2016 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited 75th Anniversary Edition Road Test Review

By : Trevor Hofmann
  Along with commemorating Jeep’s wartime contribution the new 75th Anniversary Edition is an attractive and well-packaged Wrangler. Unique features include bronze accents outside and in, 17-inch alloys, a power dome hood, heated leather-faced seats with mesh inserts, Moroccan Sun gauges and interior accents, a multi-information display, etc, while items pulled up from lesser Wranglers include auto headlamps, fog lamps, keyless entry, metal doors, a leather steering wheel, auto-dimming rearview mirror, a 6.5-inch touchscreen and more. See it no.......
                   
                   
                   
                   
                   
                   
                   
                   
                   
             
 
Have you ever driven a WWII-era U.S. military jeep? If yes you'll know the current JK-bodied Wrangler is more akin to driving
2016 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited 75th Anniversary Edition
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press
a luxury car of the same era than the ultimately remedial Bantam BRC-40, Ford GP, and Willys MA.

Yes, these three automakers submitted prototypes with Bantam's "Pilot" winning the bid, but all would go on to produce a version that would soon be standardized to conform to the much-improved Willys MB (which had significant input from all three manufacturers), with a Willys-sourced powertrain and production housed at their Toledo, Ohio plant (yes, where Jeep continues to build the Wrangler). Interestingly, Jeep's trademark pressed-metal grille was initially designed by Ford for their "Pygmy" prototype, but let's not remind the current crop of blue-oval designers or they'll lay claim on it before adapting it to their next generation of copycat Range Rovers.

These
2016 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited 75th Anniversary Edition
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press
early reconnaissance cars joined U.S. troops in 1941 just ahead of America's actual war effort, although they weren't employed en masse in battle until 1943 when U.S. forces entered the European arena, the country's focus up until then mostly in the Pacific against the Japanese due to that empire's Pearl Harbor, Hawaii attack on December 7, 1941 (they could be found on bases throughout the Pacific, mind you, and the U.S. Navy used them on aircraft carriers to move planes and munitions around). Altogether 660,703 Jeeps were built between '41-'45, their ubiquity on the European battlefield so great that German troops admitted they thought each American soldier was issued one. After the war the great General (and later president) Dwight D. Eisenhower stated, "The Jeep, the Dakota, and the Landing Craft
2016 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited 75th Anniversary Edition
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press
were the three tools that won the war." While an amazing commendation, I like Enzo Ferrari's description even more, calling it "America's only real sports car."

That quote seems even more fitting when considering the original Jeep was also the first real sport utility vehicle, a term so commonplace these days that most of us don't attribute it to a go-anywhere 4x4. After all, today's SUV has more in common with a slightly lifted and body cladding adorned station wagon, except for the Wrangler that is. Oh yes, you probably wondered when I'd get back to the vehicle in question.

As you've likely already figured out, the 2016 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 75th
2016 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited 75th Anniversary Edition
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press
Anniversary Edition celebrates 75 years of Jeep production. I poked fun at this modernized version of the original by saying it's more akin to a mid-'40s luxury car than anything that wore the Willys badge (other than the special edition Willys Wheeler, also available this year), but in reality nothing new (this side of a Suzuki Jimny or Brazilian-built Troller T4, the latter owned by Ford and potentially the basis for an upcoming Bronco) comes closer, and as much as I've loved each second spent with old wartime Jeeps I certainly wouldn't want to drive one every day.

You can do that with the 2016 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara, or any Wrangler for that matter. It gets better as you move up from base Sport trim to a Sport S, Willys Wheeler, Sahara, Rubicon, and finally to the Sahara 75th Anniversary Edition, but they're all fully livable day in and day out.

