We thought we would be getting a Sport model, however, what turned up was a 2017 Jeep Wrangler Willy’s Wheeler, inspired by the original Willys CJ, the father of recreational vehicles. The 2017 Jeep Wrangler Willys Wheeler has the usual off-roading components together with classic styling. Based on the Sport base model the Willys Wheeler edition comes standard with a Command-Trac 4×4 System, a 3.73 Trac-Lok rear differential, off-road rock rails, BFGoodrich Mud-Terrain T/A, Performance suspension, a premium Alpine sound system and best of all a 6 speed manual transmission. Off road here we come.
The Wrangler is equipped with a 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 that delivers 285 hp at 6,500 rpm and 260 lb-ft of torque at 4,800 rpm. The six-cylinder drives the rear wheels via a six-speed manual transmission, which is standard. The Wrangler has a part-time four-wheel drive system meaning you are running in rear-wheel drive for everyday driving conditions. Right next to the gear selector is another stick that allows the driver to engage one of the two four-wheel drive modes, 4 High or 4Low. Engaging both can be done on the fly, however for selecting 4L it’s necessary best to be doing about 5 mph and to depress the clutch while engaging. 4 High is what you are going to want to use for most off road driving, 4 Low is more for very steep terrain and rock crawling, which with its 10.2 inches of ground clearance our tester was pretty good at.
The Jeep isn’t as bad as you would expect as a daily driver, the gear ratios are low so you can switch from 2nd and 3rd for most urban driving. The manual takes a bit of getting used to with a high clutch take up and it’s noisy, especially with the soft top tester we had. At highway speeds wind noise becomes quite loud but you can still hear the sound system pretty well, if you turn it up. The the suspension is pretty stiff and jiggly, especially going over small undulations in the road and the steering, while superb off road, is vague, low geared and has zero feedback. Turn in to a corner and the body rolls considerably but the Jeep can be hustled along at decent speeds if pushed. With our test equipment strapped on we ran 0-60 in 7.8 seconds, traction control off in 2WD mode. Not too bad.
If I had one of these I would spend my entire weekend on the truck trails in southern California, which for the week I had one, I did. The Otay Mountain Wilderness is a U.S. Wilderness Area located in San Diego County, California, 12 miles east of the city of Otay Mesa and just north of the Mexican border. Some parts of the wilderness area rise quickly from sea level, reaching a peak of just over 3,500 feet at the summit of Otay Mountain, where you find a bunch of antennas and Border Patrol. It’s managed by the BLM and has a couple of truck trails that will take you to the summit and several more technical offshoots that beg you drive up, especially in a jeep. I headed out from Highway 94 and a few miles after the Border Patrol checkpoint you turn right onto Marron Valley Road which winds its way slowly up the Eastern slopes. Eventually you reach a hard right turn signposted Otay Mountain Summit. We continued on Marron Valley Road instead and after a few miles you reach a locked gate, however we had seen a very steep rocky track a mile back, which was worth investigating. I was already in 4WD High so I plough up the hill and promptly stalled so I had to back down and engage 4Low. Once engaged the Jeep becomes virtually unstoppable. No need to use the clutch, the ratios are so low, just squeeze the gas and it simply climbed right up. Once the terrain became less technical I switched back to 4H and continued on. Rocky, steep and occasionally wet the Jeep took it all in its stride until we reached the end of the spur road and joined the Otay mountain summit trail. We drove to the top, enjoyed the views and then came back down the Northern trail to the bottom. I don’t think I could have enjoyed the test in any other vehicle. Check …..grin inducing fun.
The following day we headed North through Ramona, CA and into the very scenic Pamo Valley to get some shots of the Jeep. Lusardi Truck trail is gated at about mile 4 but you cross streams and although not technical, is still great fun. Across the valley we tried a couple of other trails that were a tad more technical and provide more photo opportunities. As before we arrived at locked gates and had to head back the way we came.
Although not great for day to day commuting, in my opinion the Wrangler is the best factory-built off-roader on the market, period. It’s livable on a daily basis and absolutely shines off road. Go drive one………
2017 Jeep Wrangler Willy’s Wheeler Numbers
|PRICE AS TESTED||$35,120|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, 4WD, 4-pass, 2-door SUV|
|ENGINE||3.6L DOHC 24-valve V-6|
|CURB WEIGHT||4,132 lb|
|0-60 MPH||7.8 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||15.9 sec @ 82 mph|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||17/18/21 mpg|
|PROS||Spectacularly capable off-road, classic styling|
|CONS||Unrefined around town|