Rental Car Review: 2019 Jeep Wrangler JL Unlimited Sahara
Recently, I took a weekend trip to Indianapolis, Indiana. As with all of my trips, I rent a car. I knew I wanted something fun, something different, something I've never driven before. I reserved a Jeep 4-Door or Similar from Enterprise Rent-a-Car at the Indianapolis International Airport. The Jeep Wrangler is really in a class of its own, so I was certain that I'd be getting a Wrangler. Once I arrived in Indianapolis, collected my luggage from the baggage claim, and proceeded out to the rental car garage, I was presented with a 2019 Jeep Wrangler JL Unlimited Sahara in Black Clear Coat with a Black interior and Black Freedom Top 3-Piece Hard Top Roof. While I work for a Jeep dealer, I haven't yet had a chance to take a Wrangler JL out for a spin, so I figured I'd rent one for now. My experience was every bit as enjoyable as I expected it to be. Here's my experience with the Wrangler.
Let's start off this review by taking about the Jeep Wrangler JL in general. The latest, fourth generation of the Jeep Wrangler, known as the "JL", was introduced in 2018, and was sold alongside its predecessor, the JK, for a year while production of the JL ramped up. The Wrangler is offered in two different body styles: a two-door, four-passenger Wrangler, and a four-door, five-passenger Wrangler Unlimited (the latter originally debuted in 2007, and was the first four-door Wrangler ever produced). Once you've picked your body style, you have a choice of four different trim levels: base Sport, well-equipped Sport S, luxurious Sahara, and trail-tested Rubicon. Most trims are available in both body styles (Wrangler and Wrangler Unlimited), except for the Sahara, which is only available in the four-door Wrangler Unlimited body style (the two-door Sahara was dropped for the 2018 model year, due to most customers picking the Wrangler Unlimited Sahara). The Sahara adds convenience and luxury items that are otherwise optional on the midlevel Sport S, including a seven-inch, U Connect 4 touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capabilities, SiriusXM Satellite Radio, a security system, upgraded cloth seating surfaces with the 'SAHARA' logo embossed into both front seat backs, a seven-inch, reconfigurable TFT full-color LCD instrument cluster display screen, eighteen-inch, aluminum-alloy wheels with Granite Crystal-painted accents and Bridgestone Black Sidewall (BSW) all-season tires, body-color fender flares, tubular side steps, premium carpeted floor mats with the 'Jeep' logo embossed into both front floor mats, and a dual-zone automatic climate control system. Our rental 2019 Jeep Wrangler JL Unlimited Sahara, which only had 7,200 miles on the odometer when we picked it up, has a total Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) of $44,085, up from the Sahara's $38,395 base price. Options on our rental Jeep included the Customer Preferred Option Group 28G, which adds the 2.0L "Hurricane" turbocharged Inline Four-Cylinder (I4) gasoline engine, producing 271 horsepower and 295 lb. ft. of torque and Fiat Chrysler's (FCA's) "eTorque" mild hybrid system, the ZF-derived 850RE eight-speed automatic transmission, Electronic Stop Start (ESS), and a 600-amp battery (a hefty $3,000), and the Black Freedom Top 3-Piece Hard Top Roof ($1,195). The $44,085 total MSRP also included a $1,495 destination charge. Enterprise classifies the Wrangler Unlimited in the FJAR class (4-Door Jeep or Similar).
