2015 Jeep Wrangler Willys Wheeler

2015 Jeep Wrangler Willys Wheeler Review

The song remains the same.

By: Andrew Krok

Web2Carz Contributing Writer

Published: September 17th, 2015

If there's any vehicle likely to survive a forthcoming apocalypse, it's the Jeep Wrangler. It's about as simple as a fourth grader's first essay; it's rocking two stick axles, a body that's evolved less over the years than the Porsche 911, and the interior is an exercise in cheap plastics and radio head units that look no fancier than a pre-2000 flip phone. Yet, this vehicle continues to sell like hotcakes. The reasons for that are manifold, but the Wrangler is, and always has been, an excellent off-road SUV.

Yet, for some strange reason, they're also supremely popular in hoighty-toighty suburbs where the closest they get to off-roading is the gravel parking lot at a Jimmy Buffet concert. This baffles your author, as the Wrangler is not particularly car-like in its handling prowess, if one could argue that said handling prowess even exists in the first place.

It gets worse when you add the Willys Wheeler package, which gives the Wrangler some beefy mud tires, a heartier suspension, and some decals that are actually pretty cool-looking. This turns your standard Wrangler into a car that must be taken off the beaten path in order to be enjoyed; if you buy a Wrangler Willys Wheeler and you either never take it off-road, or you never swap the tires out for something more sensible ... well, we hope you enjoy your awful ride.

  • Interior

    For the $36,000 that this specific Wrangler costs, the interior feels cheap - there's no two ways about it. Every piece of plastic is hard enough to double as a part of Wolverine's skeleton, the technology inside the vehicle rivals the best of the best ... from the 1990s, and aside from the locking glove box and center console, there's nowhere to store your goods. But this apparent lack of attention comes with one huge benefit - it's deceptively simple, both to operate and to clean off when the going gets dirty. The seats are made of a rough cloth that's really easy to clean, and every piece of switchgear looks like it's engineered to withstand a direct hit from a grenade. If you're using it as a mall-crawler, you're holding yourself back in terms of the available technology at this price point; if you live off a muddy dirt road, keeping the Wrangler clean will be plenty simple.

    Even though this Wrangler has two doors, getting to the back seat isn't terribly difficult. The front passenger seat hinges forward to provide maximum space for rear-seat ingress and egress, and passenger space is abundant. Visibility is equally ample; with a straight-up windshield and large glass on all sides, blind spots were damn near nonexistent.

  • Exterior

    In Willys Wheeler form, this truck looks the business. Between the gloss-black grille, the black wheels and hard top, and the olive drab paint (which FCA calls "Tank Green," unsurprisingly), the Willys Wrangler is one badass little ride. Even the Willys decal up front and the four-wheel-drive decal out back look appropriate on this car; too often, decals look little more than plain ol' tacky. Not here.

    If you've looked at a Wrangler built in the last, um, ever, this one will come as no surprise. We'd have a hard time ordering it in anything but Tank Green, though. With the hard-top in place, it looks like a decommissioned military vehicle ready to tackle some nasty terrain.

  • On the Road

    With a Dana 30 stick axle up front, and an even more hardcore Dana 44 in the rear, this is not a car that should live a life on pavement. Add in some beefy suspension, and it's a recipe for being thrown about in the cabin. Your author, having already taken a similar Wrangler off-roading last year, decided to see what suburban life would be like with the Willys Wheeler. After a week of crisscrossing the northwest suburbs of Chicago, we can tell you with the utmost certainty that the Willys Wheeler as equipped is not particularly great for the suburban sprawl.

    The combination of solid axles and off-road suspension make every bump twice as noticeable. You'd think suspension travel would soak up bumps and undulations, but it's actually the opposite; larger bumps usually meant tossing passengers around like rag dolls. Thanks to some very knobby mud tires, the steering was vague at best, requiring an egregious amount of correction on both straights and curves. Then there was the road noise, which is entirely the fault of the tires. At low speeds, the tire noise wasn't bad; at highway speeds, the Wrangler's tire roar drowned out both wind noise and quiet music coming from the speakers. And that was with the optional hard top attached, which you'd think would help cancel out some of that tire noise. In short, if you get a Willys Wheeler, and you don't change the tires, but you never leave the pavement, you're going to have a bad time.

    Speaking of the hard top, it's excellent. It has two easily removable panels that give you the open-air experience while managing to keep turbulent air from entering the cabin, and if you want to take the whole top off, all it takes is a friend or two and a few Torx bolts. Easy peasy. The roof panels have a storage bag that sits in the back, but you're going to need a good deal of garage space to house the whole hard top.

  • Final Thoughts

    If you know what you're getting into, the Wrangler is wonderful. It's a very capable SUV that adds just the right amount of creature comfort, with tradeoffs of road noise, mediocre fuel economy, and a Playskool playhouse's worth of hard plastic. If you ever feel the need to turn off the road and down a nearby dirt path, you'll wonder why you ever considered buying anything else - there's a reason why this car is so popular, after all. But if you're buying it for its cutesy appearance and you relegate it to a life of bumping into parking berms and clipping the occasional driveway curb, your reward is a terrible driving experience that will give you approximately zero driving skills that can translate to other vehicles, aside from moving the shifter from P to D. Get one for the right reasons, we beg of you.

  • Specs & Price

    Engine: 3.6-liter naturally-aspirated V-6

    Transmission: Five-speed automatic

    Drivetrain Layout: Front-engine, part-time 4WD

    Power Output: 285 horsepower / 260 lb-ft

    Fuel Economy (mpg): 17 city / 21 highway

    Base Price: $29,095 (incl. $6,100 Willys Wheeler package)

    As Tested: $36,015 (incl. $995 destination)

    Available Features:

    Willys Wheeler Package: Willys graphics, 17-inch black wheels with off-road tires, locking rear differential, 3.75 axle ratios, performance suspension, rock rails, all-weather floor mats, air conditioning, leather-wrapped steering wheel, deep-tint windows

    Dual Top Group: Black soft top, three-piece black hard top, rear window defroster, rear windshield wiper

    Power Convenience Group: Auto-dimming rearview mirror, power heated side mirrors, power door locks, power windows, remote keyless entry, security alarm

    Trailer Tow Group: Class II receiver hitch, trailer tow with four-pin connector wiring

    Individual Options: Half-size metal doors with manual locks and plastic windows, tubular side steps

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