2016 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited

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Key Specs
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Road Test
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Key Specs

of the 2016 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited. Base trim shown.

Our Take

From the Cars.com Vehicle Test Team

The Good

  • Iconic styling
  • Go-anywhere ability
  • Spacious cargo room
  • Good visibility
  • Vast aftermarket customization options
  • Top and doors completely removable

The Bad

  • Terrible on-road driving dynamics
  • Dangerously bad headlight illumination
  • Awful fuel economy
  • Cramped passenger room
  • Expensive
  • Road, wind, tire and drivetrain noise

Notable Features of the 2016 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited

  • Four-door, five-seat SUV
  • One engine option: 3.6-liter V-6
  • Manual or automatic transmission
  • Part-time four-wheel drive standard
  • Completely removable top and doors
  • Electronic locking front and rear differentials (Rubicon)

2016 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Road Test

Aaron Bragman
The Verdict:

The 2016 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon remains the best worst new car you can buy — loud, unpleasant, inefficient, uncomfortable and expensive, but able to scale tall mountains in a single bound and look ridiculously cool while doing it.

Versus The Competition:

Nothing on the market combines the Wrangler's iconic style and reputation with its go-anywhere abilities, open-air fun and legions of fanatically loyal owners — which is why Jeep charges whatever it wants for the Wrangler.

There's really nothing quite like a Jeep Wrangler. That's not an exaggerated claim, either; it's the only body-on-frame SUV on the market with two live axles and doors that not only come off, they're easily removable. We're about to see an all-new Wrangler introduced for 2018, so we figured one last hurrah in the outgoing model was warranted.

We drove the top-of-the-line 2016 Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon Hard Rock. Loaded with every conceivable piece of off-road equipment on the options list, it is utterly unlike anything on the market. But while its off-road abilities are well-established, what is it like to live with every day? Lots of people buy a Wrangler for its looks and image alone, but does it make a decent daily driver?

Exterior & Styling

The Jeep Wrangler looks as the Jeep Wrangler has for decades. Take a look at an original 1941 Willys and you can immediately see the lineage. It's a shape and design philosophy as old and revered as the Porsche 911, Volkswagen Beetle or Ford Mustang. While it has varied some over the years (including a brief stint with square headlights in the 1980s), the chunky, blocky, purposeful styling has stayed much the same.

So has the body's functionality. All four doors are completely removable via just two bolts and a fabric door-check strap. The hardtop comes off with a few more bolts and a friend to help you lift it. If you want only a little bit of sun, the Freedom Top front panels can be removed sep...

There's really nothing quite like a Jeep Wrangler. That's not an exaggerated claim, either; it's the only body-on-frame SUV on the market with two live axles and doors that not only come off, they're easily removable. We're about to see an all-new Wrangler introduced for 2018, so we figured one last hurrah in the outgoing model was warranted.

We drove the top-of-the-line 2016 Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon Hard Rock. Loaded with every conceivable piece of off-road equipment on the options list, it is utterly unlike anything on the market. But while its off-road abilities are well-established, what is it like to live with every day? Lots of people buy a Wrangler for its looks and image alone, but does it make a decent daily driver?

Exterior & Styling

The Jeep Wrangler looks as the Jeep Wrangler has for decades. Take a look at an original 1941 Willys and you can immediately see the lineage. It's a shape and design philosophy as old and revered as the Porsche 911, Volkswagen Beetle or Ford Mustang. While it has varied some over the years (including a brief stint with square headlights in the 1980s), the chunky, blocky, purposeful styling has stayed much the same.

So has the body's functionality. All four doors are completely removable via just two bolts and a fabric door-check strap. The hardtop comes off with a few more bolts and a friend to help you lift it. If you want only a little bit of sun, the Freedom Top front panels can be removed separately, or you can opt for the finicky manual soft-top for alfresco motoring whenever the mood strikes. It's not the easiest soft-top to put up and down, requiring the removal of side panels and the rear window, but owners put up with such hassles in exchange for an open-air sensation like no other.

The Hard Rock package adds some visual flair, too, with a custom leather interior and special hood, bumpers, wheels, badges and some top content as well, like an Alpine premium audio system and heated front seats.

Perhaps the best aspect of the Jeep Wrangler's styling: If you don't like it, you can change it. Myriad aftermarket companies offer everything from fenders to bumpers to auxiliary lights. All it takes is money.

How It Drives

Judging how the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited drives depends entirely on where you're driving it. Take it to your local off-road park, through the California desert, over towering coastal sand dunes or through a forest full of mud holes and two-track ravines, and it's brilliant.