The latest Jeep Wrangler JL is undeniably a Jeep: its familiar seven-slot grille takes cues from the second-generation (1997-2006) Wrangler TJ, as does its front fender-mounted LED daytime running lamps (DRL's). The Sahara adds chrome accents around the front bumper-mounted fog lamps, and chrome rings around the front grille. The standard eighteen-inch aluminum-alloy wheels ride on Bridgestone Black Sidewall (BSW) all-season tires, and there is, of course, a matching full-size spare tire and wheel. The standard tubular side steps make it easier to enter and exit. However, the exterior design of the Wrangler JL is more evolutionary than revolutionary, as the same basic shape remains. Before the Wrangler JL was released, it was rumored that it would no longer feature removable doors and a folding windshield, although Jeep knew that it couldn't mess with an iconic design, so of course the new Wrangler still includes those features. There are five different top options for the Wrangler: a standard Vinyl Sun Rider Soft Top, a "Premium" Cloth Sun Rider Soft Top, a Black Freedom Top 3-Piece Hard Top (equipped on our Wrangler), a Body-Color Freedom Top 3-Piece Hard Top, and a new "Sky One-Touch" Canvas Power Soft Top, which automatically retracts at the touch of a button, similar to the "Sky Slider" sunroof in the 2008-2012 Jeep Liberty KK. We removed the front two Freedom Top roof inserts, and can confirm that they are easy to remove and reinstall. Just fold the sun visors to the windshield, unlatch a few "L"-shaped clips, undo the header latches, and lift the roof panels out. To reinstall the roof panels, you just have to align a pin into a hole in the windshield, and then reverse the process. This way, you don't have to fumble with removing the entire hard top whenever you want some fresh air.
Inside, I was surprised by how comfortable the Jeep Wrangler JL is, and could imagine it being used as a daily driver and weekend warrior. Our Wrangler Sahara featured the standard cloth interior, and the front bucket seats were supportive and felt soft to the touch. The dashboard's metallic silver insert panels harken back to the days of the CJ and Wrangler YJ, and are real metal panels. The three-spoke, leather-wrapped steering wheel is reminiscent of the Wrangler YJ, and is fully tilt-and-telescopic adjustable, with real metal spokes. All the controls for the cruise control, infotainment system, and voice activation are located right on the steering wheel, and are made of soft-touch, rubberized material, which are all easy to press without having to move your hands off of the steering wheel. The U Connect 4 seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system is very easy to use, and features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration. There is even a USB C port for fast charging capabilities of newer smartphones, as well as two additional USB ports (one in the center stack, and another in the center console). There is also a 115 V AC outlet in the back of the center console. The standard eight-speaker audio system has surprisingly good audio quality, although the optional 552-watt, amplified Alpine premium audio system, which also features a rear-mounted subwoofer, would improve the audio quality even more. The gauges are easy to read, and the transmission and four-wheel-drive controls are easy to reach.
The optional 2.0L Hurricane Turbocharged Inline Four-Cylinder (I4) gasoline engine produces 271 horsepower, which is 14 less horsepower than the standard 3.6L Pentastar VVT V6 gasoline engine, although it features 35 more lb. ft. of torque for a total of 295 lb. ft. of torque, so you don't feel a loss in power if you opt for the four-cylinder mill. In fact, most of the time I was driving the Wrangler JL, I forgot that I wasn't driving a V6-equipped model: acceleration was smooth in mostly highway driving, and returned an excellent 22 MPG (the EPA fuel economy rating for the Wrangler, when equipped with the 2.0T I4 engine and eight-speed automatic transmission (which shifts very smoothly, by the way), is 22 City MPG and 24 Highway MPG, for a Combined Rating of 22 MPG), so our MPG ratings were right on target. In fact, we only used a half of a tank of Regular Unleaded (87 Octane) gasoline during our three-day rental. There is little to no turbo lag, and the 2.0T I4 is very quiet. I highly recommend spending the extra $3,000 for the 2.0T I4, as it provides improved MPG and power over the standard, naturally-aspirated 3.6L V6 mill. Of course, being a Wrangler and having a removable roof and doors, there will be some wind noise in the cabin (especially with the roof off or retracted), although the ride quality and handling have improved over the old Wrangler JK, making it a feasible daily driver and family hauler. A little disclaimer: off-roading a rented Jeep Wrangler will void your rental agreement, so I didn't do any off-roading in my rented Wrangler JL.
Overall, I enjoyed my three-day rental of the 2019 Jeep Wrangler JL Unlimited Sahara. It's a fun vehicle that can be used as a daily driver, as well as a capable off-roader. If you don't want to shell out the money to buy one (which, if you're in the market, you definitely should put the Wrangler JL on your shopping list), you should at least rent one for a weekend like I did. While you won't be able to do any off-roading in a rented Wrangler, you'll at least be able to see how fun one is to drive out on the open road.