July 8th, 2018, marked the 4th anniversary of the purchase of my Jeep Wrangler. Unlike many Jalopnik readers, I haven’t typically had multiple vehicles at once... in fact, I’ve had very few in total, all used. I identify very closely with my Jeep, but otherwise I’m really not much of a car guy.
So while I can’t make many meaningful contributions to what car enthusiasts like to talk about, I can at least attempt to convey what it means to me to embrace the Jeep lifestyle.
I came up with a list of reasons why I find Wranglers compelling, and why I think their appeal has lasted for decades. Most apply to me, and I think everyone can relate to at least one of these, even those who’ve had the fortitude to avoid being sucked into my world.
Open Air Driving
I find it depressing that Jeep has placed such an emphasis on color-matched hard tops since the introduction of the 2007 JK model. Besides the fact that contrast is a vital visual aesthetic, I genuinely believe that color-matched hard tops have led some Wrangler owners to not realize their top is removable.
Owning a Wrangler and never removing the top and doors is, well, sad. Just sad. It’s ok to not have the liberty to do so regularly, but to never do so at all is to miss out on one of life’s great experiences.
I’ve ridden in convertibles. I drove a Honda del Sol for 14 years. Nothing[*] compares to the feeling of a naked Jeep, especially if you drop the windshield too. Just yesterday I gave an elderly gentleman a triple take when I pulled into a parking lot with the windshield down.
And if you think it terribly impractical to drive around without doors, you’ve never pulled into a crowded parking lot and simply stepped out. Liberation, thy name is Jeep.
(* As pointed out in the comments, of course there is a vehicle that compares favorably to a fully denuded Jeep: a motorcycle.)
Sure, there are other 4x4s in the world, some of which predate Jeep’s existence, but the Willys MB/Ford GPW became the iconic off-road vehicle during WWII and the Jeep CJs/Wranglers have been carrying forward that tradition ever since. The Rubicon edition of the Wrangler, released 15 years ago, is the most capable off-road vehicle you can buy (or, at least, that you would want to drive daily).
Even if you never take a Wrangler into the mud or over the rocks, that four-wheel drive capability comes in handy. Don’t want to shovel your driveway after a snowstorm? No problem!
And if you love exploring rural America, if you find it hard to pass by a gravel or dirt road without wondering where it might take you, you’ve come to the right place. Sure, a Subaru will also get you just about anywhere you might want to go, but who writes songs about Subarus?
A Jeep Wrangler is (more or less) a direct descendant of those Willys MBs and Ford GPWs that helped win the Second Great War for the Allies. If you remove the roll cage, remove the doors and top, a modern Wrangler bears a very strong resemblance to those rugged warriors.
For over 75 years Jeeps have been the plucky little go-anywhere vehicles that will give almost anyone a twinge of envy. They’re rapidly becoming more modern, with infotainment systems and power windows (yes, to a Jeep owner power windows count as a recent enhancement and you can still buy Wranglers without them!), but you can still leave the top off in a thunderstorm and have confidence the Jeep will be fine. You can still crawl underneath and manually shift yourself into four-wheel drive if something goes wrong. You can still have a stick shift if you want one. They still have round headlamps!
Sure, there are no shortage of car communities, but here’s the thing: Jeeps are everywhere. And given the infinite customizations possible without even opening the hood, and how much Jeep owners generally love[*] their vehicles, there’s always something to talk about with other Jeep owners, even those who don’t know a driveshaft from a steering column.
(* Here’s the deal. Jeeps, particularly Wranglers, are inconvenient and unreliable. If you don’t love yours, you won’t put up with it, so through self-selection anyone who’s been driving a Wrangler long enough by definition loves it.)
And, with the possible exception of motorcycles, no vehicle has more events for their owners. From the granddaddy of them all, Easter Jeep Safari, where Jeep (the brand) brings out their concept vehicles, to the weekend-long Jeep Jamborees that in some parts of the country sell out as soon as tickets are available, to local clubs...there is almost always a Jeep event going on somewhere.
I’ve started my own nation-wide calendar, because there are so many events and no good central place to find them. Feel free to check it out.
At least in the U.S. market, there is only one other vehicle left standing that resembles the Wrangler: the G-Wagen. Defender? Deceased. Samurai? You can still get a Jimny overseas, but not here. Bronco? Expected to return, but will it be a ragtop body-on-frame solid-axle Wrangler competitor? Doubtful.
And the customization options for a Wrangler make it possible (if not inevitable) to make any individual Jeep unique. A wide variety of tops, of doors (I own 3 different sets of doors for mine), of (ugh) angry grilles... is there any other vehicle in the world which is expected to be customized by the owner after the sale? Jeep has said that more than half of all Wrangler owners make changes to theirs.
And the colors. In a world of grey vehicles, Jeeps have always been much brighter than average. Sure, you can buy black, or white, or silver if you utterly lack creativity, but from Xtreme Purple Pearl to Hyper Green, from Inca Gold Metallic (swoon) to Jurassic Park Tan/Red, Wranglers have long been a way to escape the mundane.
Why have CUVs taken over the world? Because they’re versatile, and comfortable, and have pretty good fuel mileage. They’re just not, well, fun.
Jeep Wranglers? They weren’t all that comfortable until the new generation, and still have pretty terrible fuel mileage relative to most other vehicles.
But they are very versatile. And very fun.
They can’t tow worth a damn. You probably won’t want to pour a half ton of mulch into them. They’re not a high performance car (the only way to win a race is to make sure the finish line is somewhere pretty far off the pavement).
But if you only had one vehicle for every aspect of your daily life, and you wanted it to be fun, and wanted to make sure every weekend you could go do something interesting with it... you could do far, far, far worse than a Jeep Wrangler.