2016 Jeep Wrangler Willys Wheeler Review

This is the affordable badass off-roader you've been looking for

Wade Thiel, Senior Staff Writer

Positives: Good for any terrain, iconic styling, fun to drive in a different kind of way than a sports car.
Negatives: Feels a little sloppy on the road, lots of noise, not much technology, removing the soft top is a chore, better driving dynamics can be had in many other vehicles.
Bottom Line: The Jeep Wrangler Willys Wheeler is more than the sum of its parts. It offers an experience that's unlike almost all other vehicles, especially at this price point. It features timeless styling and a fun, top-down experience that's different than any other convertible on the road. Also, off-road performance is great. Despite its high points, the vehicle lacks many of the things that a lot of people have come to expect.
The Wrangler is the vehicle many people think of when they think of Jeep. It's an Iconic model for the company and is cherished by off-roaders, campers, hikers and outdoorsy people all over. The Willys Wheeler is an homage to the old Willys Jeeps of the 1940s, the stalwart military Jeep. This makes the Wrangler Willys Wheeler, in many ways, the ultimate Jeep, at least in our eyes. The model is less expensive than some of the higher trim levels, but it still sports some of the special equipment that makes it so successful off the beaten path. It's basically a Wrangler Sport with some upgrades, both aesthetic and mechanical.

We got to get behind the wheel of the 2016 Jeep Wrangler Willys Wheeler for a whole week. While we didn't find any mountains to climb, we did test this ride on a wide variety of road types to see how it functions as a daily driver and weekend warrior. Here's what we found.

Driving Experience



It’s almost painful to drive the Wrangler Willys Wheeler on the street because you know it can do so much more. It has some large off-road tires, 18-inch blacked out wheels, 3.73 axle ratios (front and rear) and Trac-Loc rear differential – everything an off-roader needs. While we did plenty of street driving, we also drove the vehicle outside of the city to some rural dirt roads to see what it was like on a looser road surface. Still, we only tapped into the slightest bit of what the Willys Wheeler can offer off pavement.

As far as on road performance goes, the Jeep handles okay. It demands your attention because you have to focus on how you’re driving to keep it on the road. It’s a little busy and isn’t what we’d call sharp in any respect. It does more than get the job done, though. Despite its shortcomings, we found ourselves enjoying it immensely. Its body roll and on-road manners are playful and fun. It turns any road into an interesting stretch of pavement. If you’re only planning on driving on pavement, don’t go with a Wrangler Willys Wheeler, opt instead for the Grand Cherokee or Compass.

Ride Quality: You feel the bumps in this vehicle. The ride is setup for off-roading, however, the big tires and suspension components soak up the bumps well.

Acceleration: The Willys Wheeler comes with a spunky 3.5-liter V6 that moves it along at a good clip. Just be ready to really row through the gears when necessary. It’s enjoyable, smooth, powerful and easy to hear.

Braking: The brakes aren’t the best, but they are progressive. The softer suspension means the nose of the vehicle sinks noticeable during hard braking.

Steering: Not very precise, well-weighted and features limited feedback from the road.

Handling: The Wrangler Willys Wheeler is a pleasure off-pavement and a little difficult on pavement. It has significant body roll and isn’t very confidence inspiring in the turns. However, its playful nature makes it a lot of fun in just about every situation.




The Willys Wheeler is a special Wrangler. Still, that doesn’t mean it gets a lot of special technology. The model is pretty stripped down. You get a radio (no touchscreen), phone connectivity via an auxiliary chord, a few charging stations and that’s about it. There is a way to pair your phone, but try as we might, we couldn’t get ours to connect. The vehicle information display on the dash works fine but is limited, and the controls for displaying that information cumbersome. If you’re looking for a vehicle with a lot of technology, look elsewhere.

Infotainment System: There isn’t much of one. You can connect your phone’s audio to the system via an auxiliary outlet and play music or something but beyond that, its AM/FM radio or Sirius XM.

Controls: You get the easy-to-use knobs and buttons, all of which are intuitive. There's some steering wheel controls too, but not many.

Bluetooth Pairing: When we tried to pair a phone, the system suggested we go online and find the proper PIN for our device. We did so but still had trouble connecting.

Voice Call Quality: Not available due to the inability to connect a phone.




The styling of the Jeep Wrangler is iconic. It’s something that very few people dislike. It’s reminiscent of the WWII Jeeps while still having a modern look. The Willys Wheeler ups the ante with retro-inspired accents and a more rugged looking exterior, including some serious off-road tires and special decals specific to the trim level.

