By Peter Perrotta
When I think of Jeeps, I can’t help but recall Bill Holland, the first managing editor I ever worked for back in the late ’70s.
Holland was a throwback Damon Runyonesque character. He was a U.S. military veteran who loved to tell stories. He drove old military manual transmission Jeeps with no side doors or roofs.
He usually moored a barley running boat in one of the Delaware marinas. On a nice spring day, if you were fortunate enough to be in his company, he would say, “Come on kiddo, hop in.”
The next few hours would be priceless.
You would ride shotgun with him down to the marina in this Jeep that would shake you up like a milk shake. All the while, Holland would be telling you old war stories you could barely hear over the roar of the Jeep’s engine and the wind.
The boat ride was much of the same. The wind and cacophony of the boat’s engine were too much to overcome Holland’s storytelling and after a few beers it became increasingly more difficult to keep your footing on board.
Nevertheless, at the end of the day, it was always an adventure you would cherish forever.
In those days, people who drove Jeeps were few and far between. Nowadays, its’s the “in” thing to drive a Jeep.
I recently jumped behind the wheel of a 2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited 4X4 Willys edition to bring my readers up to speed on this latest trend.
First off, a lot has obviously changed since the days of Bill Holland. The fashionable Jeeps the millennials now favor come chock full of the latest creature comforts: removable side doors which you can pop back on once you finish your ride in the country; air conditioning; Bluetooth device connectivity; voice activated navigation; and automatic rollback soft tops, just to name a few.
The 2021 Wrangler Unlimited 4X4 Willys edition I drove for one week carries a bottom line sticker price of $50,265 – with a base price of $31,975.
Added options included: $5,695 for the customer preferred package; $995 for an upgraded 7-inch navigation screen; $995 for heated seats and remote start; $4,190 for the sun and sound package and more.
The customer preferred package includes 17-inch black aluminum wheels, LED headlamps, rock protected side rails, heavy duty disc brakes, deep tint sunscreen windows and more.
The sun and sound package includes: a sky, one touch power soft top; a premium Alpine sound system; GPS navigation; removable rear quarter windows and more.
My tester was powered by a 2.0 liter, in-line four cylinder turbo charged engine with an electric motor boost and comes paired with an 8-speed automatic transmission. This power plant is capable of producing 270 horsepower.
Overall, the Jeep Wrangler performs much better off road. That is where this vehicle really shines. This Jeep Wrangler is far more comfortable in the dirt, mud or sand then on a smooth paved interstate.
I like that fact that Jeep maintains the old style manual shift differential shifter to be used to place the vehicle in four wheel low or high modes. I prefer this set up over the more modern push buttons.
When I took this Wrangler off the beaten path on the sandy trails of the Pines, it was extraordinary. It is literally capable of chewing up anything under foot.
On the other hand, don’t expect it to be equally as comfortable out on the open paved roads.
I took this Wrangler on a couple of long highway jaunts. You should expect to feel the road and all of its nooks and crannies when you drive around town with the Wrangler. It is not a particularly refined ride when driving this type of vehicle around town or on the highway.
That being said, the popularity of the Jeep Wrangler these days seems to indicate that its owners seem to be willing to compromise its lack of refinement on road to the advantages gained when you take this rig off road.
This year marks the 80th anniversary of the Jeep Wrangler and the brand has several special edition models it is putting out to honor the occasion.
The big news for the 2021 Wrangler is the introduction of two new engines for the model: a plug-in hybrid 4XE and a fire-breathing 470 horsepower V-8 that comes available in the top-of-the-line Rubicon 392.
The four-cylinder tester I drove for a week gets an EPA rated 22 miles per gallon overall – 24 mpg in highway driving and 21 in city driving.
The EPA estimates that it would cost about $1,850 a year to operate this Wrangler as it uses about 4.5 gallons of gas per every 100 miles driven.
The 2021 Wrangler Unlimited I drove received 4 star out of 5 crash test marks for the frontal crash test for both the driver and passenger sides. It received a 3 star rating for the rollover test. It was not given an overall rating score yet.
Peter Perrotta’s On The Road column appears weekly. He can be contacted at email@example.com