Among the skeptics on our staff, few test rigs ever meet with unanimous acclaim. Something's always too loud or too low, or too loose or too lousy, or simply too lame to satisfy some staffer's taste when it comes to OE test mules. In the case of our long-term JK Wrangler, though, after six months in our stable we've yet to hear a word of serious disparagement from any of the usual sources. And for good reason. While the JK does have its shortcomings, they pale in comparison to its many vehicular virtues, which we continue to enjoy as we approach 10,000 miles with it.
Last March, we loaded up the JK for a weeklong trek, from our palatial SoCal home office to the wilds of Moab, to spend a few days of wheeling at Easter Jeep Safari. During the 1,500-mile roundtrip, the Wrangler answered our duty-calls without complaint or protest, though we found ourselves buffeted often from side to side on the Interstate by high winds when cruising the upper altitudes of the Wasatch Range-a gentle reminder that the tall, boxy, and knobby-tired JK is not a car and shouldn't be driven like one. We did, however, enjoy having Sirius satellite on hand for those long desolate stretches on Interstate 70. And we really appreciated the JK's cloth seats, which feature plenty of side bolstering and ample mid-back support. We still wished for more power from the anemic 3.8L V-6 for those long mountain grades, as well as for another gear (or two) from the sometimes-erratic 42R four-speed automatic transmission, but overall, the JK is simply the most streetable version of a short-wheelbase Jeep that's ever been built.
Once in Moab, the JK was happily in its element, with its solid 44 axles, coil/link suspension, 50:1 crawl gear, and pushbutton lockers providing all the flex and traction we could ever have asked from a bone-stock 4x4. While the Jeep's plenty capable in stock trim, there are also plenty of options out there for buyers who want more power, more flex, more clearance, or more tire via the aftermarket.
And once back at home on the Westside of L.A., the Jeep's terrific rear sightlines, short wheelbase, and acute turning circle are real life-savers whenever we're navigating the speed bumps at the Beverly Center or trying to squeeze into a parking space at our pal Giuseppe Franco's.
Regarding maintenance, the only downtime we've experienced thus far in our test was the obligatory 7,500-mile service, which was ably performed by the helpful shop-dudes at La Brea Chrysler/Jeep near our L.A. offices. La Brea's service techs informed us that a Service Bulletin had been issued for our droopy passenger-door weatherstripping, and new adhesive was applied to the sills, and the strip reattached, at no charge. We've had no issues with the JK since then.
Mileage during the most recent test period has improved somewhat from the 14.5 we logged in our last test, with a test-best 18.7-mpg tank coming on a 200-mile run down the I-15 from Cedar City to Las Vegas.
For now, we've learned to live with the mundane mileage and enjoy the best of both worlds-a king-of-the-trail four-wheeler and a comfortable and nimble urban runner-in one appealing package. We'll be back for another update as we get closer to 15K.
Report: 2 of 4
Previous reports: Apr. '08
Base price: $26,695
Price as tested: $32,420
Four-wheel-drive system: NVG241 "Rock-Trac" part-time two-speed
Miles to date: 9,875
Miles since last report: 4,897
Average mpg (this report): 15.33
Test best tank (mpg): 18.78
Test worst tank (mpg): 12.26
This period: 7,500-mile service; fluid, filter replacements, interior weatherstripping repair at no charge
Problem areas: None
What's Hot, What's Not
Hot: Nonpareil wheelability; surprisingly comfortable cloth seats; easy to maneuver and park in tight spots; Sirius satellite is good company on long solo drives
Not: Limited low-end power; crude four-speed automatic; tendency to wander at higher speeds; mediocre mileage
* "Sirius stereo is great company; sound quality is wonderful for a small cab."
* "3.8L = The Little Engine that Couldn't. Bring back the inline!"
* "Loves to play in the rocks-amazing articulation for a stock 4x4."
* "Two-handed gas cap removal is annoying."
* "Super-maneuverable in traffic. My new favorite around-town rig."