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Avg. Price Paid:$15,110 - $21,769
Original MSRP: $19,505 - $30,240
MPG: 15 City / 19 Hwy
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2008 Jeep Wrangler Performance

This performance review was written when the 2008 Jeep Wrangler was new.

Reviewers emphasize that serious off-road drivers will love the Wrangler; others, decidedly, will not. The Washington Post finds its suspension and huge tires "lousy for pavement driving, where their ruggedness often translates to a brutally bumpy ride."

Of course, a sub-par on-pavement ride is what makes the Wrangler shine off-road. "We can't forget that most of the Wrangler's wrongs are necessary to make other things right," says Automotive.com. "Of the 77 vehicles calling themselves 'SUV,' try finding even one that the Wrangler won't walk all over when the pavement ends."

Acceleration and Power

All Wrangler models are powered by a universal 202-horsepower 3.8-liter V6 engine implemented with the 2007 redesign. Edmunds points out, "It's more powerful than the old engine, but it also must move more weight." Cars.com finds that the new powerplant "has the feel of a truck engine, with loads of torque accompanied by plenty of roar. Acceleration is modest, but not bad."

The engine puts out a generous 237 pound-feet of torque, but its modest acceleration proved to be a problem for several reviewers. "It struggles to accelerate for passing or even maintaining speed on a highway upgrade without a downshift," says Newsday. Truck Trend echoes, "The Wrangler has gained about 300 pounds, and even with the 3.8-liter engine's extra power and torque you can feel the added weight."

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that four-wheel-drive models with the automatic transmission will net 15 miles per gallon in the city and 19 mpg on the highway. Models equipped with the manual transmission are expected to net similar figures. MSN calls fuel economy "lackluster."

All versions of the 2008 Wrangler ship with a standard six-speed manual transmission, though a four-speed automatic is optional. Most reviewers find that the manual is more compatible with the Wrangler. New Car Test Drive says it "fits the Wrangler's personality quite well; the optional four-speed automatic overdrive is for those who appreciate convenience more than aesthetics."

Handling and Braking

Auto writers note that the 2008 Wrangler is designed to maximize its off-road performance at the expense of good on-road performance. The most praise any reviewer manages to offer the vehicle's handling is faint. U.S. News reviewer Rick Newman says: "For being tall and short, and prone by physics to considerable body roll, the Wrangler feels reasonably stable -- better than I expected. You'll never want to attack curves, but the Wrangler can hold most comfortably at the speed limit." Automotive.com echoes that sentiment, noting, "[F]or a tall, tippy cube with so many details in its disfavor, the Wrangler honestly feels not that bad."

In order to maximize its off-road abilities, the Wrangler features simple beam axles and an old-fashioned recirculating ball steering system -- a rugged off-road system that most reviewers find to be unpleasantly rugged on-road as well. Cars.com calls it "a handful on the highway, with a punishing ride and dicey handling." Steering on pavement is less than ideal. "There was a lot of play in the steering wheel," comments the Washington Post, "which meant that handling at expressway speeds was sometimes dicey."

All 2008 Wranglers feature four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes. Some reviewers had concerns about the way these brakes felt to the driver, even if their tested performance was fairly standard for the class. Automotive.com explains, "The tires break free at speeds Camry drivers take for granted, and the threshold for triggering the antilock brakes or stability control are crossed with frightening frequency (though they're subtle, and stopping distances are perfectly fine)."

Towing

The two-door Wrangler can tow up to 2,000 pounds, while the Unlimited model can tow up to 3,500 pounds. Most vehicles in the Wrangler's compact SUV class manage between 3,500 and 5,000 pounds, placing the 2008 Wrangler near the bottom for towing capacity.

Off-Roading

The same harsh suspension, simple steering and tall, deep-tread tires that cause reviewers to complain about on-road performance are what prompt them to praise the Wrangler's off-road prowess. Every 2008 Wrangler base model manages approach, departure and breakover angles of 40.8, 37.4 and 21.8 degrees, respectively. It offers an 8.8-inch ground clearance, and the Rubicon models offer best-in-class clearance of 10.5 inches.

The 2008 Wrangler is wider and longer than previous generations, even as a two-door version. Motor Trend notes the difference when compared to an earlier model, saying, "On some of the narrowest, hairiest trails our convoy encountered, an old TJ in front of us clearly slipped through more easily," but adds that "for 99 percent of driving situations buyers will unquestionably prefer the [2007's] superior ride and bulldog-solid stance." Using Jeep's standard Command-Trac 4WD transfer case, the X and Sahara models achieve a low-end ratio of 2.72:1. All 2008 Wranglers include three steel skid plates to protect the vehicle's underbelly.

Rubicon models are even more capable off-road. They feature a newly designed Rock-Trac 4WD transfer case that achieves an incredible low-end ratio of 4:1. "Combined with the 4.00:1 low range, the engine will simply idle up and down astonishingly steep terrain," marvels Car and Driver. Automotive.com adds to the praise, noting, "Get this: a Wrangler Rubicon driving on all fours can electronically lock both its rear and front differentials (in that order), forcing every wheel to claw the ground in unison for the best chance of escape." Rubicon models also allow the driver to disengage the front stabilizer bar with the push of a button, adding 28 percent more pivot to the front axle. In addition to the standard skid plates, Rubicon models also include tubular-steel rock rails to protect the underside mechanical components.

Reviewers find that even the larger Unlimited model is a "formidable go-anywhere rig," as Truck Trend calls it: "It doesn't have the extreme breakover angle of the shorter two-door, and there are situations we encountered (such as driving into and out of a steep but narrow gulley) that the regular Wrangler handled far more easily, but we never had to leave the Unlimited behind. It's a bona-fide Wrangler."

Review Last Updated: 2/17/09

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