2017 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Chief 4x4 Review

A vehicle that's only great off-road will rarely see dirt


Amos Kwon, Editor-In-Chief



Positives: Near-flawless off-road capability, excellent roof soft/hard top roof options for versatility
Negatives: Awful on-road characteristics, painfully noisy, low-rent and very plasticky interior, infotainment from the dark ages, fragile exterior pieces invite damage, cheesy rear decal.
Bottom Line: We're not sure who the Chief is designed for since die-hard off-roaders will go for the basic Sport trim and then outfit it with aftermarket goods. The Chief adds very little in the way of comfort and luxury. Jeeps are just not good to drive anywhere but off-road, and the Chief feels like just an expensive version of a stock Jeep Unlimited with some pretense and poor tech added on, all at a very steep price.
 View Our 2017 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Overview
The Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Chief is essentially a four-door Sahara with special homage trim that points to the 1977 AMC Cherokee Chief. The connection is tangential, at best, since only the exterior paint style alludes to the original. What the Wrangler Unlimited Chief offers are unique style and even more off-road capability than the base version. We drove this fully-outfitted tester for a week to see how it would do in everyday driving. Read on for our full review.
 

Driving Experience

3.5

 

We've driven Jeep Wranglers off-road, and they're simply fantastic, able to traverse obstacles masterfully. But when driving them on road, the experience is far less savory and makes us wonder why anyone who lives in urban environments would ever want one.

Ride Quality: The large tires, horrible aerodynamics, and firm suspension make this thing ride hard and uncomfortable. You feel everything and not in a good way.

Acceleration: The 3.6-liter V6 with 285 horsepower seems like it could be strong based on the numbers, but with 5,500 lbs to pull, the Chief is slow. Throttle response is tepid, at best.

Braking: The brakes have decent progression, but the pedal feels mushy towards the bottom, and stopping distances are too long.

Steering: Vague and lifeless, there's not much going in the way of feedback. It gets worse as you go faster.

Handling: The body roll isn't terrible, but don't plan on taking turns hard. This is an off-roader through and through.

Technology

4

 

When cars costing half as much have better tech than the Chief, that's a very bad thing. We have a hard time believing that Jeep can't do better than this since their Uconnect system in other FCA cars is so good.

Infotainment System: The small 6.5-inch screen looks ancient with crappy graphics. It took us forever to figure out how to pair our phones with this thing.

Controls: Though the buttons tha flank the screen are helpful, getting through on-screen menus is frustrating.

Bluetooth Pairing: It took forver because there's no intuitive button that takes you to the pairing menu. You have to pair via the Uconnect Voice Command. Argh. Hulk smash.

Voice Call Quality: Good call quality with no transmission issues.

Styling

7.7

 

Though we think the regular Sahara looks better, we're sure there will be those who are drawn to the bright paint and roof of the Chief. The lighter tones of the graphics and roof add playfulness that goes beyond the stock version. The rest of the vehicle is classic Jeep, and it thankfully stays old school. The interior, however, is in need of improvement.

Front: The Chief retains the classic Jeep grille and visage. Too bad the bumper just has so much damned black plastic on it. At least the front has been kept simple. The white side mirrors are a nice touch.

Rear: Classic Jeep lines keep things clean in back. The rear mounted spare is asking for body damage when it gets smushed by a rubbernecker, but it sure looks good.

Profile: The long four-door version of the Wrangler looks long and rugged thanks to the white decal and roof.

Cabin: It still looks pretty old school in terms of modernity, but we'd welcome a return to even older Jeeps. It's dark, everything seems clunky, and there's just way too much plastic going on in here.

Comfort

5

 

Jeeps aren't comfortable, and that applies to drivers, passengers and ease of use. When a car is born out of wartime necessity and doesn't go through many deep changes, it maintains the same ethos. What's great for off-road doesn't translate well to everyday use.

Front Seats: The seats are hard an uncomfortable. You feel like you're sitting on them, not in them.

Rear Seats: The lack of legroom is almost shocking, given how long the Unlimited looks. It has 37.2 inches in back, eclipsed by the tiny Toyota Corolla, which has 41.4 inches. Yeesh. The seats are hard and uncomfortable, too.

NVH (noise/vibration/harshness): Though there doesn't seem to be any lousy workmanship inside, the level of noise is terrible at highway speeds, and the engine sounds make their way into the cabin at lower speeds. Drive this thing on long trips, and you'll find yourself exhausted.

Visibility: The big front window glass makes for good forward visibility, but the hard top, roll bars and accompanying wrap make for bad side and rear visibility.

Climate: The air conditioning is one of the weakest we've experienced. On an 85 degree day, we were roasting.

Safety

4.9

 

The Unlimited isn't exactly known for good crash ratings or good safety tech. It's a rudimentary body-on-frame vehicle that still struggles to do well in accidents, something to be aware of if you're in the market for this vehicle for your family.

IIHS Rating: It scores "good" in front and moderate front overlap tests and only "marginal" in side impact. Look at the Toyota 4Runner, which scores higher.

NHTSA Rating: 3-Star safety rating.

Standard Tech: Other than airbags, traction control, and ABS, there's really nothing additional that comes standard.

Optional Tech: Rollover mitigation and supplemental front seat mounted side airbags but nothing in the way of accident avoidance tech.

Storage/Cargo

8

 

Though there's not much in the way of small gear stowage in the cabin, at least the bigger version of the Wrangler has one of the largest cargo holds in its class.

Storage Space: The armrest is really the only place to store small gear items when driving (unless you count the cupholders. The door pockets are small, and the tray on the dash is too shallow.

Cargo Room: The Unlimited has 31.5 cubic feet of space behind the rear seats and a max capacity of 70.6 cubic feet with the rear seats folded. It's pretty capacious, we wish for more room in the 2nd row.

Fuel Economy

4.7

 

Jeep Wranglers are not economical when it comes to fuel consumption. Their big wheels, hefty weight, and poor aerodynamics contribute to this.

Observed: 12.8 mpg

Distance Driven: 183 miles

Driving Factors: We drove highway and local roads almost equally.

Audio

6.7

 

Our tester came with the Alpine Premium 9-speaker system with all-weather subwoofer, but we didn't find the sound all that compelling. The noise in the cabin likely contributed to this. The system is fighting an uphill battle.



Final Thoughts

Nearly $46K for a four-door Jeep seems steep. But Jeep devotees love their vehicles, whether or not they drive them off-road or not (most never do). This is where the tragedy lies since the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited is really only great when it comes to the rough and tumble. Serious off-roaders will buy a cheaper version and eschew the aesthetic touches, opting to outfit their Jeeps with better off-road equipment. The Chief feels like an image car that just happens to have rugged chops that will never get used. Though it can handle just about any off-road challenges you throw at it, most shoppers will want something more user-friendly with better tech, far better comfort, and better on-road manners.
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