2019 Jeep Wrangler Buying Advice
This is the best SUV for you if you’re ready to go all-in on an off-roading lifestyle. Few vehicles of any stripe are more recognizable or purpose-built than the Jeep Wrangler.
Wrangler was fully redesigned for model-year 2018, growing in size and sophistication, but losing none of its rough-and-tumble character. It returns for 2019 with two- and four-door body styles, both available with a variety of roof types, from folding fabric to removable hardtop. The roomier four-door is dubbed the Unlimited and has been vastly more popular than the two-door since it joined the lineup for the 2004 model year. Its launch accelerated Wrangler’s mainstream acceptance, helping it become America’s sixth best-selling SUV of any size. Sales through October 2018 were up nearly 25 percent.
A small, square utility vehicle with a seven-bar grille and amazing off-road capability has been part of the American automotive landscape since 1941, with the launch of the military-only Willys MB. The first true consumer Jeeps became available after World War II with the Willys-Overland CJ-2A. The CJ designation continued until 1986, when Jeep’s then-owner American Motors (AMC) introduced the Wrangler name. The Jeep brand has since changed hands no fewer than four times. Today it’s part of the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) family, along with Dodge, Ram truck, and Alfa Romeo.
Should you buy a 2019 model or wait for the 2020?
No reason to wait for the 2020 if you like the 2019 roster. Wrangler’s core offerings won’t change. But postponing until the automaker launches its 2020 models would insure you a chance to consider the 2020 Gladiator, a pickup-truck offshoot. Built on a Wrangler chassis but with a 19.4-inch-longer wheelbase (the distance between front and rear axles), the Gladiator appends a 5-foot cargo box to a Wrangler-like four-door crew-cab body with removable roof panels.
Waiting could also position you to audition a possible diesel-engine option. A turbodiesel V-6 is a rumored addition that could come in time to be a model-year-2019 option but more likely would be available for the 2020 Wrangler. Jeep offers the Wrangler with a diesel overseas, but as of the end of November 2018, FCA confirmed availability only for the 2020 Gladiator. Dealership order guides, however, have been spotted referencing this engine for the Wrangler, too.
Otherwise, the 2019 Wrangler two-door and Unlimited models will carryover little-changed for 2020. Their ’19 lineup consists of Sport, Sport S, and Rubicon trim levels for both. Exclusive to the Unlimited is the Sahara, an on-road flagship that retains outstanding off-road prowess, and the Moab, which combines the Sahara’s luxury touches with a more focused off-road image.
All grades use traditional truck-type body-on-frame construction. As of this review’s writing, two engines are available, a standard V-6 and an optional turbocharged four-cylinder. Every Wrangler comes with part-time four-wheel drive (4WD) that should not be left engaged on dry pavement but includes low-range gearing for off-road use. Full-time 4WD that can remain engaged on dry pavement is optional on the Sahara. It includes a crossover style all-wheel drive (AWD) mode to dynamically apportion power among the wheels as needed.
Wrangler has a much longer lifecycle than most vehicles. The previous generation ran from 2006-2017. Aside from some powertrain updates, its styling didn’t change much over those 11 years. The redesigned 2018, codenamed “JL,” represents Jeep’s most successful effort yet at a Wrangler that blends legendary off-road capability with on-road amenities.
ChangesStyling: Except for the addition of “Bikini” as an exterior paint color, the 2019 Wrangler repeats the new styling that came on line with the model-year 2018 redesign. Jeep of course makes a point of retaining Wrangler’s overall look from generation to generation. It’s in the details that today’s JL version departs from its immediate predecessor. There are more nods than ever to the Jeep name and brand heritage.
Among the neatest touches are stencils of a Willys MB on the automatic-transmission shift lever and in the corner of the windshield. The instrument panel on our Sahara review sample has one of the coolest startup animations we’ve seen. When it powers up, the multi-information display between the speedometer and tachometer shows the classic Wrangler grille with the word “Sahara” above a cartoon Willys that drives across the bottom. One of the inset screens, which shows your 4WD mode, displays “Since 1941.”
Other classic Wrangler design traditions include removable doors with exposed hinges, a fold-down windshield, and of course, the removable convertible roof. The JL still offers fabric and hardtop options, both of which are far easier to remove and replace than in previous models. Available on the Sahara and four-door Rubicon is the “Sky One-Touch” roof, which is a power soft top whose horizontal section can be opened and closed at up to 60 mph. Per tradition, the floor pan has several drain plugs that can be removed so you can hose out the interior after a day trail bashing.
For comfort and convenience, this is the best Wrangler yet. But it’s not without compromises. The tall, upright seating position takes a fair amount of acclimation. The front buckets aren’t available with power adjustment. The short windshield doesn’t promote an expansive field of vision, and the vertical side windows create annoying reflections, particularly at night.