The list of parts that help the Jeep Wrangler go anywhere unpaved is long: There's part-time four-wheel drive with a 4:1 creeper gear; a 4.10 final drive ratio; electronically lockable front and rear differentials on heavy-duty Dana 44 solid axles; beefy off-road shocks and springs; skid plates protecting various underbody components; electronically disconnecting front sway bar links; super-chunky BFGoodrich M/T Mud-Terrain tires; and 10.5 inches of ground clearance. It soldiers along broken, boulder-strewn, rutted dirt hard-pack trails like a champ, soaking up terrain that would set your teeth rattling and kidneys bruising in just about any other vehicle. It's made to be off-road, and that's where it excels like no other.

Get back on the street, however, and you'll be singing an altogether different tune. The engine — a 285-horsepower, 3.6-liter V-6 — is the only one offered, mated to either a standard six-speed manual transmission or an optional 5-speed automatic. Many enthusiasts get excited when they see that a manual is still available, but they shouldn't be; it's awful, with a rubbery feel and a shift lever so long you'll feel like you're shifting an oar. The automatic works much better for everyday driving on- or off-road, but you'd never call the Wrangler quick. It's geared for off-road torque, not brisk acceleration or highway cruising comfort.

On the street it's poky and ponderous, and the Rubicon suspension that was so amazing in the rough is soft and marshmallowy on tarmac. Accelerate, and the truck squats on the back wheels thanks to the soft off-road shocks. Hit the brakes, and the nose dips noticeably. Crosswinds are a nightmare on the highway (or even around town) because of the Wrangler's slab sides and tall off-road tires. The soft brakes don't work with any sense of immediacy, either. Simply put, the Wrangler makes an awful daily driver, family vehicle or first-time ride for a teenage driver.

The Wrangler's one true saving grace, however, is enough for hundreds of thousands of buyers every year to overlook all that: You can take the top and doors completely off, immediately turning your car into an open-air beach buggy that provides a sense of freedom unlike anything short of a motorcycle.

Fuel economy is terrible, but that's not unexpected given the Jeep Wrangler has all the aerodynamic efficiency of a single-family bungalow. The automatic-equipped Wrangler is EPA-rated 16/20/18 mpg city/highway/combined. That figure gets 1 mpg better on the highway in the manual version thanks to its extra gear. My 260 miles of mixed driving netted 18.9 mpg combined, so I'd say the ratings are pretty much spot-on. Of course, if you take the top and doors off, what little aerodynamic efficiency the Wrangler has goes right out the window and you might see your mileage drop — but then, the Jeep will be lighter, so maybe it's a wash.

Interior

It's a climb up into the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon's cabin thanks to its 10.5-inch ground clearance and big tires. Once you're there, it's throwback time. The last time the Wrangler got an interior update was in 2011, when it received a curvier, more carlike dashboard, as opposed to the blockier, cheaper one that preceded it. Nothing has changed in the intervening six years, with the switches, controls and materials still reminiscent of Chrysler's freshly post-bankruptcy days.

The front seats are decently comfortable but not terribly big or very adjustable by modern standards. The backseat can fit three people in a pinch, but it's low to the floor, putting passengers in a knees-up position and not giving them much in the way of legroom.

The beauty of this interior is its customizability. Don't like the silver trim color? You can replace it with a Mopar colored trim kit, paint the removable bits yourself or go to any number of aftermarket parts sites for all kinds of embellishments. There are seat covers in just about any color you can imagine and varieties of fabrics — there's even colored leather replacement upholstery. There are dozens of aftermarket tops, replacement tube doors and custom holders for all kinds of accessories, from fire extinguishers to flashlights to coolers. The resources available to make a Wrangler your own are immense, limited only by your imagination and wallet. The only real problem is that the inexpensive standard interior in my test car came in a vehicle costing nearly $50,000. For that much money, it should be decidedly better than it is.

Ergonomics & Electronics

The Wrangler's gauges are small, but they're easy to read and don't overload the driver with all kinds of information. In many ways, the Jeep Wrangler's vintage nature carries through to its electronics — there isn't much in the way of fancy technology in here, as you wouldn't really want much in an interior that's meant to get wet. The Wrangler's controls are simple and easy to use, with switches that are easy to find, including those that activate the locking axles and sway-bar disconnect.

The multimedia system itself is positively ancient by Chrysler's own standards — now that the old minivans have been retired in favor of the new Pacifica, the Jeep Wrangler remains the only vehicle in the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles stable that features this style multimedia system, which dates back to the previous decade. Yet while it isn't the latest Uconnect system, there's something to be said for its dead-nuts simple operation and design. It's not flashy, but for audio and multimedia files, it works quite well.

