The undisputed king of off-roading in its class, the 2019 Jeep Wrangler has plenty of cargo space and a turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Jeep Wrangler is one of America’s proudest exports. However, are its assets enough to support low predicted reliability and safety ratings?
Jeep’s proud heritage
Few vehicles have a heritage as rich as Jeep. A descendant of the 1940 Willys Quad prototype, the first Jeep was commissioned by the U.S. Army as the Willys MB. A popular vehicle during World War I, the rugged MB eventually got the nickname “Jeep.” When the war ended, the vehicles were available as government-surplus in America. Veterans rushed to get them as affordable, reliable transportation.
Recognizing the popularity of the vehicles, the Willys-Overland company produced the Jeep CJ-2A from 1945 to 1949 as an MB designed for civilian use. Next came the Jeep CJ-3A, considered the “father of recreational vehicles” by today’s Jeep company.
American Motors Company (AMC) acquired Jeep in 1970 and released the Jeep Wrangler in 1987 as “YJ.” Chrysler Corporation bought AMC the same year and produced YJ until 1996. “TJ” ran from 1997 through 2006 via more ownership changes. “JK” ran from 2007 through 2018. The current “JL” launched in 2018 and continues with the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles family.
Why is the Jeep Wrangler so popular?
One big reason for the Jeep Wrangler’s perpetual popularity is its iconic design. Even after more than seven decades of existence, the fourth-generation has the classic military profile. Everything you expect from the Jeep is there, including the large flat fenders and hood, big round headlights on either side of the seven-slot grille, and fold-down windshield. Nothing else looks like a Jeep.
Those who used Jeep in the war were amazed at the model’s convenience and comfort. The original MBs didn’t have power door locks or windows nor did they have air conditioning, heated seats, or finished interiors.
On the road, the Jeep Wrangler has come a long way in seven decades. The 2019 Wrangler offers a choice of either a 285-horsepower V6 base engine or a 270-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder. While the base engine is good, the turbo offers enhanced acceleration and power for off-roading. The current JLs are faster than the Wranglers that came before.
You’ll see the best of Wrangler while off-roading. When handled by an experienced driver, Wrangler is a beast on wild trails and rough terrain. Wrangler has a short wheelbase, high ground clearance, and shorter front and rear overhangs. The axles are super strong, the transmission is hardy, and the coil-over suspension can literally go anywhere.
You can get a Jeep Wrangler with a manual transmission. The 2019 models, according to Kelley Blue Book, offer a new aqua green color called Bikini. The new advanced safety group offers adaptive cruise control. Available as either a two-door or four-door SUV, the Wrangler has a best-in-class approach and departure angles.
The Jeep Wrangler’s murky safety ratings
The NCAP also gave Wrangler a single star for safety, claiming the SUV didn’t offer adequate occupant, pedestrian, and rollover protection. They also cited a lack of advanced safety systems. Both agencies’ notes on the safety of the Jeep Wrangler were very similar. They agreed that the side-impact standard was above average.
It’s been more than a year since the release of the new JLs. So far, neither the IIHS nor the NHTSA has rated the Wrangler’s safety. It doesn’t seem to be on the docket of either agency. Contrary to what many believe, there’s no law requiring either agency to rate vehicles for safety before customers can buy them. According to NHTSA, ratings and tests are “beyond what is required by federal law.”
The latest Wrangler generation debuted at the end of 2017. The 2018 models came along not long after. Since then, the only safety information available to consumers is the vehicle’s rollover protection rating, which was three out of five stars. When it comes to reliability, the latest Jeep Wrangler got a two out of five stars from J.D. Power. That’s a poor performance when compared to other compact SUVs. It’s also the lowest rating given by the organization.
Despite the indistinct safety ratings, sales aren’t expected to suffer. With each new model of the Jeep Wrangler, enthusiasts come running. In their defense, the car is fun to drive and can go almost anywhere.
New models don’t sit on dealer lots long; they even outsold luxury brands like Audi and Infiniti in 2018. The JL-based 2020 Jeep Gladiator arrives soon, and the lack of safety ratings aren’t expected to put a damper on sales.