Like
2016 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited 75th Anniversary Edition
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press
the original, the modern-day Wrangler is one of few SUVs that can take you just about anywhere. Countless off-road enthusiast clubs will attest to its mountain goat capabilities, as could I after learning first hand on the Rubicon Trail, at the Jeep Jamboree, and during many other Jeep events. Ironically the 75th Anniversary Edition doesn't come fitted with Jeep's most capable off-road hardware, the Rock-Trac heavy-duty part-time 4WD system, Tru-Lok front and rear axle, Dana 44 heavy-duty front axle, standard 4.10 rear axle ratio (3.73 with the automatic), electronically disconnecting front sway bar, performance suspension, and BF Goodrich LT255/75R17 BSW off-road rubber kept exclusively for the Rubicon model, but maybe basing the special olive green-painted version on the lighter-duty Sahara is a more accurate replication of the past, being that the original was about as lightweight as vehicles came.

Rather
2016 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited 75th Anniversary Edition
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press
than ultimate 4x4 capability, the 75th Anniversary Edition delivers more than ample off-road management with loads of style and plenty of luxe features. As noted it starts off on the already pampering Sahara that includes niceties like body-colour bumpers and fender flares, a completely enclosed albeit soft removable Freedom Top, full-metal doors, deep-tint sunscreen glass, remote start (with automatic), keyless entry, auto on/off headlamps, fog lamps, powered heatable side mirrors, powered windows, a leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel with tilt, cruise control, a chrome and leather-wrapped shift knob, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, air conditioning, heated front seats, a 6.5-inch touchscreen, a rearview camera, satellite radio, 115-volt household-style power outlet, a heavy-duty suspension with gas shocks, fuel tank and transfer case skid plates, all the usual active and passive safety features, and more.

Unique
2016 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited 75th Anniversary Edition
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press
to the 75th Anniversary Edition, which starts at $41,790 for the regular wheelbase version or $44,190 for the Unlimited, is a body-colour grille with bronze accents, 17-inch bronze aluminum wheels with orange accents on 245/75R17 OWL on/off-road rubber, more bronze accents all-round including the entire front and rear bumpers, tow hooks and rock rails, a bulging "power dome" hood, cool orange badging, Mopar slush mats, leather-faced seats with Ombre mesh inserts, heatable front cushions, a multi-information display within the upgraded Moroccan Sun instrument panel bezel, additional Moroccan Sun interior accents, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, a remote USB port, a tire pressure monitoring display, an anti-spin differential rear axle, and more.

I really like the look, especially the bronze metal bumpers and wheels, and the olive
2016 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited 75th Anniversary Edition
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press
green paint noted earlier, although it's dubbed Sarge (cute) in Jeep-speak. You don't have to go with the classic army colour to get into the 75th, mind you, as Billet silver and Granite Crystal grey metallics also add a $195 charge, while Bright White, Black, and Mojave Sand are available at no extra cost.

My tester's body-colour hardtop (also removable) wasn't standard either, but its $900 charge is pretty easy to live with considering that it transforms the SUV into a true year-round family hauler, made even nicer with a $495 headliner. Other extras included a $225 for single-zone auto HVAC, $450 for navigation with excellent Garmin-sourced route guidance, $695 for an Alpine audio upgrade with nine all-weather speakers, $400 for front seat side airbags, and $500 for a tow package
2016 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited 75th Anniversary Edition
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press
featuring a four-pin wiring harness and Class II hitch receiver. You can update that tow package further with a 3.73 rear axle for another $75, get that axle on its own for $125, add a rear locker axle for $1,500, and more.

Incidentally, all of these features (except one) are WAY more expensive in the U.S. (not even factoring in the exchange rate), so Canadian Wrangler fans should be thanking our FCA division for keeping options within reach. Of course the base price at first glance appears considerably higher (the vehicle tested starts at just $38,475 USD south of the 49th compared to $44,190 CAD here), but this is par for the course with most manufacturers in Canada, especially now that our dollar is so weak. In actuality, however, if we were forced to pay a direct exchange for the same vehicle with U.S. pricing it would cost us almost $52k, so again we should be grateful FCA Canada is absorbing the extra $8k.

