ROAD TEST: 2019 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara

By Shari Prymak

Jeep pulled off quite an impressive feat with its latest generation Wrangler. Known as the JL, the current Wrangler manages to embrace the latest in technology and refinement, while preserving the qualities for which it has been loved for so many generations. The JL remains a quirky, slightly crude, adventure rig complete with full-on off-road chops, removable doors, a folding windshield, and all. True Wrangler enthusiasts wouldn’t have it any other way, however, there are quite a few out there who would prefer having a bit more livability in their day-to-day drive. Fortunately, Jeep offers a reasonable compromise in the form of the Wrangler Sahara Unlimited.

Unlike the stripped-down Sport model or the more hardcore, off-road focused Rubicon model, the Sahara is intended for the Wrangler fan who appreciates a slightly more relaxing on-road experience. The tires are street-friendly all-terrains, and there is an available full-time 4×4 system similar to what you might find in a more generic SUV. The driving experience remains very Wrangler-like with plenty of body motions, road noise, and a certain primitive quality which would likely be considered offensive in a normal SUV.  These quintessential Wrangler characteristics, however, are better contained now than ever before, helping to edge the Sahara a bit closer to daily-use livability.

The interior is a well-designed space with rugged-looking controls and a few attention-grabbing details. The available Uconnect infotainment system remains as impressive as ever and is complimented by user-friendly controls for common audio and climate control functions. Notable options include active safety tech such as adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, and blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert. There’s also an available sky power soft top which helps ease the open roof experience with one-touch power operation. It’s an effective design that perfectly complements the easily removable doors and rear-glass panels for that unbeatable open-air experience.

All Wrangler models come equipped with the standard naturally-aspirated 3.6L V6 engine matched to either a 6-speed manual gearbox or an optional 8-speed automatic transmission. Sahara models offer the option of a 2.0L DI turbocharged 4-cylinder engine which only comes with the automatic transmission. The turbo four produces 270 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque, enough power for fairly effortless acceleration. It also utilizes a mild-hybrid system which Jeep calls eTorque for improved fuel economy over the V6. My tester averaged 10.5L/100km in mixed city and highway driving, which is quite impressive for a Wrangler. Even so, Wrangler fans tend to favour simplicity, and I’m not sure how many are willing to accept the upcharge and added complexity of the turbo eTorque engine in exchange for a bit more performance and efficiency.

The additional comforts and technology that Jeep has treated the Wrangler with have no doubt made it into a more convincing on-road companion. In traditional Jeep fashion, however, everything comes with a price. Wrangler pricing starts at $33,695 for a bare-bones Sport model and climbs to $45,495 for the Unlimited Sahara. My tester came heavily optioned with the pricey $3,995 sky power soft top, $995 turbo eTorque engine, $895 and $1,450 safety packages, and several other options for a total MSRP of $62,270. That’s well into luxury SUV money.

Comparing the Wrangler to the many luxury brand options in the SUV segment is obviously not an apples-to-apples form of evaluation. Then again, the Wrangler can’t really be compared to anything. It essentially exists in a class of one, which is part of its unique appeal, and also partially why resale values remain unusually strong. There’s no question that Wrangler ownership has become a rather pricey proposition, but if your mind is set and you must have the most street-friendly iteration, the Unlimited Sahara is the way to do it.