The optional Alpine premium audio system is a must-have. It's designed specifically for the Jeep Wrangler's horrible acoustics and speaker placement, and its more robust speakers, dedicated amp and floor-mounted rear subwoofer make a huge difference. If you opt for the regular stereo, you won't be able to hear it if you remove the top and doors. The Alpine system knows when you've got the top down and adjusts output accordingly.

Cargo & Storage

The Jeep Wrangler Unlimited features 31.5 cubic feet of cargo room behind the rear seats, which fold flat to open up a cavernous 70.6 cubic feet of total cargo room. If you opt for a two-door Wrangler you don't get nearly as much space. That model features a two-passenger bench in the back that folds forward but not much out of the way. It is removable, however, allowing for 55 cubic feet of total cargo room, but then you'll have reduced your Jeep Wrangler to a two-seater.

Safety

The 2016 Wrangler Unlimited has not been rated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in any crash test except a rollover, where it scored three out of five stars, making it one of the last few passenger vehicles on the market rated below four stars. Test results from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety are decidedly mixed: The Jeep Wrangler four-door scored good (out of a possible good, acceptable, fair and poor) for small and moderate overlap front tests, but only marginal for side-impact and head restraint tests. There are no crash avoidance technologies available on the Jeep Wrangler — like forward collision warning or autonomous braking — or even parking sensors, blind spot monitors or a backup camera.

To top it all off, the Jeep Wrangler's headlights are abysmal. The incandescent bulbs cast a tragically weak beam and are rated poor by IIHS. Optional LED headlights are available for 2017, but the standard headlights are truly terrible (and one of the first things most new owners swap out for aftermarket units upon purchase).

Value in Its Class

The Jeep Wrangler is an expensive vehicle, especially considering the level of technology and refinement you get. Even base models cost more than you might expect, but they do have one benefit: They hold their resale value better than nearly any other vehicle on the market. Still, a basic 2016 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sport starts at $28,690 including destination fee, and it goes up from there. There are often special editions each year and always a unique color or two. The price for my tester, a top-trim Rubicon with the Hard Rock package, began at $37,990 but ended up at an eye-watering $48,120 — and there were still options to be had.

All competitors have fallen by the wayside over the years as safety regulations and fuel economy requirements have taken all the true off-roaders, well, off the road in the U.S. The Ford Bronco, Nissan Xterra, Toyota FJ Cruiser, Hummer H3, Suzuki Samurai and even the Land Rover Defender have all come to an end while the Jeep Wrangler soldiers on.

There are still a few competitors that might be comparable, one of which comes from Jeep itself. The Grand Cherokee Trailhawk has many of the same abilities as the Wrangler but is wrapped in a much more civilized package. That package is also heavier, lacks a removable top and doors, and isn't as happy off-road as the Wrangler, relying on electronic systems instead of mechanical force to get the job done. You could also head over to a Toyota dealer to grab one of the last old-style SUVs around, the Toyota 4Runner, which is available in a very capable TRD Pro trim that has a good deal of off-road equipment. Like the Grand Cherokee, the 4Runner offers those abilities in a much more civilized SUV wrapper than you'll find in the Wrangler. Finally, the least expensive model from the only other all-SUV brand offers some off-road abilities in a much more compact model: The Land Rover Range Rover Evoque goes off-road in the same way the Grand Cherokee Trailhawk does, through electronic traction manipulation. Compare all four here.

In the end, the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon offers buyers a singularly unique experience. It does only two things well, but it does those things supremely well: go off-road through extremely rough terrain and look incredibly cool just about anywhere it pulls up. Many owners love it despite the driving experience, not because of it. It's sloppy, loud, uncomfortable, slow, ponderous, wallowy, inefficient, cheap-feeling, questionably safe and not particularly reliable — and on top of all that, it's expensive. But nothing else out there delivers the playful feeling a Jeep Wrangler does, nor the instant community you join when you buy one. Never has there been a vehicle where the phrase, "either you get it or you don't" applies more.


