2016 Jeep Wrangler Sahara 4×4 Hardtop review: Wearing the hard lid

2016 Jeep Wrangler Sahara 4x4 Hardtop

2016 Jeep Wrangler Sahara 4×4 Hardtop

The Jeep Wrangler hasn’t been fundamentally changed since the time we tested a 2013 Wrangler Sahara. There’s still the base model, the Wrangler Sport, and the hard-core Wrangler Rubicon, but the Sahara remains the luxury version, if “Sahara” can be used in the same sentence of the Wrangler in any way other than geographic.

By luxury, of course, we mean the Sahara comes standard with power heated mirrors and keyless remote power locking. Air conditioning in standard instead of optional, as it is on the Sport and the Rubicon. Body color fender flares are standard—it’s black on the other two—and new for 2016 is a body-color applique on the front bumper of the Sahara.

2016 Jeep Wrangler 4x4 Hardtop right side

The 2016 Jeep Wrangler Sahara 4×4 Hardtop gets a body-color applique to the front bumper. (click to enlarge)

Additional cosmetic updates for the 2016 Jeep Wrangler Sahara include new finishes for the standard alloy 18-inch wheels (Sport and Rubicon have 16-inch steel and 17-inch alloy wheels respectively) with Granite Crystal painted pockets and polished surface. A new high gloss fine silver metallic graces the inner edges of the seven-slot grille openings and headlamp rings, plus there’s a Satin Chrome steering wheel bezel, and Quick Silver grab handle, bezels and vent rings. In other words, not a lot, but it sparkles more.

Overall changes to the Wrangler since our test of the 2013 have included across the board eight-speaker audio as standard equipment and a standard Torx toolkit for removing the top, doors and bumper end caps. Various packages and special trim models have come and gone. For 2016, The Wrangler offers a Black Bear edition for the Sport, the Rubicon Hard Rock edition, plus the Willys Wheeler edition, honoring Jeep heritage, and the Freedom Edition, “a tribute to U.S. military members with military-themed exterior and interior design cues.”

2016 Jeep Wrangler Sahara 4x4 Hardtop back seat

The back seat of the 2016 Jeep Wrangler Sahara 4×4 Hardtop is hard to get there and not very roomy once there. (click to enlarge)

However, the engine, transmission and suspension continue unchanged. The engine in all Jeep Wranglers is FCA’s ubiquitous Pentastar V-6. For the Wrangler it’s tuned to make 285 horsepower with 260 lb-ft of torque and it’s so good in the Wrangler that we’ve called it transformational. Smooth and powerful, the V-6 makes the Wrangler a daily driver, something we’d have been reluctant to say about the 3.8-liter engine that was used up through 2011.

The 2016 Jeep Wrangler has the choice of a manual or automatic transmission, the stick a six-speed with the top gear an overdrive. The automatic is a five speed and is—take a deep breath–adaptive electronic control or Electronic Range Select (ERS) driver-interactive manual control and electronically modulated torque converter clutch. In real life it means you can shift the automatic manually.

Of course there’s a standard four-wheel drive system. Two, actually, one used on the Sport and Sahara, a heavier-duty transfer case reserved for the Rubicon, which also gets heavy-duty front and rear differentials. Either way, the transfer cases have a low range, with the Rubicon getting a choice of low-range gear ratios. Both four-wheel systems are part-time only, with no on-pavement capability. Four-wheel drive and four-lo are for loose surfaces only. Shifting the transfer case is direct, via lever, and it’s no task for the weak of wrist.

2016 Jeep Wrangler Sahara 4x4 Hardtop cargo

The 2016 Jeep Wrangler Sahara 4×4 Hardtop can hold only about 12 cubic feet of stuff in its “trunk” but the rear seatback can be folded, or the seat removed for more cargo capacity. (click to enlarge)

Hard core off-roaders will prefer the Wrangler Rubicon, with beefier front and rear differentials and automatic disconnect anti-roll bars for increased articulation. The Jeep Wrangler is the only road vehicle short of heavy-duty pickups offered in the U.S. with a solid front and solid rear axle.

The Jeep Wrangler sans addendum, of course, is the two-door version of the Wrangler. The long wheelbase four-door is the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited, with trim levels and equipment mirroring its shorter equivalent.

The biggest difference between our test 2013 Jeep Wrangler Sahara and the 2016 Wrangler Sahara is that the 2016 was equipped with the Freedom Top® Body Color 3-Piece Hard Top. Hey, we don’t name ‘em, folks. It replaces the standard Deluxe Sunrider Soft Top (ditto on the naming). Our 2013 was equipped with the soft top, and at highway speeds it was…noisy, flapping in the wind and letting in every noise outside.

The hardtop, however, did away with the flapping fabric and offers some sound insulation, but a cardboard box is more aerodynamic than the Freedom Top®. It’s still loud inside, aggravated by road noise and a generous amount of hard surfaces.