The original…if not the best. It’s not often we start a review by mentioning World War II, but that’s where the legendary Willys Jeep earned its stripes (and stars). Today’s Wrangler is built in the same Ohio city as the Willys, with a design that 1940s servicemen would instantly recognize. As we’ll see in a moment, some of the old warhorse’s less desirable traits have also been maintained.

There are short (two-door) and long (four-door) wheelbase Wranglers on sale, some with a tin-top and others with retractable Targa-style panels. If you’re so inclined, you can even take the doors off to create something resembling a beach buggy. Regardless of configuration, that iconic seven-slat radiator grille and twin round headlamps tell everyone what you’re driving. We’ll gloss over the awkward side-opening tailgate, though at least the glass window opens upwards for easy access in confined spaces.

Performance at a price. The Jeep brand is synonymous with go-anywhere ruggedness, and the Wrangler offers four-wheel drive as standard. Even the cheapest Sport model boasts a two-speed transfer case and impressive ground clearance. If you want locking front and rear diffs, Rubicon has you covered, while Mojave honors its namesake with a dedicated sand mode. The 4xe hybrid might seem heretical, but its 20-mile electric range is impressive and its 49 MPGe returns make good economic sense.

The Wrangler delivers lusty performance thanks to several impressive engines. The 3.6-liter V6 delivers a fine soundtrack without setting your pants on fire, but the two-liter turbo engine’s 295 lb-ft of torque brings more urgency; it’s paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission that eclipses the rather clunky six-speed manual. If you want to tow, go for the 442 lb-ft output of the three-liter V6 turbodiesel, or if you want to throw sense in the dustbin, splash out on a 6.4-liter V8 Rubicon 392. Be warned, though – by this point, prices are nudging $90,000 with a few options, which means you’re turning down an array of hugely superior vehicles to buy a Wrangler.

2023 Jeep Wrangler Interior

The sting in the tail. The Wrangler offers superior performance to its wartime ancestor, but one area which hasn’t really improved is the ride quality. The endless bouncing could cause passengers to regurgitate their last meal, though the driver will be too busy trying to prevent the car from wandering at higher speeds to worry. At least the interior is easy to clean.

You can have tremendous fun on a beach in a Wrangler, or tackle a muddy trail, but its harshness becomes exhausting on a day-to-day basis. The bluff shape generates a lot of wind noise and contributes to poor fuel economy, while mechanical racket is noticeable. The seats also disappoint – they’re flat, hard, and unsupportive – and rear passengers will need twinkle toes to navigate the narrow seat aperture (two-door) or tiny rear door openings (four-door).

No comfort compensations. The Wrangler is probably the most uncomfortable vehicle on sale in America today, and it’s not as though your suffering is lessened with technology. Sport models are extremely basic, with manual seat adjustment and window winders among the lowlights. At least you get air conditioning for 2023. Safety is hard to determine since our crash test agencies haven’t rammed a Wrangler into a wall, despite having had decades to do so. There’s very little crash-avoidance technology as standard, so you’ll need to raid the options list to get basics like automatic emergency braking or adaptive cruise.

Final thoughts. Before you buy a Jeep Wrangler, we urge you to take a lengthy test drive. Pay attention to the noise, the ride quality, the lack of a safety kit, and the fuel economy – even turbodiesel models struggle to hit 25 MPG combined, while gas models range from 14 to 21. Strip away the seven-inch infotainment screen and air con, and the Wrangler’s age is obvious. By contrast, the reimagined Land Rover Defender has successfully mated timeless design with thoroughly modern mechanicals and a gorgeous interior, while the Ford Bronco also knocks spots off the Wrangler in terms of comfort and modernity.

As you move up the trim levels to find a model that doesn’t feel like a 20th-century throwback, the Wrangler’s impressively low starting price is left far behind. Realistically, you’ll need to spend at least $50,000 to make ownership bearable, though at least there’s a large model range and generous options list to choose from. You’ll also be getting an iconic design, lusty performance from whichever engine you choose, and excellent off-road prowess. Whether that’s enough to outweigh the privations is a personal choice; for us, the Wrangler is too far off the pace to be a serious option as a daily driver.

Check prices for the 2023 Jeep Wrangler »