This week, we’re driving the 2021 Jeep Wranglerfour-door, the larger extended wheel base version also known as the Wrangler Unlimited. Our tester also included the Willys nomenclature along both sides of the hood that harks back to the early glory days of Jeep’s true identity.

Our Willys model takes full advantage of some Army livery arriving with the extra cost ($245) “Sarge Green” clear-coat exterior paint, another either direct or subliminal reference to the popular syndicated military cartoon Beetle Bailey, where Sergeant Snorkel (Sarge) is usually escorted with his faithful companion dog, named Otto, in a Willys Jeep. Either way, today’s Jeeps are making sure its history that dates back to 1941 is on display in full marketing regalia to each and every Jeep consumer.

Although the Beetle Bailey comic strip is clearly fiction, our modern-day Wrangler Willys is the real deal. It not only shares DNA with the original 1941 Willys Jeep, it continues to have little or no competition. This comes thanks to Jeep’s loyal (some say cult-like) consumers who, regardless of age demographic, gleefully enjoy an ever-expanding Wrangler lineup that now boasts over 20 two- and four-door Wranglers to choose from. Other manufacturers have tried, but none have been able to penetrate the magic of owning a Jeep Wrangler.

To further explain Jeep’s birthright, back in 1941 Willys-Overland took its newly developed 80-inch wheelbase transport military vehicle direct to Washington, D.C., and had then-Sen. James Meade of New York along with four passengers, drive the new Willys “Scout” Jeep straight up the 365 steps that lead to the U.S. Capitol. Meade turned around at the top and drove the Jeep back down the steps without a hitch much to the surprise of the many government officials and press photographers that had gathered. Not surprisingly, Willys-Overland won the military contract on the spot.

Fast forward to 2021, Fiat Chrysler hasn’t forgotten the family legacy as of the distinct two and four door Wrangler models available, you’ll find two that utilize the Willys branding birthright, namely our Willys Unlimited four-door 4x4 that starts at $39,310 or the Willys Sport two-doorWrangler 4x4 that starts at $30,820.

For those working on a tight budget, remember that the entry Sport 4x4 two-door starts at just $28,575 and then graduates through all the trims to arrive at the ultimate Wrangler Rubicon 392 SRT Hemi V8,that starts at $73,745 in four-door trim only.

Our Willys Jeep came with some expensive options,including a $5,695 Customer Preferred Package. Included are Firestone Destination 17-inch tires mounted on special 7.5-Inch Moab Black aluminum wheels, LED Headlamps and fog lamps, Group Rock-Protection sill rails, deep-tint sunscreen windows, power-heated mirrors, keyless-entry, anti-spin differential rear axle, heavy-duty 4-wheel disc anti-lock brakes, leather-wrapped steering wheel,all-weather floor mats by Mopar, and much more.

Our tester also featured a Sun and Sound Package where for $4,190 you receive the innovative Sky One-Touch Power-Top, an Alpine Premium 8.4-inch audio group, Android and Apple compatibility, 115-volt–outlet, air conditioning with automatic temperature control, media hub with two charge-only USB ports, Uconnect with NAV, another USB Port, GPS Navigation, SiriusXM with 6-Month Free, SiriusXM Guardian Connect Services with one year free, 4G Wi-Fi, removable rear quarter windows, rear window defroster, power top quarter window, storage bay and much more. We just don’t have the space to list everything.

Under the hood sits Jeep’s impressive turbo-charged 275-horse,290-torque 2.0-liter inline-4 with start/stop connected to an 8-speed automatic 850RE transmission. The 4x4 is Jeep’s Torque Command part-time with hi-low transfer case. Everything is protected during off-road excursions thanks to numerous skid plates located underneath. The engine delivers good acceleration while fuel mileage is an acceptable 21 city and 24 highway. The other engine available is the no extra cost 3.6-liter V6 engine putting out 285 horses and 260 lb. ft. of torque, although fuel mileage drops to 17 city and 21 highway.

The heavy duty eight-speed automatic transmission costs $1,500 more and is designed especially for more rugged 4x4 outings. Our Willys features Dana brand axles, modern safety and traction assists, and all the necessities for some serious off-road excursions.

Built in Toledo, Ohio, the EPA lists Wrangler as a smallSUV that is not built to compare with automobiles in safety or ultimate comfort features. Some will find entry to be cumbersome with no step in assist, road noise high and handling not that great.

But when you take this same Jeep off road or drive in a major snowstorm, the Wranglers become outstanding vehicles capable of going where others cannot. Further, if you drive the smooth freeways, a Wrangler Unlimited is decent considering its build objectives and longer wheelbase. Our Willys came with a full-size spare located on the swing-open rear door.

Other options our tester included a $995 safety group, $795 Advanced Safety Group, $195 Cargo Upgrade, $995 Technology Group, $395 Convenience Group, $995 Cold Weather Enhancement, $795 Towing and Electrical upgrade, and $1,495 for destination. This brought the final retail to $50,265 after a $1,400 value savings discount.

Important numbers include a wheelbase of 118.4 inches, 4,167 lb. curb weight, 21.5 gallon fuel tank, 3,500 lb. tow capacity, 20.4 ft.turn radius, 8.3 inch ground clearance and 31.7 to 72.4 cu. ft. of cargo space.

In summary, until you own a Jeep Wrangler in any trim, it’s difficult to comprehend why this vehicle is so popular. It may not be a vehicle for everyone, but for those who test drive and then buy one, they’ll quickly understand.

Greg Zyla is a syndicated auto columnist.

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