2016 Jeep Wrangler Sport S Review
The iconic Wrangler is a surprisingly refined back-to-basics 4×4.The current JK-bodied Wrangler has been with us since the summer of 2006, and while it has received many updates throughout its decade-long tenure it’s still the same iconic design. The most notable update over the past 10 years was the much more advanced 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 and optional five-speed automatic duo replacing the less efficient 3.8-liter V6 and four-speed auto in 2012.
The Wrangler Sport S includes that optional five-speed automatic, hardly a state-of-the-art gearbox when compared to the six-, eight- and even nine-speed automatics currently available across FCA’s multi-brand lineup, but it’s a reliable transmission that’s proven rugged enough to endure all the rocks, sand, snow, water and mud Jeep off-roaders can throw at it. Notably, a six-speed manual has been the standard gearbox since this model’s inception, the transmission of choice by 4×4 purists.
When compared to the base-model Sport, the S adds larger wheels and tires, these being 17-inch Moab Sparkle Silver alloys on 255/75R17 OWL on/off-road rubber which replace the base Sport model’s 16-inch slot-spoke styled steel wheels on 225/75R16 BSWs, while the list goes on to add a leather-wrapped steering wheel, chrome and leather-wrapped shift knob, and air conditioning for $2,900 over base or $26,795 plus freight and dealer fees.
My tester featured the $1,350 optional automatic transmission as well as the $1,595 Power Convenience Group that added remote entry with powered locks, powered windows, power-adjustable and heated side mirrors, an auto-dimming rearview mirror with an integrated reading lamp, and a security alarm; the $595 Connectivity Group that adds a hands-free communication with voice recognition and Bluetooth streaming, 3.5-inch multi-information display, a remote USB port, and a tire pressure monitoring display; some $495 tubular side steps; and no-cost Hydro Blue Pearl paint for an as-tested price of $31,825 plus freight and fees.
They could’ve added a lot more to this Sport S model including leather for $2,695 (that comes in a package with an nine-speaker Alpine audio system), and a tow package with a maximum trailering weight of 3,500 lbs for $395, but the only extra I’d be certain to include is the hardtop for $995 as it makes the Wrangler a better year-round companion and allows easier loading into the rear (unzipping the rear window to load in taller items is almost as annoying as trying to zip it back up again).
The upgraded Sport S model gets most everything that comes standard with lower Sport trim, such as matte black front and rear bumpers, black fender flares, full-metal doors with manual crank windows and manual door locks, a Sunrider soft top, manual foldaway mirrors, halogen headlamps, fog lamps, a matching full-size spare tire bolted to the rear cargo door, two front and one rear tow hooks, Command-Trac shift-on-the-fly 4WD, fuel tank and transfer case skid plates, a Dana 30 solid front axle and Dana 44 heavy-duty rear axle, a 3.21 rear axle ratio (a 3.73 rear axle ratio is available), a 160-amp alternator, 600-amp maintenance-free battery, front and rear stabilizer bars, deep-tint sunscreen glass, a tilt steering column, steering wheel-mounted audio and cruise controls, variable intermittent wipers, Uconnect infotainment with eight-speaker audio and an auxiliary input jack, a 12-volt auxiliary power outlet, temperature and compass display, sliding sun visors with mirrors, a full-length floor console, Jeep’s padded “Sport Bar” roll bar with integrated stereo speakers overhead, cloth upholstery, a height-adjustable driver’s seat, a front passenger seat that provides easy access to the rear seating area, a rear seat that tumbles up against the front seatbacks for a flat loading floor, cargo tie-down loops, covered storage under the cargo floor, a wash-out interior with removable carpets and drain plugs, a Torx toolkit for removing the top, a Sentry Key antitheft engine immobilizer, hill decent control (with the automatic), hill start assist, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, traction and stability control, electronic roll mitigation, trailer sway control, multistage front airbags (note that there are no side curtain airbags with the Wrangler as it’s a convertible, but front side-thorax airbags are available in higher trims), and much more for just $23,895.
While that might sound like a lot, you can get so much more if you upgrade to another trim such as larger rims and rubber, beefed up suspensions, more off-road gear, fancier body-color and/or bright metal exterior trim, remote start, auto on/off headlamps, heated front seats, auto HVAC, and navigation, but the upgraded Sport S model didn’t leaving me wanting much more.
First off there’s absolutely no need for a better engine than its superb 3.6-liter Pentastar V6. It’s incredibly smooth, impressively potent, and even sounds great. It’s the one and only engine available in the Wrangler and makes a healthy 285 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque, and while it gets refinements such as an acoustic engine cover to reduce noise, most Wrangler fans will appreciate its optimized upper intake airflow for improving overall twist, equal-length downpipes for better low- and mid-range torque response, and a high-mounted, rear-facing alternator for water fording—critical for off-roading.
The five-speed autobox suited the Wrangler well, delivering smooth shifts and absolutely no hunting around for the right gear, but the folks at FCA would be the first to agree that more forward gears would improve fuel economy. Modern day multi-speed automatics normally reduce consumption when compared to manual transmissions, but the Wrangler’s six-speed manual and five-speed auto deliver identical results with a claimed EPA rating of 17 mpg in the city and 21 on the highway for both. Yes, that city number is a bit low for a compact model, but such isn’t unusual amongst real 4×4-capable off-roaders that are inherently heavy.
That weight makes for a surprisingly comfortable ride, however, or maybe it has more to do with engineering refinements over the past decade. If you haven’t been at the wheel of a Wrangler since its TJ days, or heaven forbid the old YJ or CJ era Wranglers, you’re in for a significant shock. The JK was a massive improvement in both ride and on-road handling over its predecessor, but I still don’t remember any previous versions riding as comfortably and handling as nicely as this Sport S.
As well, I give it two thumbs up for rear access via the front passenger’s seat that not only slides far forward but also pops upwards to get as out of the way as possible. As for cargo, I’ve already mentioned the time consuming process needed to unzip the rear window. My only other complaint was the rear door that swings out perfectly for curbside access in the UK or Japan, but not here in North America.
This latest Wrangler shows further improvement thanks to really nice upholstery, while the carpets seem richer than before. Jeep finishes off the roll bar framework with nice padded black fabric too, which can be unzipped and removed in order to wash.
My tester’s HVAC interface was a simple manual setup incorporating three large rotating knobs. I like where Jeep positions the powered mirror toggle on the lower left side of the center stack, although the centrally mounted power window switches are not as convenient as the segment’s usual door panel placement, but this is understandable being that the doors are removable and the necessary wiring might cause reliability issues over time.
Lastly, the soft top was surprisingly quiet considering it wasn’t insulated, plus the rear side windows and the back window almost look like glass. Then again there’s no washer or wiper to clean the latter, and of course no rear defog for obvious reasons, but Jeep will happily rectify this problem with the aforementioned hardtop, or better yet you can get both hard and soft tops for a best of both worlds scenario.
In the end, the Wrangler Sport S is a fun, comfortable and capable SUV in town or on the highway, but if you do take opportunity to venture off pavement and engage the wild you’ll be rewarded with one of the best 4x4s money can buy. From its classic good looks to its versatile capability, not to mention its hard-to-beat pricing, it’s easy to see why it’s so popular. You can try it out in one of its pricier trims if you want, but this slightly dressed up Sport S version was a surprisingly refined back-to-basics 4×4.
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, American Auto Press; Photo credits: Trevor Hofmann, American Auto Press; Copyright: American Auto Press