2024 Jeep Wrangler First Drive Review: More comfortable, most capable

Jeep has gone through four generations in 38 years of the Wrangler nameplate. The inaugural YJ (square headlights) replaced the CJ line, then morphed into the TJ (correct headlights) that introduced coil springs, then the JK and its four-door Unlimited model, and finally to today’s JL that has been on sale since 2018. Each time, Jeep engineers were tasked with two disparate goals: make the Wrangler more capable and also more comfortable.

The 2024 Jeep Wrangler (2024 below right in blue) is a heavily revised version of the JL (2023 below left in silver). It’s a refinement — a rejiggering of trims and powertrains and the introduction of the nicest interior in Wrangler history, all intended to keep Jeep in front of current and upcoming competition. Suffice it to say that the product is better now than ever before. And, of course, more expensive too.

No matter which Wrangler model you’re after, the biggest usability upgrades for 2024 are inside (you can see the differences below). While the previous Wrangler’s dash looked chunky and playful, the new version is more refined. Each trim gets unique highlights and materials, some in cloth and some in a mixture of faux and real leather. Highlights include the Mantis Green of the High Altitude and the deep red inside the 392. Side curtain air bags are not only available for the first time, they are standard.

The most obvious change inside is a 12.3-inch horizontally oriented touchscreen that’s standard across the board. The latest Android-based Uconnect software package is very good, with large icons that are easy to locate, snappy performance and over-the-air updates to keep it up to date. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are supported along with Alexa Home to Car. An improved voice recognition system now features microphones around the cabin.

The big screen runs a new Trails Offroad application that comes preloaded with a couple hundred adventure guides that help users find and navigate trails all across the United States. A route description, difficulty ratings, waypoints, obstacles and points of interest make choosing trails an easier task, and if that fails, owners can create their own in the software. A premium subscription unlocks access to more than 3,000 maps. We found the Trails Offroad app very easy to use and appreciated its seamless integration into the infotainment and mapping tech. It’s a solid effort that offers Jeepers options to find places near them to put their vehicles to use.

The 2024 Wrangler line kicks off with the base Sport model, adds some equipment with the Sport S and, for the new model year, an upgraded Willy’s that gains off-road goodies previously held for Rubicon and company. The Sahara and High Altitude are street-oriented offerings with comparatively high equipment levels. Then there’s the popular Rubicon off-road model and the new-for-2024 Rubicon X that combines all the best off-road and luxury bits in one package.

And then there’s the berserk Wrangler Rubicon 392 (below in Anvil gray with red leather) with its 6.4-liter V8 spinning out 470 horsepower and a matching 470 pound-feet through a heavy-duty eight-speed automatic. It does 0-60 in 4.5 seconds and covers the quarter mile in 13 flat but feels even quicker due to its towering height — the Xtreme 35 package (previously “xTreme Recon”) is standard, which adds, as its name implies, 35-inch tires and a small lift.

From behind the wheel, the 392 is beastly in the best way possible and feels like the world’s most absurd muscle car on stilts. Its wide stance means it’s planted on the highway, even at high speed, but steering on all Wranglers can be a bit … imprecise, to be kind, and the speeds that the 6.4-liter V8 encourages exacerbate that tiller-and-rudder feeling. Around town, things are more settled. A quick stab of the throttle equals immediate thrust and a correspondingly immediate thunder from the four downward-tilted exhaust pipes behind the rear wheels.

Most buyers will be looking at one of the more mundane powerplants. We’re fond of the plug-in hybrid Wranger 4xe that boasts 375 hp (and so is America as it’s the best-selling plug-in hybrid). There’s enough power in the 17.3-kWh lithium ion battery pack to provide an estimated 21 miles of electric range, and we found that to be an accurate average figure. While that may not be enough for a full day, it does contribute to a much more efficient package that will save its owners money on fueling bills. And with its V8-matching 470 lb-ft of torque, the 4xe strikes a solid balance between efficiency and acceleration. For 2024, Jeep added a Power Box with four 120-volt outlets with 30 amps of total output so owners can use the battery pack to power external devices. We saw it in action powering a large flatscreen television (hmm, now where have we seen that before?).

The 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 is a known quantity, and with 285 hp, it remains a reasonable choice. It’s also the only way to get a six-speed manual transmission. The optional 270-hp 2.0-liter turbocharged four gets an eight-speed auto standard and is a bit quicker and more efficient than the base six, but while it offers more torque (295 lb-ft vs. 260 lb-ft) it doesn’t feel like a serious performance-minded upgrade.

There’s a similarly long list of four-wheel-drive systems. Command-Trac uses a traditional part-time transfer case with 2WD High, 4WD High and 4WD Low modes. Locked in Low, it delivers a 2.72:1 crawl ratio. Next up is the Selec-Trac system, which is standard on the 392, optional on the Sport and Sahara, and adds a 4WD Auto mode for full-time use regardless of driving surface. The Rubicon’s Rock-Trac system delivers an excellent 4.0:1 Low range, which equals a crawl ratio is as low as 100:1 with the right packages.

