Photos: Kevin Miklossy
The cost of the Wrangler’s off-road capability has always been somewhat compromised road manners, and relatively poor fuel economy. The CJs were borderline terrifying at regular highway speeds, steering like a herd of sheep. The TJ was significantly improved, approaching daily driver status and moving into the flow of traffic. With the 2013 Wrangler we are relieved to report handling is now pretty much normal by any standards. There is a good amount of big and tall vehicle body roll, but overall the road manners are vastly improved over previous generations. Still, compared to other offerings on the market the Wrangler remains more “Utility Vehicle” than “Sport Utility Vehicle”, unless that sport happens to be off road endeavors.
Nearly every engineering decision in the Wrangler Unlimited is informed by its off-road focus.
The 3.6L Pentastar V6 engine produces 285 hp at 6400 rpm and 260 ft-lbs. at 4800 rpm and in the case of our Sahara tester is mated to a 5-speed automatic. Sure, the engine has enough oomph for passing, but the real story here is low end torque development and sublimely controlled low-speed power delivery. Elements which paired with the a legitimate four wheel drive system, allow you to put the Wrangler in four-low and finesse your way up and down inclines and over substantial obstacles. How substantial? Unless you’re having a hell of a night out, you’ll never be needing the 10.2 inches/25.9 cm of ground clearance in the city. On the trail however, that’s a good start to putting the paw up on a medium sized boulder — even with the standard Bridgestone Dueler P255/70/R18.
By modern SUV standards, the Wrangler Unlimited remains narrow and short. Even with four doors there are minimal overhangs ahead of the front wheels and behind the rear, ensuring a steep angle of attack for ascents and descents before you start dragging bumper. The 73.9 inch body width lets the Wrangler Unlimited squeeze into tight spaces, without scratching the crap out of the plastic fake-chrome mirror caps or under-built chromed step bars. Two options from the Chrome Edition Group we’d ditch for something more butch, because per Kevin, “Jeep drivers don’t want to look like a fake Hummer.”
The Wrangler Unlimited handily lived up to its spec-sheet credentials off-road, introducing a novel problem. The Jeep simply waltzed through testing without being even slightly phased, which means we need to up the game. The problem being is that introduces a risk of damage to a press vehicle, which our pocketbooks aren’t equipped to cover… especially after a couple visits to the gas station. The downside of all this four-wheel drive running gear and astounding off-road capability is truly abysmal fuel economy. The best highway mileage the Wrangler Unlimited returned was 17mpg or in Canadian 13.8 l/100km. So fuel consumption has not improved over the years.
Reality of an increasingly civilized world is that you’ll be traveling a ways to find your off-roading adventure or to meet your overland aspirations, and for these distance hauls you need comfort. The 2013 Wrangler Unlimited Sahara is certainly up to the task. Sound deadening for tire, wind and engine noise is hugely improved over previous generations, so conversations needn’t be shouted. The engine itself is smooth and relatively quiet. Ride quality absorbs bumps, but the handling (though hugely improved) is still vague and really 120kph feels a bit breakneck. The optional leather seats were well put together, supportive and comfortable.
Rear seating offers a 60/40 split and folds flat, opening the potential of in-vehicle camping or hauling a couple months worth of camping gear. The rear passenger accommodations though are relatively rudimentary and slightly industrial, and entry through the narrow doors slightly awkward — if you’re looking for a soccer mom mobile to shlep the kids to school there are many better road-handling and comfortable AWD options on the market. Those still-removable doors are a function of the off-road friendly short wheelbase, keeping with the Jeep’s primary purpose.
With tire pressure sensors, hill descent control (only available in four-low),Sirius XM radio, remote door locks, automatic headlights, steering wheel mounted audio controls, MP3/iPhone compatibility the Sahara has skipped the 90’s and headed squarely in the aughts. There’s a navigation system too, as part of the uConnect Voice Command with Bluetooth package, that has two highlights for those traveling off the beaten track, namely it record trails so you can find your way home, and it accepts decimal latitude and longitude co-ordinates as found on Google Maps.
The one “must have” option is the unfortunately named three-piece modular “Freedom Top”. No, it is not a gay superhero, but allows you to quickly get your top off through the relatively easy removal of two roof panels overtop the driver and front-passenger seats. These panels then store in a custom fit bag that straps vertically to the back of the rear passenger seat in the cargo area maximizing available space. Appearance wise, call us classicists, but we’d skip the colour matched hard-top; it diminishes the Wrangler’s historic and definitive two-tone black-cap.
Previously all this talk of “comfort” and “Wrangler” would have involved a caveat of “good for a jeep”, that is no longer the case. True, you’ll never mistake the Sahara’s interior for a Land Rover LR4, but all the boxes (and then some) are ticked at $44,890, compared to the Landy’s $59,990 base price. Then there’s the Toyota 2013 FJ CRUISER 4WD 5A Trail Teams Special Edition that comparably prices out to $42,495, but lacks a proper set of rear passenger doors. Comparatively though, the Wrangler Unlimited has all the capabilities off-road and then some.
In the end, off-road endeavors are why you would own the 2013 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara, most likely not because you need the capability, but because you crave it. You buy a Jeep for its off-road legacy, outright up the side of a mountain ability and potentially a little top-off adventure. And, not to get too jingoist, you own a Wrangler because, as the old saying goes, “If it’s worth going to, you can get there in a jeep.”
More Info: WRANGLER UNLIMITED SAHARA 4X4
Base Price: $32,545 / As Tested : $44,890
Exterior Color: Commando
Interior Color: Black
Interior: Leather-Faced Bucket Seats
Heated Front Seats
Engine: 3.6L V6 VVT Engine
Transmission: 6-Speed Manual
Drive: Command-Trac Shift-on-the-Fly 4WD System
Download the 2013 Jeep Wrangler Sahara Unlimited Details.