The Jeep Wrangler isn’t just an off-roading American icon, it’s an amazingly popular SUV. Buyers regularly trade in muscle cars for it, and the new diesel and upcoming plug-in hybrid versions will surely add to its popularity. But the Wrangler’s star status also makes its shortcomings that much more apparent. The truth is, the Jeep Wrangler has several safety issues. And we’re not just talking about the “death wobble.”
What are the Jeep Wrangler’s safety ratings?
Overall, it is true that SUVs have gotten safer over the years. However, the same can’t be necessarily said of the Wrangler. That’s because neither the IIHS or NHTSA has crash-tested the latest JL-gen Wrangler. Even a year after its release, as The Drive reported, no US safety agency has crash-tested it. Which makes discussing the Wrangler’s safety ratings difficult.
Here’s what we do know. The IIHS ranked the previous-gen Wrangler’s headlights and side-impact results as “poor”. The 2-door also had “marginal” small front-overlap results, but “good” moderate front-overlap results. But the real trouble was in rollover testing. The NHTSA gave the Wrangler a 27.9% chance of rolling over—the second-worst result. A rollover test was the only test the NHTSA performed on the new Wrangler: 3 out of 5 stars.
Safety agencies outside the US, however, have tested the latest Wrangler. And the results are, to put it mildly, worrying. Both Europe’s NCAP and Australia’s ANCAP gave the JL Wrangler 1 star out of 5. To put that into context, although regional NCAP results don’t necessarily scale, that places the Wrangler just above a truck without airbags.
Both NCAP and ANCAP found significant chances for drivers and passengers to be injured in crashes. The Wrangler also doesn’t have many standard passive safety systems, such as automatic emergency braking or lane-keep assist. Both agencies also found the Wrangler to be particularly poor at pedestrian safety—something which the US doesn’t test. And again, the Wrangler had a high chance for rollover.
Interestingly, both NCAP and ANCAP gave the Wrangler high marks for side-impact crashes. Ironically, that’s actually one safety category the Wrangler doesn’t have to be tested-for in the US. Because the Wrangler’s doors are removable, it’s excluded from side-impact testing.
What makes the Jeep Wrangler potentially unsafe?
The Jeep Wrangler’s doors are part of the reason why the SUV has such poor safety ratings. But that’s also the reason why it’s so good off-road.
The Wrangler comes with big tires and wheels and a tall ride height. Many owners also modify their SUVs with lift kits, improved off-road shocks, and stronger axles. These features and ease of modification are what make the Wrangler a beloved overlander. But a tall vehicle has a high center-of-gravity, which is why it rolls over easily. And beefing up the axles, tires, and suspension, without strengthening other components, is what causes the “death wobble.”
The removable doors and roof add to the rock-crawling experience with the Wrangler. It also makes rollover and side-impact protection less than ideal. But some Wrangler owners may not care. In fact, arguably, the very things that make the Wrangler rate poor for safety are what make it so attractive.
And does it matter?
The reason why classic pickups and SUVs are so popular today is because they lack certain safety features. Without certain crash structures, their roof pillars are thinner, which makes visibility better. This also makes these vehicles simpler, lighter, and lighter-looking. And owners of these vehicles are clearly OK with their safety limitations.
So, if you’re considering buying a Wrangler, this is a choice you have to make. Either you accept the safety concerns being tied to the off-road benefits, or you don’t.
What are some alternatives with better safety ratings?
That being said, it is possible to buy off-road vehicles that are safer than the Wrangler. One, in fact, is the Wrangler-based pickup, the Gladiator. Yes, it still has the Wrangler’s issues with the removable doors and roof, but at least the NHTSA has tested it. Overall, the Gladiator received a frontal rating of 4 out of 5 stars. In addition, although it matched the Wrangler’s rollover rating, the Gladiator’s rollover risk is slightly lower, at 26.7%.
Another off-road SUV option is the Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro. Although it also received a “marginal” rating in the small front overlap test, the 4Runner overall out-performed the Wrangler in crash tests. It also has a lower risk of rollover. In addition, the 4Runner has finally received several important safety features in its recent update.
Finally, if buyers don’t mind moving away from SUVs and into a pickup, there is the Ram 1500-based AEV Recruit. Like the Wrangler, the Recruit is set-up for rock-crawling and conquering dirt roads. However, it’s potentially much safer. The Ram 1500 is the only full-size pickup to be an IIHS Top Safety Pick+. And AEV’s modifications leave the original safety features intact.