Latest 2016 Wrangler Unlimited Stories

Consumer Reviews

Exterior Styling
(4.7)
Performance
(4.4)
Interior Design
(4.4)
Comfort
(4.3)
Reliability
(4.7)
Value For The Money
(4.2)

What Drivers Are Saying

(4.0)

We love our Jeep Wrangler

by Nichole & Sara from Phoenix, AZ on August 19, 2018

We love this vehicle. Our only wish is that we?d got a model with power windows/door locks, but we can add those in the future. It?s an awesome vehicle to own, especially if you like the outdoors (... Read full review

(5.0)

My dream car

by Yardog from Fort Worth, Texas on August 5, 2018

Everything I have ever wanted in a vehicle. This is my 3rd Jeep and I love how you can put and take things off (like a Mr. Potato head). Read full review

Safety & Recalls

Recalls

The 2016 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited currently has 0 recalls

IIHS Crash and Rollover Test Ratings

Based on 2016 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sport

IIHS rates vehicles good, acceptable, marginal, or poor.

Child Seat Anchors (Latch)

Ease of Use
marginal

Front

Chest
good
Head/Neck
good
Hip/thigh
good
Lower leg/foot
acceptable
Overall evaluation
good
Retraints and dummy kinematics
acceptable
Structure and safety cage
good

Head Restraints and Seats

Dynamic Rating
marginal
Overall Rear
marginal
Seat Head/Restraint Geometry
acceptable

Moderate overlap front

Chest
good
Head/Neck
good
Left Leg/Foot
good
Overall Front
good
Restraints
good
Right Leg/Foot
acceptable
Structure/safety cage
good

Side

Driver Head Protection
marginal
Driver Head and Neck
good
Driver Pelvis/Leg
good
Driver Torso
poor
Overall Side
marginal
Rear Passenger Head Protection
marginal
Rear Passenger Head and Neck
good
Rear Passenger Pelvis/Leg
good
Rear Passenger Torso
good
Structure/safety cage
acceptable

Small Overlap Front - Driver Side

Chest
good
Head/Neck
good
Hip/Thigh
good
Lower Leg/Foot
acceptable
Overall Evaluation
good
Restraints and Dummy Kinematics
acceptable
Structure and Safety Cage
good
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) is a nonprofit research and communications organization funded by auto insurers.

Manufacturer Warranty

  • Bumper-to-Bumper

    36 months / 36,000 miles

  • Roadside Assistance

    60 months / 100,000 miles

CPO Program & Warranty

Certified Pre-Owned by Jeep

Program Benefits

24-hour roadside assistance, Carfax vehicle history report, rental car and 24-hour towing, and first day rental

  • Limited Warranty

    7 years / 100,000 miles

    7 years/100,000 mile warranty on all certified vehicles
  • Eligibility

    Under 5 years / 75,000 miles

    Vehicles receive a 125 point inspection and reconditioning.

    See inspection details.

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Cars.com Car Seat Check

Certified child passenger safety technicians conduct hands-on tests of a car’s Latch system and check the vehicle’s ability to accommodate different types of car seats. The Wrangler Unlimited received the following grades on a scale of A-F.*
* This score may not apply to all trims, especially for vehicles with multiple body styles that affect the space and design of the seating.

Warranty FAQs

What is a Bumper-to-Bumper warranty?

Often called a basic warranty or new-vehicle warranty, a bumper-to-bumper policy covers components like air conditioning, audio systems, vehicle sensors, fuel systems and major electrical components. Most policies exclude regular maintenance like fluid top offs and oil changes, but a few brands have separate free-maintenance provisions, and those that do offer them is slowly rising. Bumper-to-bumper warranties typically expire faster than powertrain warranties.

What is a Powertrain warranty?

Don't be misled a 10-year or 100,000-mile powertrain warranty doesn't promise a decade of free repairs for your car. It typically covers just the engine and transmission, along with any other moving parts that lead to the wheels, like the driveshaft and constant velocity joints. Some automakers also bundle seat belts and airbags into their powertrain warranties. With a few exceptions, powertrain warranties don't cover regular maintenance like engine tuneups and tire rotations.

What is included in Roadside Assistance?

Some automakers include roadside assistance with their bumper-to-bumper or powertrain warranties, while others have separate policies. These programs cover anything from flat-tire changes and locksmith services to jump-starts and towing. Few reimburse incidental costs like motel rooms (if you have to wait for repairs).

What other services could be included in a warranty?

Some automakers include free scheduled maintenance for items such as oil changes, air filters and tire rotations. Some include consumables including brake pads and windshield wipers; others do not. They are typically for the first couple of years of ownership of a new car.

What does CPO mean?

A certified pre-owned or CPO car has been inspected to meet minimum quality standards and typically includes some type of warranty. While dealers and third parties certify cars, the gold standard is an automaker-certified vehicle that provides a factory-backed warranty, often extending the original coverage. Vehicles must be in excellent condition and have low miles and wear to be certified, which is why off-lease vehicles feed many CPO programs.

See also the latest CPO incentives by automaker