These old-school transfer cases are operated using equally old-school levers next to the floor-mounted shifter. Engaging four-wheel drive with a stiff pull feels reassuringly solid, and there’s a Neutral position that disengages the driveline, making the Wrangler a popular choice to tow behind recreational vehicles.

Both front and rear axles come courtesy of long-time supplier Dana, with the Rubicon the only model getting an electronic front locker. A full-float Dana 44 is newly optional for 2024. With construction that separates the axle from the hub, the full-float rear end supports bigger wheel and tire options, and allows the automatic-equipped Rubicon to tow up to 5,000 pounds. All other Wrangler Unlimited models are capped at 3,500.

We can confirm a properly equipped Wrangler is indeed capable of lugging a 5,000-pound Airstream trailer. The relatively short wheelbase and tippy-top ride height of the Wrangler Rubicon means a traditional truck is better, but 5,000 pounds opens up more options for recreational users who want to haul multiple dirt bikes, jet skis, snowmobiles or a sensible boat.

Similarly, while the Wrangler has consistently improved over the years as an on-road offering, it’s not ideal in that role. Regardless of trim level, its quick steering wanders at speed, isn’t easy to keep dead straight, and doesn’t offer much feedback for drivers who like to know exactly what’s happening where the rubber meets the road. That said, we spent over an hour on the highway in a Wrangler High Altitude 4xe (below in silver with Mantis Green leather) and found it to be a more relaxing experience than expected.

Jeep’s excellent Sky One-Touch Power Top, standard on the High Altitude, provides a lot of the open-top experience while keeping wind noise at bay. The power leather seats are comfortable and supportive, and the 20-inch aluminum wheels wearing 275/55R20 General Grabber tires provide a smoother ride than a Rubicon. It even has power heated seats that are sealed to allow for up to 34 inches of water fording. The cheaper Sahara provides a similar on-road-focused driving experience.

Where the Wrangler really shines, as you already know, is off pavement. And that’s the purview of the Rubicon and Rubicon X. Ground clearance for the Rubicon stands at 10.8 inches, or a whopping 12.9 for models fitted with 35-inch tires (standard for Rubicon X). The Xtreme 35 package also improves the approach angle from 44 degrees to 47.4, breakover from 22.6 to 26.7 (the two-door bests all others at 27.8) and departure from 37 to 40.4. If you exceed these figures, the Rubicon’s heavy underbody protection means you’re only damaging shielding that’s meant to take abuse, not critical components. An electronic sway bar disconnect and locking front and rear axles are standard. A first-ever factory-optional 8,000-pound Warn winch is available. If it’s ultimate off-road capability you want, it’s the Rubicon badge you need.

If you’re looking for an off-roady Wrangler but don’t want to spring for the pricey Rubicon, the 2024 Willys (above in green with clothe interior) is upgraded with 33-inch tires inside enlarged fender flares, 10.8 inches of ground clearance and a locking rear differential. That’s a nice package and a solid starting point for buyers who plan to heavily upgrade their vehicles. We climbed and descended tricky rock mounds in a Willys, a Rubicon and a 392, and while the Rubicon felt most at home, all of them successfully completed the mission.

Trim Two-Door Four-Door 4xe
Sport $33,690 ($700) $37,690 ($700)  
Sport S $37,190 ($205) $41,790 ($700) $51,790
Willys $41,190 ($700) $45,190 ($1,205) $56,530
Sahara   $49,620 ($1,405) $58,640
High Altitude     $68,790 ($3,880)
Rubicon $47,190 ($2,100) $51,190 ($1,900) $62,380 ($495 less)
Rubicon X (new) $56,690 $60,690 $70,880
Rubicon 392   $89,390 ($5,100)  

All of this refinement and capability does not come cheap, as you can see above with their 2023 prices for comparison in parentheses (the $1,795 destination charge is included). The days when Jeep CJs and Wranglers were comparatively inexpensive are long gone. 

Those prices are high but are meaningless without comparison. The Ford Bronco technically starts at $36,685 for the un-orderable Base model or a more realistic $40,675 for a two-door Big Bend. An off-road-ready four-door Wildtrack costs over $60,000 with no options, and the range-topping and excellent Bronco Raptor starts just shy of $88,000. This rugged class of SUV is not an inexpensive proposition no matter where you look.

The 2024 Jeep Wrangler is a more refined on-road package than ever before while simultaneously being more capable off-road than any time in its 38-year history. So Jeep engineers hit the nail right on the head. Sales figures for the Wrangler are stronger than ever, and though the Ford Bronco is nipping at its heels, there’s no reason to expect Jeep to lose its lead in the hardcore off-road segment any time soon. You’ve gotta pay to play, and playing is exactly what the 2024 Jeep Wrangler is best at.

Related Articles

Back to top button