Full 2008 Jeep Wrangler Review
What's New for 2008
After setting a new trail with a complete redesign last year, the Jeep Wrangler and Wrangler Unlimited travel into 2008 with only minor equipment changes. These include a standard Sunrider soft top on Wrangler Sahara and Rubicon models, optional remote ignition and a new Sahara appearance package for both two- and four-door versions.
The 2008 Jeep Wrangler is not so much an SUV as an experience. It's slow and loud, handles poorly, gets bad gas mileage, has crummy interior materials and features doors that provide virtually no crash protection. Oh, and breaking into the trunk requires nothing more than undoing a zipper.
Under normal methods of evaluation, all these borderline-absurd negatives would seem to add up to a vehicle barely worthy of cab duty in Bangladesh. And yet the Wrangler is strangely attractive -- so much so that it's one of the 10-best-selling SUVs on the market. It exists for people who want something decidedly different -- particularly a macho image and serious rock-crawling capability that few SUVs still offer in this crossover age.
Part of the Wrangler's image comes from features and attributes that no other vehicle on the market can boast. Some are fanciful -- with considerable effort, the windshield can be folded forward onto the hood (to aid the occasional water buffalo hunt, perhaps), and the doors can also be removed. Why? Because it looks cool that way. But others, such as the 10.2 inches of ground clearance, the steep approach and departure angles, and the two-door's short wheelbase make the Wrangler the go-to vehicle for serious off-roading and canyon tours. Quite simply, if the Wrangler can't get you there, you're going to need a Sherpa or a helicopter.
Finally, the Unlimited model is the only four-door convertible on the market. Of course, that convertible soft top takes two people, several pages of manual reading, some muscle and practically an engineering degree to raise and lower, but hey, nothing else can do it. With the optional hard top, the Unlimited's four doors, impressive cargo capacity and relatively spacious backseat make it the first Wrangler that can be considered practical. If you love the prototypical Jeep image and capability but need something that can journey to Costco or pick folks up from the airport, the Unlimited answers the call.
Just don't expect anything nearly as comfortable or quiet as other Jeeps and SUVs. To its benefit, the 2008 Jeep Wrangler's character and heritage haven't been watered down by new creature comforts like power windows, four doors or a hard-drive-based navigation system. But the Wrangler remains a niche vehicle with major drawbacks that potential buyers should be aware of. And given that, you might want to also consider the Toyota FJ Cruiser and Nissan Xterra, as they offer much of the same off-road capability and macho image without as many compromises.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2008 Jeep Wrangler is a small (in two-door form) SUV with a convertible top. It's offered in three trim levels (X, Sahara and Rubicon) and two body styles (regular two-door and the extended-wheelbase, four-door Unlimited). The X comes standard with removable half doors with plastic windows, while the Sahara and Rubicon come with full doors and glass windows. Customers can opt for the half doors if they wish on either body style's Rubicon trim and the two-door Sahara.
The basic Wrangler X is very spartan, though a CD player with an auxiliary audio jack is standard. An optional "C" Package adds air-conditioning, upgraded cloth seats and a full-length center console. The "S" Package has those features, plus 16-inch alloy wheels, tow hooks, cruise control and a compass/temperature display. Also optional is a modular three-piece hardtop (Freedom top), a sunroof-equipped soft top (Sunrider top), a limited-slip rear differential, power windows and locks, keyless entry, remote engine start, an Infinity audio system, a six-CD/MP3 changer and satellite radio.
In addition to having many of the Wrangler X's optional features as standard (including the Sunrider top), the Wrangler Sahara also features 17-inch alloy wheels, body-color fenders, a heavy-duty suspension and upgraded seat fabric. Options for the Sahara include 18-inch alloy wheels and a navigation system featuring "bread crumb" off-highway tracking. A 20GB hard drive can also be added to the system to store music and pictures. Lastly, there's the trail-busting Wrangler Rubicon. This model's equipment level falls in between the X and Sahara, but features special drivetrain upgrades, an electronically disconnecting stabilizer bar and special BFGoodrich off-road tires.
Powertrains and Performance
All 2008 Jeep Wranglers are powered by a 3.8-liter V6 attached to a six-speed manual transmission or an optional four-speed automatic. The engine produces 202 horsepower and 237 pound-feet of torque. Most Wranglers come with four-wheel-drive, complete with high and low gears, although the Unlimited can be had with rear-drive only. The Rubicon trim has heavy-duty axles, a Rock-trac transfer case with extra-low gearing, and electronically locking front and rear differentials. In testing, we've found that a Wrangler Unlimited takes a longish 9.7 seconds to reach 60 mph -- and that was the good time. Another Wrangler Unlimited we tested did it in a glacial 10.4 seconds.
All Wranglers feature antilock brakes and stability control with a rollover sensor. Front seat side airbags are optional. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave the Wrangler a perfect five stars in frontal-impact protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded the Wrangler its highest rating of "Good" for frontal impacts; however, without the optional side airbags, the Wrangler's side-impact crashworthiness was deemed only "Marginal."
Interior Design and Special Features
Much like the rest of the Wrangler, its interior is of the rough-and-tumble variety. Although niceties like power windows and a navigation system can be added, this is still a vehicle meant to withstand dust, dirt and muck, and then be easily cleaned. We're not sure if there is a cause and effect relationship at work here, but plastics are subsequently hard and unwelcoming -- particularly those that make up the armrests. It's best to throw out any normal interior expectations when buying a Wrangler, otherwise you may find yourself regretting purchasing something so spartan.
While the two-door Wrangler's backseat can fit only two, the Unlimited has room for three. The four-door also offers 86 cubic feet of cargo space when the second seats are folded. With its soft top, however, storing cargo inside the Wrangler can be a risky situation. With exterior-mounted zippers keeping the plastic rear windows in place, car thieves can access the cargo area with ease. The only lockable areas in the Wrangler are the glovebox and decently sized center console.
The 2008 Jeep Wrangler, especially in Rubicon guise, is pretty much unstoppable in off-road situations. This is also true for the Unlimited, although its size and weight prevent it from being as maneuverable on tight trails as the two-door model. Although the Wrangler was bred for mountain trails, it is surprisingly fun to drive around the city. Its steering is light, but provides plenty of feedback through its excellent thin-rimmed wheel. The V6 engine provides plenty of torque around town, but it's completely gutless on the highway and when trying to accelerate quickly. The Wrangler's brakes also leave much to be desired, with long stopping distances.
Read our Jeep Wrangler Long-Term 20,000-Mile Test