Changes for the 2013 model year are few for Jeep’s popular Wrangler Unlimited SUV.
Since the four-door Unlimited was introduced in 2007, sales have boomed. And the addition of Chrysler’s highly praised, 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 for 2012 has propelled the more expensive Unlimited to capture some two-thirds of all Wrangler sales.
In fact, Jeep is struggling to keep up with demand at its Toledo, Ohio, plant, the sole source worldwide for production of the off-road icons.
The new V-6 — combined with a modern, five-speed automatic transmission — definitely breathed new life into both the two-door and four-door Wranglers. With its generous 285 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque, highway driving is no longer a white-knuckle thrill ride when faced with passing situations or long inclines. And around town, the Unlimited actually feels downright sprightly.
Most of the improvements for 2013 are found inside, with improved comfort and convenience features.
Front and rear seats have been redesigned, recontoured with larger bolsters to better keep passengers in place on- and off-road. The front buckets are now comfortable enough to take the torment out of long-distance drives.
Another nice addition is the single-lever release for the split fold-down rear seats, making it a more convenient, one-hand function. There also are new interior lighting including LED map lights for front passengers; an auto-dimming rear-view mirror; a high-performance Alpine speaker system; and an available tire-pressure monitoring system.
While the interior retains its utilitarian character, there seems to be a newfound solidity in overall assembly, as well as in such mundane things as switchgear. Even washboard surfaces no longer set up a cacaphony of rattles and squeaks once common in older Wranglers.
Behind the wheel, the Unlimited still exhibits a truckish feel, with a fair bit of steering-wheel kickback from sharp bumps. Handling is predictable, with less body lean around corners than might be expected in such a tall, heavy vehicle.
As always, Jeeps are bred to excel off-road, and the 2013 Unlimited is no exception. Calling on 70 years of four-wheel-drive engineering, Wranglers continue with rugged body-on-frame construction and live axles, front and rear.
Our tester came with the Command-Trac, shift-on-the-fly 4×4 system with a part-time, two-speed transfer case to maximize on-road fuel economy. An optional ($295) limited-slip rear differential provides added grip in low-traction conditions such as snow, sand or mud.
The Unlimited has taken the Wrangler experience to a new level, in comfort and performance as well as sales. Best of all, the extra space it affords does little to diminish its vaunted off-road capabilities. It’s a Jeep, through and through.