More practical, equally capable. The four-door 2019 Jeep Wrangler, dubbed the Wrangler Unlimited, has married a modicum of everyday usability to one of the most romantic vehicles in existence. Nearly every practical drawback that can be lobbed at the two-door Wrangler is either eradicated or lessened, from roominess to cargo space to ride and handling on paved roads.
But this doesn't mean Jeep neutered the fun quotient. There's still removable doors, a foldable windshield, and a trio of roof options, all three of which can be left at home when the outdoors beckon. In short, it's as much of a Jeep as its smaller sibling but without the impractical drawbacks inherent to two-door vehicles.
Off-road chops. The driving force behind the Wrangler Unlimited's capability lies primarily underneath that deliciously old-school bodywork. It starts with a full frame that runs the perimeter of the vehicle. Then there's the two-speed, part-time transfer case, solid axles front and rear, and standard-issue skid plates. It's more than enough for the layman to have fun with and a strong starting point for the seasoned off-roader.
All rock-bashers worth their salt know that when it comes to doing any kind of serious off-roading, understanding the approach, departure, and breakover angles of your rig is paramount. Essentially, these angles determine how ridiculous an obstacle you might overcome before ending up as a Moab seesaw. To that end, the high ride height and short overhangs mean the Wrangler Unlimited boasts approach, departure, and breakover angles of 41.4, 20.3, and 36.1 degrees, respectively. According to Jeep, these stats lead the industry, and it's another reason why the Wrangler Unlimited is so proficient on the trail.
Compromised on-road performance. With such impressive ability, it's no surprise that the Wrangler Unlimited has always been a bit of a bear to drive on society's tar and asphalt roadways. Though the latest model is the most civilized yet, it's still no Mercedes-Benz when it comes to ride and handling.
Solid axles front and rear mean a choppy ride ensues even on seemingly-smooth roads. The longer wheelbase of the four-door smooths things out somewhat compared to the two-door, but there's still some frenetic nervousness that's noticeable on any kind of imperfect pavement.
Wind and road noise are also constant companions. This shouldn't be surprising – after all, this is a vehicle that's intended to be operated without a roof, windshield, or doors. Jeep added more insulation and better weatherstripping in an attempt to smother the noise, but highway driving is nonetheless a loud and unrefined experience.
The powertrains, though, are competent in any setting. A 3.6-liter V6 is standard, and pairs up with a six-speed manual or eight-speed automatic transmission. The 285 horsepower it produces is plenty for either trail or street. We did find low-end torque to be lacking, as peak torque doesn't arrive until a rather lofty 4,800 rpm.
This nitpick is rectified by the optional turbocharged four-cylinder. Its 295 pound-feet of torque comes on at full steam by 3,000 rpm. This engine will also deliver better gas mileage than the V6 with an EPA-estimated 22 miles per gallon city, 24 mpg highway, and 22 combined. The V6 gets just 18/23/20 mpg (city/highway/combined) with the automatic. Brand snobs might turn up their noses at the thought of a four-door, turbo-four Wrangler Unlimited, but the efficiency and power make it a worthy upgrade for off-roaders and soft-roaders alike.
21st century technology. The Wrangler Unlimited's appeal has been gradually broadening beyond the small cult of dedicated off-roaders. In response to this more diverse buying pool, Jeep has introduced a level of technology and luxury that has heretofore been absent from the Wrangler's feature list.
The special-edition Moab trim in particular shows off how much Jeep has adapted the Wrangler Unlimited to its new audience. Standard features include an 8.4-inch touchscreen, leather seats and steering wheel, navigation, and a nine-speaker Alpine audio system. All this stuff might seem old-hat for ordinary vehicles, but it represents a jump into the current century for the Wrangler.
While the technology is commendable, we found that materials aren't quite up to par with the price tags, especially in the lower-end models. Saharas and Rubicons are better; more soft-touch surfaces and the optional leather upholstery do a semi-convincing job of reflecting the near-50-grand asking price.
Final thoughts. From a backcountry runabout that happened to be street legal to today's four-door that can be had with heated seats and an 8.4-inch touchscreen, there's no denying that the Wrangler has grown up over the years. Yet, despite the strides in comfort, performance, and technology, the quintessential Jeep never lost the spirit that has made it such an icon.
The aura the Wrangler Unlimited emanates overpowers any of the logical arguments that can be thrown at it. Though it has an uncouth ride, uses subpar materials, and gets bad gas mileage, the Wrangler Unlimited breeds love and loyalty among its buyers. Indeed, were Jeep to suddenly fix every familiar flaw, the Wrangler Unlimited would no longer be a Wrangler. The magic would be lost, the charm dissipated.
Luckily, that isn't the case. The 2019 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited is still all imperfect perfection, rough and ready, the last real cowboy in this era of the ubiquitous SUV. There's nothing quite like it, nor will there ever be. Shortcomings and all, we wouldn't want it any other way.