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Class: compact SUV
Base price range: $29,490-$40,990
Pro: Image, off-road capability, resale value, cargo volume (Unlimited) Con: fuel economy, ride and handling, rear-seat access and room (regular-length model)
OK, this is proof we’re no slaves to pure rationality. Here’s a throwback built tough and packed with character. It boasts a rugged frame and two body lengths, the two-door, four-passenger Wrangler and the longer, four-door, five-passenger Wrangler Unlimited. This is an SUV built for the backwoods, but found more often on boulevards. That’s testament to its iconic styling and hard-won image as the ultimate adventure vehicle. Every example is based on a rear-wheel-drive layout and comes with a no-nonsense four-wheel-drive system with low-ranging gearing for severe conditions. Rubicon versions take it a step further with off-road-oriented suspension and tire upgrades, plus locking front and rear differentials for bulldozer-like traction. There are a plethora of trims, with features ranging from a bare-bones retractable vinyl soft-top and zippered side windows to the splendor of power glass windows, heated leather seats, heated power mirrors, navigation, and a removable-panel hardtop with rear defroster. In common is a 285-horsepower V-6, a choice of manual or automatic transmissions, and fuel-economy ratings of 18 mpg city-highway combined. The upright design crafted to clear boulders translates into good around-town maneuverability, but also to a high center of gravity, stiff ride, and lax steering that detracts from on-pavement handling and everyday comfort. Tire and wind noise at highway speeds can be another deficit, especially with the soft-top or knobby tires. Two-door Wranglers have a cramped, hard-to-access back seat and not much cargo space behind the rear bench. Unlimiteds have good passenger and cargo room, but no Wrangler is easy to climb into or has generously sized doorways. That’s the price of living with something that’s best at what it does, even if it isn’t the rational choice for most who buy it.