This article is “Best Cheap SUVs” not “Best Cheap Crossovers” so we could include the Wrangler, which is decidedly not a crossover
. It’s a traditional body-on-frame sport
-utility and an all-American off-road icon. Lots of Wrangler buyers fall for its image, only to discover the firm ride, hard-to-access interior, 18-mpg combined rating, and other concessions to its primary function do not a friendly daily driver make. But if you can live with those “compromises,” you’ll be hard-pressed to find anything with more character. For us, Wrangler’s primary function is trail-conquering capability. All Wranglers come with a robust 285-horsepower V-6 and a serious four-wheel-drive system. There are two-door and roomier, better-selling four-door Unlimited body styles. To stay Cheap in an Unlimited, go for the base Sport
model with its canvass folding top, rollup windows, air conditioning, cruise control, and not much else. It lists for $27,190 with the six-speed manual transmission, $28,485 with the five-speed automatic. The optional hardtop costs $995 and tickles our $30,000 limit. Settling for two fewer doors and a lot less rear-seat and cargo room gives you more latitude to enjoy what we think of as Wrangler classic. Aim for the Sport S, a $25,990 entertainment device with air conditioning, convertible top, 17-inch alloy wheels, full metal doors, and roll-up front windows. If you must, add $1,295 for automatic transmission. But that $25,990 starting price with manual frees you to consider lots of options and still stay Cheap. We’d think about the $995 hard top for its better theft protection, not to mention rear defroster; $495 for torso-protecting front side airbags; $495 for hands-free Bluetooth connectivity; and $1,195 for the Power Convenience Group with its power heated mirrors, remote keyless entry, power locks, and power front windows. Oh, and $295 for the limited-slip rear differential is a wise investment. It won’t make your sub-$30,000 Wrangler a Rubicon, but if you can’t get dirty in a Sport S, check your pulse.