Full 2009 Jeep Wrangler Review
What's New for 2009
For 2009 the Jeep Wrangler and Wrangler Unlimited receive a handful of upgrades, including hill start assist, trailer sway control and a small storage net under the center stack.
Baseball superstar Manny Ramirez gets away with a lot -- he's been known to disappear behind Fenway's Green Monster during pitching changes to relieve himself or talk on his cell phone. The 2009 Jeep Wrangler also gets away with a lot, too. By nearly all conventional measures, it's a horrid passenger vehicle that seems to combine the worst of all worlds. It's slow yet gets poor gas mileage, it rides stiffly yet handles poorly and the cabin features an abundance of hard plastic along with doors that provide all the crash protection of a trash can.
However, the Jeep Wrangler is the vehicular equivalent of the quirky Manny being Manny -- it too is cut major slack because it's very good at what it does. Rather than being able to consistently get the big hit, the Jeep Wrangler consistently is a hit in areas where other SUVs fear to tread and with outdoorsy folks who want nothing less than the most capable off-road vehicle available. Without question, the 2009 Jeep Wrangler is for those who want to reach the most remote locations possible using something with four wheels and a roof (rather than four legs with hooves). They probably also love the macho image associated with this icon that's been around in one form or another since the 1940s.
A number of unique features contribute to the Wrangler's charm and formidable rough-terrain abilities. If you're looking for the most invigorating exposure to the great outdoors this side of a dual-sport motorcycle, this is your ride. The top goes down, the doors come off and the windshield can fold down onto the hood (albeit with great effort). Meanwhile, 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. If the Wrangler can't get you there, then you should probably consider traveling by helicopter.
Those willing to give up a little mountain goat-like agility off the beaten path in exchange for more passenger and cargo space have the four-door Wrangler model, called the Unlimited. There is a price to pay, however, for driving the only four-door convertible SUV offered in modern times, as that manual top takes two patient and strong people – hopefully, one who's tall and well-versed in mechanical engineering -- to lower and raise.
Even if you choose the Wrangler Unlimited, don't expect anything nearly as comfortable or quiet as other Jeeps and SUVs. Should your trail-busting requirements be somewhat less heroic, consider the Nissan Xterra or the Toyota FJ Cruiser, as they offer plenty of off-road ability and macho image without requiring one to put up with Wrangler being Wrangler.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2009 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). Regular doors are standard, but customers can opt for half-doors with plastic windows if they wish on either body style's X or Rubicon trim.
The basic Wrangler X is very spartan, although hill start assist and a CD player with an auxiliary audio jack are standard. An optional "B" 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 are 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 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 hard-drive-based navigation system with digital music storage capability. Last, there's the trail-busting Wrangler Rubicon. This model's equipment level falls in between the X and the Sahara but features special drivetrain upgrades for improved off-road ability, electronically disconnecting stabilizer bars and exclusive BFGoodrich off-road tires.
Powertrains and Performance
All 2009 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-wheel drive only. 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 took a sluggish 10.4 seconds. The EPA estimates a 4WD Wrangler's fuel economy at 15 mpg city/19 mpg highway and 17 mpg combined.
Towing capacity when properly equipped is 2,000 pounds for the Wrangler, 3,500 pounds for the Wrangler Unlimited. The towing package also includes trailer sway control, which utilizes the standard stability control system to help prevent the tail from wagging the dog. Wrangler Rubicons have heavy-duty axles, a Rock-Trac transfer case with extra-low gearing, and electronically locking front and rear differentials.
All Wranglers feature antilock brakes, stability control with a rollover sensor and hill start assist. Front-seat side airbags are optional. In government crash testing, the 2009 Jeep Wrangler earned a perfect five stars in frontal-impact protection. Similarly, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded the Wrangler its highest rating of "Good" for frontal offset impacts. However, without the optional side airbags, the Wrangler's side impact crashworthiness was deemed "Poor" for the two-door (the IIHS's worst rating possible) and only "Marginal" for the four-door Unlimited (the second lowest rating).
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 designed to play in the dirt and mud and then be easily cleaned. We're not sure if there is a cause and effect relationship at work here, but the plastics are subsequently hard and unwelcoming -- particularly those that make up the armrests. It's best to throw out any normal interior comfort or quality expectations when buying a Wrangler; otherwise, you might find yourself regretting your purchase.
Whereas the two-door Wrangler's backseat can fit only two, the Unlimited has room for three. The four-door offers 86 cubic feet of cargo space when the second-row seats are folded. The cargo area can also be opened up to greet the sky via the removal of the convertible top. The soft top's operation, however, is rather complicated, with multiple steps involving a variety of clips, clamps, catches, straps, rods and zippers, and people short in stature might find the process especially challenging. The soft top also lacks security -- car thieves can access the cargo area simply by undoing a window zipper.
The 2009 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 rugged mountain trails, it is surprisingly fun to drive around the city. Its steering is light but provides plenty of feedback through its thin-rimmed wheel.
The V6 has respectable low-end torque but quickly runs out of breath and is thus 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.