Front: The iconic grill and round headlights dominate the face of the Willys Wheeler. The tow hooks up front and the large bumper also help give the Jeep a demanding presence.

Rear: The main focal point of the rear is the spare tire, which looks huge and serves to remind you what the vehicle is rolling on. Aside from that, it features rectangular taillights and a swing-open tailgate.

Profile: In profile, it becomes apparent just how boxy the vehicle really is. It’s not an aerodynamic machine.

Cabin: The interior styling is nice, with a good mix of nostalgic touches and modern style. It doesn’t rely too heavily on novelty and is pretty attractive.




Comfort certainly isn’t paramount for the Wrangler, but it doesn’t do too poorly of a job. Everything is easy to reach and most stuff feels substantial despite a lot of hard plastics. Much like with the vehicle’s performance, when it comes to comfort inside the Wrangler, you find yourself making excuses. We found ourselves thinking, this is a SUV that’s meant to be beat on and gotten dirty, so of course it’s going to have hard surfaces in most places. While that’s true, if you compare the Wrangler to other vehicles, it’s behind the curve.

Front Seats: The cloth-wrapped seats are well-padded and supportive, though they lack much adjustment. There’s plenty of leg room up front too.

Rear Seats: Cramped leg room and a little tight all around. Padding is good. These seats are better for short trips, kids or cargo.

NVH (noise/vibration/harshness): The Wrangler is not a quiet vehicle. The soft top doesn’t flap in the wind very much at all, but it doesn’t do a great job of shielding you from exterior noises. You get wind noise, tire noise and engine noise in this vehicle, but that’s expected from a soft-top Jeep.

Visibility: Visibility is good. You sit up high and can easily see around cars. Rear visibility can be a little tough at times. There is no rear view camera

Climate: Despite the vehicle’s soft top, it has an excellent climate control system. It’s powerful, and if you’ve ever driven a soft top in the winter, you know why.




Safety ratings for the Jeep Wrangler are not very good. In an age when many cars on the road receive top safety ratings, the Wrangler got only three stars from the NHTSA. This has been a theme for the model for several years.

IIHS Rating: The Wrangler did not receive a Top Safety Pick rating. It received a Marginal or Poor rating in most categories.

Standard Tech: Airbags, electronic stability control, 4-wheel disc brakes, traction control, electronic roll mitigation and hill-start assist.

Optional Tech: Tire pressure monitoring system and security alarm.




The Wrangler isn’t built for storing lots of stuff. There’s some cubbies on the inside and some room in the rear for a few bags of groceries or an overnight bag. Aside from that, you’re looking at about as much room as some convertible sports cars.

Storage Space: Limited storage in the center console, with only a few small cubbies, trays and cup holders for every day carry items. We found ourselves tossing most items on the rear seats.

Cargo Room: Cargo room is tight. The swing tailgate is nice and allows you to easily reach the cargo area, but room is limited and you’re likely to end up throwing most things on the back seat.

Fuel Economy



Due to the relatively powerful V6 and the Wrangler’s boxy exterior, it doesn’t get good gas mileage. The EPA estimates the vehicle to get 17 mpg in the city and 21 mpg on the highway. We managed to almost perfectly split the difference during our week of driving.

Observed: We saw an average of 18 mpg by the end of our week with the vehicle.

Driving Factors: We drove in a variety of environments (city, highway and rural roads). We also were heavy on the throttle at times and used the cruise control on the highway.



Despite the Wrangler’s loud interior, we found ourselves enjoying the stereo system. The 9-speakers in the vehicle did a good job of drowning out some of the road noise and made it easier to enjoy the drive. The controls were dated, but simple and easy to use. More connectivity would have been nice.

Final Thoughts

The Wrangler Willys Wheeler comes with some noticeable downsides. However, that doesn’t mean it’s a bad vehicle to own. Jeep's badass off-roader is the perfect vehicle for some people and the absolute worst option for others. If you drive off-road or enjoy the whole spirit of the Wrangler, then you’re going to love the Willys Wheeler. If you’re looking for something a little more plush and easy to drive, you’re not going to enjoy it. This is a retro-inspired, off-roading ride that happens to be decent on the road as well. The Wrangler is very appealing to some people, which that’s why the Willys Wheeler version of the model exists. If you need a fun off-roader for an affordable price, this is your ride. If you don’t, look elsewhere.
Shopping for a used
Jeep Wrangler?