We love convertibles, but many people don’t realize that every Jeep Wrangler SUV is also a convertible, be it equipped with a removable hardtop or a soft-top. Perhaps more notable, it’s one of the largest and most open-air convertibles you can buy since the discontinuation of Nissan’s preposterous Murano CrossCabriolet. (That, plus a droptop version of the outgoing Land Rover Range Rover Evoque.) And unlike most convertibles, the Wrangler is an asset rather than a liability come winter thanks to its go-anywhere character. The only real downside has been how difficult it was to lower the soft-top of previous-generation models.
To Jeep’s credit, the standard Sunrider soft-top of the new generation, which first appeared as the 2018 Wrangler JL, is the simplest yet to lower. Detroit Bureau Chief Aaron Bragman — owner of an earlier JK-generation Wrangler — concluded, “It may just be the single greatest improvement Jeep made to the Wrangler, far easier to put up and down than the old one, and easier in cold weather, too, as the channels are easier to work than the zippers were.”
We spent some time with a 2019 Wrangler Unlimited Sahara with the optional Premium Sunrider soft-top to get a feel for its pros and cons. This feature ($595 and up, depending on what it’s packaged with) is available on all trim levels but two-door versions of the base Wrangler Sport and Sport S; it’s the same as the standard soft-top but employs cloth material rather than vinyl. It has pliable plastic rear and rear-quarter windows, all of which you must remove before gliding back the articulated bimini-framed front section of the roof. You got that?
It might be tempting to flip up two latches along the windshield header and throw this front section open (Jeep even calls it a “sunroof feature”), but the owner’s manual warns that doing so can allow wind to damage the removable rear panels. All three must come off first.
Ways to Ride With Sunrider
One secret to the new Sunrider top’s simplicity is that it replaces zippers and prodigious amounts of Velcro with sliding C-channel retainers. I won’t give full step-by-step instructions, but the gist of it goes like this: Similar to the previous generation, after opening the swing gate and flipping up a plastic flap on either extreme of the bottom edge of the rear window panel, you then grasp the bar that rests just above the swing gate opening and pull it toward you. Thanks to the C-channel system, you can simply slide that bar out to the side and separate it from the window.
The rest of the window is held by plastic flaps that tuck into gutters on either side and another sliding C-channel retainer at the top. You can slide it sideways and remove it in moments.
Removing the rear-quarter windows is now a similar process, partly because each panel has an integral, rigid plastic D-pillar where the previous generation had a floppy cloth sail panel. These plastic pillars stay attached to the window panel; you just tug it out, then remove the window’s plastic retainer flaps, lift one small Velcro closure and slide the panel out on its C-channel. For their protection, the windows should be stored in the Soft Top Window Storage Bag ($75), which is sized to hang from the seatbacks in the cargo area.
At this point, you can flip those two windshield header latches and arch the top back until it lies flat. As before, it’s necessary to secure the top using the provided Velcro straps.
You can drive around like that, or you can take the next step and lower the top fully, for which there are now fewer downsides. Pull a lever on the underside of the trailing edge of the roof, and the whole top slides back and down on guide tracks to rest above the swing gate. No more bow removal and no nonsense, though you’ll want to tie things down with Velcro here as well.
Driving With the Top Down
Driving with the Sunrider down exposes you to plenty of sun and wind. It’s not exactly like convertible cars, which tend to have frameless windows, but Wrangler owners are known to address this by removing the doors or replacing them with half-doors, a process that also has been simplified in the JL generation. (Please bear in mind that doors provide side-impact protection, and it’s best not to drive around in traffic without them.)
As for the two configurations, the initial Sunrider position gets you most of the way there by opening the space above the front and rear seats — just not behind them. It also leaves your rearward view unobstructed. In the fully lowered position, the top rests above the beltline, reminding me of wee convertibles like the Volkswagen Beetle and Fiat 500C, whose folded tops rest on the rear deck. As a tall guy who raises the seat as high as I can, I was able to see the top halves of SUVs behind me easily, but lower cars did vanish when they moved directly behind me, or close to it. I didn’t consider it a problem, especially because Jeep cleverly incorporated a backup camera into the spare-tire retainer on the rear gate, so you’re covered there. If you want to go fully bare, the whole top and its mechanism can be removed, but that’s a more elaborate process involving tools and hardware.
Driving With the Top Up
Even ragtop aficionados have become spoiled by multilayer cloth tops and glass rear windows. If you haven’t experienced a pliable plastic window, it’s not much better than no window at all under certain circumstances — mainly loud trucks nearby or elevated trains overhead. Wind and road noise are ever-present, but that’s as much about the cloth as the windows. Jeep claims the Premium Sunrider top is quieter than the standard Sunrider top, but there’s no question a hardtop is much quieter still.
The Wrangler has one big upside among soft-tops: The plastic rear window is gigantic, as large as the glass one with the hardtop. Soft-top convertibles usually cover the raised-top mechanism with broad swaths of cloth, forming oversized C-pillars that minimize your view out back.
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The Wrangler soft-top isn’t for everyone. It takes more effort to lower even in this simplified new form. And, as explained, plastic windows come with a host of drawbacks, including the noise and a tendency to discolor or fog with age and exposure. You also sacrifice a rear defogger and rear wiper.
Another annoyance is that the swing gate and cargo area opening are relatively short. With the hardtop, you’d just grab the glass window and swing it upward. With the Sunrider top, it’s more complicated. I detached the bar from above the swing gate but left both the bar attached to the window and the window attached at the top. By detaching the sides from their retainer slots, I was able to flip the window up on top of the roof where the weight of the bar held it in place. It’s not the simplest move versus a normal cargo opening, but that’s the case for the top as a whole, despite its many improvements.
Having Second Thoughts?
If this all sounds like too much work, you might want to check out a new alternative available on higher-end four-doors: the Sky One-Touch power top, a cloth top that opens almost the entire length of the roof, accordion style, at the touch of a button when traveling as fast as 60 mph. The sides of the roof stay in place, but you can remove the rigid rear-quarter windows in this version with the flip of an inside lever. The Sky is a great option if you want open air but no additional hassle, though it does, predictably, cost more. It has conventional windows, too, including the removable rear-quarters, so it’s quieter than the Sunrider, as well.
But if more air is your thing, or you’ve ever wrestled with an earlier Wrangler’s soft-top, you’re going to appreciate the new Sunrider.
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