None of those just noted options will transform the Wrangler into a premium level SUV, the purposefully retro 4x4 being devoid of the types of soft touch plastics and luxury features expected in a vehicle that ended up approaching $50k as tested, but its rough and ready attitude is the entire point. Instead of the perfectly
2016 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited 75th Anniversary Edition
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press
manicured fingernails and soft skin of a clean-shaven banker, the Wrangler is a calloused oil rig roughneck wearing four days of stubble. Ok, I'm grasping at analogies, but you get my point. It's not for soft elitists, it's for serious adventurers, or at least for those who see themselves as serious adventurers.

That in mind there isn't a Wrangler trim made that delivers as comfortable a ride as any car-based SUV, but then again even the current short-wheelbase near entry-level Sport S I tested earlier this year came standard with a much more compliant suspension than any previous version I've tested. The long-wheelbase Unlimited is that much better, so you won't be able to complain about unending harshness like you could've with a YJ, and believe me its as smooth as a baby's proverbial bum compared to the brutal abuse my old CJ5 Renegade dished out, but of course I was in my mid-20s back then
2016 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited 75th Anniversary Edition
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press
and didn't mind getting beat up by my ride on a daily basis as long as my aftermarket Alpine deck and big 6x9 speaker boxes hanging off the roll bar kept blaring everything from Zepp's Dancing Days to The Commodores' Brick House (what can I say, I had eclectic taste).

These days the deck (if you can call its mostly digital display a deck) is still Alpine, as noted, and the same manufacturer's speakers are more neatly integrated into the "Sport Bar" overhead, wrapped up nicely within a thick removable padded canvas cover, as well as elsewhere in the SUV under branded plastic grille covers. All-round it's a comparatively refined experience, with lots of chromed and metallic trim, highly legible primary instruments, excellent quality switchgear on the otherwise leather-wrapped steering wheel,
2016 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited 75th Anniversary Edition
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press
yet more well made buttons, knobs and toggles elsewhere in the cabin, some of the best multi-adjustable HVAC vents in the business, and those partial leather seats are very comfortable up front or in back.

I've been a proponent of the four-door Unlimited since first testing it at its initial launch program in and around Lake Tahoe and then on a long Rubicon Trail trek. Off-road, the regular wheelbase Wrangler is better for navigating sharp hazardous corners, scaling steep embankments or overcoming protruding obstacles, but in daily life it can't measure up to the overall functional advantage of the Unlimited, its fully accommodating three-abreast rear seats and additional cargo capacity making it a real family conveyance. Numbers are best to describe the difference, with the Unlimited's 880-litre (31.2 cubic-foot) capacity adding 532 litres (18.8 cubic feet)
2016 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited 75th Anniversary Edition
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press
to the equation, plus 494 litres (17.4 cubic feet) when the 60/40 split rear seatbacks are folded down, at which point there's a total of 1,980 litres (69.9 cubic feet) of gear-toting space available.

And they fold completely flat too, even flipping their headrests out of the way in the process. There's a pretty big gap between the load floor and folded seatbacks, but this can quickly be remedied by pulling the rubber cargo mat forward. My tester still had its soft top installed, which took away from my ability to use it for anything large, but of course this would be removed and stored if it was my own, and it's an option you don't need to purchase anyway.

My only real complaint with any Wrangler is access to the cargo area, which is awkward
2016 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited 75th Anniversary Edition
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press
at best. I understand the reasoning for a side-swinging rear door with a pop-up glass hatch, the spare tire fitted to the former and the latter coming as part of the hardtop (believe me it's a helluvalot easier to deal with than zippered soft top cargo access). You first need to open the upper hatch and then swing out the door, which is again no real problem, but Jeep has had eons to remedy the problem of passenger-side rear door hinges that make accessing the cargo area difficult from curbside, especially when dealing with heavy, unwieldy packages. This was a problem with the old Toyota RAV4 and Suzuki Grand Vitara models, with only Nissan's second-gen Cube going to the trouble of redesigning its rear for different markets (not that it mattered in the end), but these were Japanese-designed vehicles that optimized access
2016 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited 75th Anniversary Edition
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press
from the other side of the road where people in Japan drive, so in the future it would be great to see Jeep finally break with tradition and making curbside cargo access easier.

