2019 Jeep Wrangler Sahara test drive: The all-around Wrangler

There are two kinds of Jeep Wrangler owners: Those who do and those who don’t. Wheel, that is. Off-road. Rock crawl. Whatever your dirty pleasure.


Wranglers are actually designed to do all that before they get dressed up like family cars, even if many owners never take advantage of anywhere their full capability. Which is OK, because they are also good for the snow and driving to soccer practice with the kids in the back and the top down … and the doors off.


Among the many models available, I can tell you that the best all-around Wrangler for these folks is the leather-upholstered semi-luxe Sahara trim level. As long as you order it correctly. That would be with the turbocharged 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder eTorque mild-hybrid powertrain and full-time all-wheel-drive system.

The latter is currently only offered on the Sahara and totally transforms the day-to-day utility of the Wrangler. It replaces the standard part-time transfer case -- which shouldn’t be engaged in 4x4 on clear paved roads -- with a unit that can constantly adjust the amount of torque being sent fore and aft. That lets you set it and forget it. For those who do venture off the beaten path now and then, it still has true locked 4WD Hi and Lo settings so it doesn’t give up any off-road capability. (Keep in mind that if you want to hit the really rough stuff, you'll still need to step up to a Rubicon.)


There’s no technical reason for it not to be offered on other models, like the entry-level Sport, but with Wrangler sales as strong as they’ve been, it’s an extra incentive to get folks to step up to the Sahara, which starts at $39,890. You can be sure it will trickle down if demand ever drops far enough, but for now it’s a $595 option that requires the addition of a limited-slip differential for the same price and the $2,000 8-speed automatic transmission. Don’t put your calculator away yet.

The 270 hp eTorque costs $1,000 more than the 285 hp V6, but lives up to its name by cranking out 295 lb-ft at 3,000 rpm compared to six-cylinder’s 260 lb-ft that arrives at a hard-working 4,800 rpm. The electric motor never powers the vehicle on its own, but does help the Wrangler achieve a combined fuel economy rating of 22 mpg, while the V6 can only muster 20 mpg. It’s not a big gap, but it will cover that extra grand in gas savings by the time your 60-month financing term is up.


At the end of a week of mixed driving, I hit that 22 mpg mark right on the money. The main tradeoff is that the engine makes a bit of a racket during cold idle. If you leave for work early in the morning, your neighbors may have a word with you.


It only takes a moment to settle down, however, and the Wrangler cruises away quietly. Hit the accelerator hard and the electric motor gets you moving in an instant by chipping in 71 lb-ft of torque as the turbo gets the engine going, their light hum and whistle adding an interesting accompaniment to the sounds of combustion.


But even with just the soft top, the Sahara is reasonably quiet everywhere except tunnels. Each of the various hardtop options dial things down a few decibels, and the Sky One-Touch Power Top is the best of both worlds. It combines hard sides with a giant retractable sunroof, but does cost a sky-high $3,995.

Instead, you might want to spend $1,790 of that on the Active Safety Group and Adaptive Cruise Control driver aid packages. The latter isn’t available on lower trim levels and comes bundled with an automatic emergency braking system.

When equipped along these lines, the Sahara can almost fool you into thinking it’s a typical crossover. But it isn’t. The military-industrial design never lets you forget that and it still turns heads – especially when the Wrangler is painted Hella Yella – even though it’s one of the best-selling vehicles in the country.

The Sahara might not be the cheapest of them, but you definitely get what you pay for.



2019 Jeep Wrangler Sahara 4x4

Base price: $39,890

As tested: $51,215

Type: 4-door, 5-passenger SUV

Engine: 2.0-liter 4-cylinder with electric motor assist

Power: 270 hp, 295 lb-ft

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Fuel economy: 22 city/24 hwy