By Bill Jackson on July 10, 2008
In my book, Jeep Wranglers are like tuxedos: You don't buy them for comfort, you don't buy them to use every day, but when you need one, there's no substitute. But does that mean the four-door, Unlimited version suits a Weekend Athlete?
Yes and no. Yes in the sense that the gear fits in fine, and if you have to get to a race or campsite at the end of an offroad course, it's a great vehicle to get you there. But no in the sense that there are many cars that carry stuff better and deal with pavement much, much better than the Jeep does.
If you have a real need to be able to go off road, stop reading – you won't like what I have to say and you probably own a Wrangler anyway.
For the rest of you, the Jeep is going to force you to make a lot of tradeoffs. If you get a soft-top, I think it forces you to make too many tradeoffs.
For starters, you have to figure a good way to unzip the rear to get your gear inside. I tried a number of ways until I settled on the one you see here. Once that obstacle is overcome, you still have the "barn door" effect that makes you walk all the way around the door to get your cargo. Not to mention that the large spare tire hanging off the back makes the trip even longer.
If you don't have the front seat set too far back, the second-row seats flop right down. (You might have to adjust the front seat to get it to flop all the way down if you're taller.) In any event, it's very nice that you don't have to remove the headrests.
You could probably take four people camping pretty easily, so that's nice. Bike racers, though, should not under any circumstances get any model with an Infinity stereo system because the subwoofer in the cargo area really makes it hard to get the bike in there. It's too tall to comfortably lift a bike over, and it takes up way too much room. I ride a 58-cm frame, but even with a smaller bike it's just a pain.
The cargo area's length is acceptable for carrying bikes, but it's not great, especially considering how long the Wrangler Unlimited feels when you drive it. All in all, if you’re a bike rider who wants the bike inside, there are better cars — heck, there are even better Jeeps — out there than the Wrangler Unlimited.
Really, that's what it boils down to: You have to really need, or really love, a Jeep to use it to take you to races. Personally, I loved my time in the Jeep. I thought it was fun to drive for a short period of time, but it just doesn't fit my life. It's just the wrong suit to wear to my party.
Weekend Athlete Scores (out of 10)
Ease of loading gear — 3: Because this is a soft-top, you have to zip. Not the easiest, not the best. Plus it's a pretty high load floor with the offroad tires.
Ease of seat operation — 5: Simple but not outstanding.
Bike hauling — 3: Get rid of the Infinity stereo and it’d get a 4. It still has a high floor and it's not particularly long.
Locker-room cred — 10: But only if you go off-road. It gets a 4 if you don’t.
All-around — 4: It’s fun, it's cool, but for this application, there are better options.
Assistant Managing Editor Bill Jackson manages the Research section, and he enjoys triathlons and cross-country skiing. Email William