The vertical dashboard reminds you you’re not in just another SUV but doesn’t overcomplicate the control layout. Infotainment duties are handled through Chrysler’s excellent Uconnect interface. The available 8.4-inch display has been upgraded to support higher resolution and faster performance. The extra pixels deliver crisp graphics and a clearer picture from the standard rearview camera, while the user interface responds more quickly to inputs. The power window switches are mounted below the Uconnect screen and climate controls up front and on the back of the center console in the rear. This is a necessary compromise to allow for removable doors.
Despite upright seating front and rear, overall passenger room is OK for a compact-class SUV. Versus the two-door, the Unlimited’s rear doors make access to the rear seat far simpler, and it’s 21.6-inch-longer wheelbase (the distance between front and rear axles) contributes to a very useful extra 2.6 inches of rear legroom. However, both body styles demand some dexterity to negotiate this off-roader’s high step-in. Note also that the hardtop reduces headroom by up to 2 inches compared to the soft top, which at can make the cabin feel slightly more claustrophobic. It’s certainly the better option for anti-theft security, however, and makes for a slightly quieter ride by allowing less outside noise into the cabin.
The Unlimited’s extra 21 inches of overall body length doesn’t translate into additional cargo volume. Both body styles furnish a generous 31.7 cubic feet behind the rear seat and 72.4 with it folded. In-cabin small-items storage is less impressive. The center console is roomy enough, but the glovebox is tiny while the door pockets are swaths of mesh attached to the panels.
Mechanical: All 2019 Wranglers come standard with Chrysler’s corporate 3.6-liter V-6, here with 285 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. Optional at $1,000 is a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine with Fiat Chrysler’s “eTorque” mild hybrid system. This is essentially a small battery-powered electric motor connected to the engine by a belt. It’s designed to aid acceleration from a standstill in everyday driving as well as in severe off-road conditions. Total output is 270 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque.
Wrangler is one of the few SUVs available with a manual transmission. It’s a six-speed and is standard with the V-6 on everything but the Unlimited Moab. Included on the Moab and available as a $2,000 option on the other Wranglers is an eight-speed automatic transmission. The turbo four comes only with the automatic, for which you must also pay the $2,000 premium.
Although the turbo four-cylinder delivers substantially more torque than the V-6, it doesn’t feel that much quicker in day-to-day driving. It also sounds far less refined, with an almost diesel-like exhaust note that’s pervasive during acceleration. The eTorque tech is impressive, but we’re not convinced it’s worth the extra money. While Wrangler cannot run solely on electricity, eTorque provides engine idle stop/start capability to improve fuel economy. It’s one of the best applications of this technology on the market, with near seamless transitions between shutdown and restart.
Should the diesel planned for the Gladiator make its way to the Wrangler, it will be a variant of the 3.0-liter V-6 available in Jeep’s midsize Grand Cherokee crossover and in the Ram 1500 full-size pickup truck. Horsepower and torque will likely be slightly less than the 260 and 442, respectively, the engine makes in other applications, but it should intrigue Wrangler buyers who know the usefulness of low-speed torque and the value of diesel range.
Something you won’t find on any Wrangler is an independent suspension, as on virtually all modern cars and crossovers. Instead, you get old-fashioned solid axles front and rear. They’re rock-bashing tough and contribute to off-road wheel travel, but are not the best for on-road ride and handling. Jeep’s engineers do manage to make the Wrangler as compliant as possible on the street, especially the Sahara model. There’s still plenty of bounce and jiggle, especially on pockmarked roads, but it’s far more tolerable than in any previous Wrangler.
Alas, on-road handling is lackluster, with numb steering that requires a lot of correction to maintain a straight line — a condition exacerbated in gusty crosswinds because this vehicle is as aerodynamic as a brick.
Rubicon and Moab get beefier hardware with enhanced shock absorbers and chunkier tires. To get another SUV that approaches Wrangler’s off-road prowess, you’d need to look at something far costlier, like a Toyota Land Cruiser, a Land Rover Discovery, or a Mercedes-Benz G-Class. This said, those luxury SUVs are more practical as everyday transportation than a Rubicon or Moab. We recognize the genuine ability – and the rugged image – you get with a Wrangler Rubicon or Moab. But we can’t recommend either unless you buy them as something other than daily transportation. That puts them in the “expensive toy” category, as you’ll see when we discuss pricing below.Features: The base Sport grade is for those who want the rawest Wrangler experience. It has manual locks and mirrors, hand-crank windows, and a basic AM/FM radio with a 5-inch screen. Even air conditioning is optional.
