherokee, Patriot, Compass and Renegade to the fray, you finally realize that the Jeep brand vehicle is probably more valuable to the Chrysler franchise than any other vehicle it produces, including Dodge and Chrysler minivans.

Likes: Legacy, affordable entry, multi-task extraordinaire, fun factor.
Dislikes: Expensive options, no backup camera, rear visibility.

— Greg Zyla writes weekly for More Content Now and other GateHouse Media publications. He welcomes reader questions at greg@gregzyla.com.