I've already spoken about ride quality, but it should also be noted the Wrangler is decent around corners. Don't expect it to out handle a Grand Cherokee SRT, or anything else in Jeep's arsenal, but it'll more than keep up with traffic on a curving mountain road and its considerable mass makes it a fairly comfortable cruiser on the highway. Its ABS-enhanced four-wheel disc brakes are quite strong too. My favourite mechanical attribute is the Wrangler's standard 3.6-litre Pentastar V6, mind you. It's a smooth, potent, well-proven engine that even makes nice noises, with 285 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque on tap for reasonably
2016 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited 75th Anniversary Edition
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press
brisk takeoff and good highway passing performance. The aforementioned Wrangler tested earlier this year came with the $1,890 five-speed auto, a perfectly suitable slushbox for this application, but this 75th Anniversary Edition was fitted with the base six-speed manual that was plenty refined as far as truck transmissions go, and felt robust enough for the job at hand.

Unlocking two classic latches and propping open the hood reveals an engine bay filled with aforementioned powertrain and electronics, the first item catching the eye being a nice looking black plastic engine cover with "Jeep" and "V6" emblazoned in aluminum-look paint. The cover is designed to reduce noise, although what's hidden below will be of more interest to 4x4 aficionados. The Wrangler engine benefits from a high-mounted, rear-facing alternator for water fording,
2016 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited 75th Anniversary Edition
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press
while additional upgrades include optimized upper intake airflow and equal-length downpipes, which both improve low- to mid-range torque response.

Despite much improvement since saying goodbye to the old 4.0-litre inline-six, the Wrangler continues to be fairly expensive to run due to higher than average fuel consumption. Again it's important to understand that a body-on-frame SUV that's purposely overdesigned to withstand off-road punishment is going to weigh more than a car-based unibody crossover SUV, and that weight is penalized at the pump. I reviewed a 2015 Unlimited Sahara in July of that year and noted a weeklong average estimate of 19.1 L/100km as stated by its multi-information display, the same display showing a somewhat better result of 17.9 this time around, which might have to do with this model's
2016 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited 75th Anniversary Edition
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press
manual gearbox (I short-shift and coast a lot). I also noted last year's real results were closer to the Wrangler's five-cycle EnerGuide rating of 15.0 L/100km in the city and 11.4 on the highway with the manual, or 14.8 city and 11.7 highway with the automatic, which was similar this time around. The 2017 Wrangler won't offer any alternative for those that find its fuel economy less than optimal, but FCA has confirmed the same EcoDiesel that's helped grow Ram 1500 sales will be available to 2018 Wrangler buyers, that model expected to be a wholesale redesign of the current example. 

Speaking of the future, Jeep will make this 75th Anniversary Edition available for at least another year, although I don't see Sarge green in the online configurator. I suppose pushing this version into future years makes sense because it technically
2016 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited 75th Anniversary Edition
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press
celebrates a vehicle that was produced over a multi-year period. No doubt Jeep will do something even more special in five years for the first Civilian Jeep, or CJ, which hit the road in 1945, but of course special editions are hardly new to Jeep fans.

For those yet to be initiated into Wrangler ownership, I recommend it, especially if you get involved with one of the many associated 4x4 clubs. Their weekend and summer outings can be loads of fun for singles and families alike, and there are many more Jeep clubs than any other brand. If you only plan to drive your Wrangler around town, you're a tougher urbanite than me as there are plenty of other Jeeps that serve this purpose better.

©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)
 
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