Anyone wanting one of these for daily use should start at the Sport S level, which adds A/C, power accessories, aluminum wheels, remote entry, and pushbutton ignition. It also has many more options available, including advance safety features, which we’ll discuss in the next section.
The Sahara has unique exterior trim, 18-inch wheels (up from 17s that are included on all other models), dual-zone automatic climate control, LED interior accent lighting, upgraded fabric upholstery, additional power and USB charging points, and a 7-inch infotainment screen with satellite radio and support for Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto.
Rubicon grades have similar convenience features as the Sahara. What separates them is their unique off-road hardware with a specific axle ratio, front and rear locking differentials, increased suspension articulation thanks to the ability to electronically disconnect the front sway bar, and heavy-duty underbody skid plates.
While the Moab is marketed and priced as a separate trim level, it’s fundamentally an option package for the Rubicon that includes specific interior and exterior trim, removable hard top, LED exterior lighting, blind-spot alert with rear cross-traffic detection, rear-obstacle detection, and 8.4-inch infotainment screen with imbedded GPS navigation.
It’s been years since Wrangler was an affordable, fun-in-the-sun, off-road machine. Strong demand and constrained supply mean that sticker prices — and transaction prices — are among the highest of any mainstream-brand compact SUV. This is somewhat offset by Wrangler’s excellent resale value. Some auto-pricing sources project a 2018 Unlimited will hold 70 percent of its original manufacturer’s suggested retail price after four years, a residual level almost unheard of in the industry.
Base prices here include Jeep’s $1,495 destination fee ($1,545 in Hawaii). Among two-door models, the Sport starts at $29,540, the Sport S at $32,740, and the Rubicon at $39,540.
In the Unlimited range, the Sport has a base price of $33,040, the Sport S of $36,240, and the Sahara of $39,890. The Unlimited Rubicon is priced from $43,040. Including its mandatory automatic transmission, base price for the 2019 Wrangler Unlimited Moab is $52,795.
On the other models, you’ll need the automatic transmission, at $2,000, to get the $1,000 eTorque four-cylinder engine and/or the Moab package. Various body decals are available for $245 each. A trailer-tow package is $795 while a limited-slip rear differential is $595. The removable hard top ranges from $1,195-$2,195 depending on body style. The $2,295 Dual Top Group for the Unlimited Sport S and Sahara includes both the hard top and an upgraded soft top. The Sky One-Touch power top is $1,900. Air conditioning will set you back $1,295 on the Sport.
There is a wide variety of option packages, whose content depends on which trim level you select. Here are some of the highlights. The $695 Cold Weather Group adds heated front seats, a heated steering wheel, and on certain models, remote engine start. The $995 Safety Group includes LED taillights, blind-spot alert, rear cross-traffic detection, and rear-obstacle detection. The $795 Advanced Safety Group includes adaptive radar cruise control, forward-collision warning, and autonomous emergency braking. The $995 Technology Group adds a 7-inch infotainment display, CarPlay, Android Auto, and satellite radio. The $1,595 Electronic Infotainment System Group upgrades the 7-inch display to 8.4 inches and adds imbedded GPS navigation.
You buy a Wrangler for the recreational lifestyle it can facilitate, and the image it projects, not because it’s a conventionally great value for the money. Our very well equipped four-cylinder Sahara review sample stickered at just over $50,000. Taking the barebones Sport out of the equation, even with a more reasonable level of equipment, it’s unlikely you’ll leave without spending less than $40,000. We’ll let you decide if you think it’s worth it.
Despite its tall build and inelegant aerodynamic shape, Wrangler’s EPA ratings are surprisingly good. Two-door models with the V-6 engine rate 17/25/20 mpg city/highway/combined with manual transmission and 18/23/20 with the automatic. The Unlimited V-6 rates 17/23/19 with manual transmission 18/23/20 with the automatic. This engine uses regular-grade 87-octane gasoline.
Opting for the eTorque drivetrain raises ratings to 23/25/24 on two-door models and 22/24/22 on the Unlimited. Our four-cylinder Sahara averaged 20.9 mpg in mostly cold weather urban/suburban driving. While this result is less than the city rating, we’re impressed that we could break 20 mpg at all. The downside is that Jeep recommends 91-octane premium-grade gasoline here, though you can use 87 with a slight reduction in performance.
We’re eagerly awaiting the diesel engine. And some reports say model-year 2021 will bring a plug-in gas-electric hybrid version that could tap a commercial or residential grid to run solely on battery power for perhaps 20 miles or so before operating as a conventional hybrid vehicle. Expect the regular rollout of special editions with differing bits of exterior trim, but any substantial styling and/or content updates are unlikely before 2022 or 2023, with the next full redesign coming around 2027.