COAL (Cars Of A Lifetime): 2015 Jeep Wrangler JK Sport S – Who Knew? This Thing Is Great!

Last summer, my wife reminded me (as if I needed reminding) that our oldest would be getting her driver’s permit in the spring and inevitably the conversation turned towards cars and what she might be driving when the time came.  Knowing me, this was a topic with many potential avenues to explore but my wife suggested it might be fun to look at a Jeep just to “check it out”.  Uh-huh.

Usually such a suggestion wouldn’t exactly require a lot of arm-twisting, but I’ve historically not really been a Jeep Wrangler fan.  When pressed as to why, I didn’t really have any good reasons as to why that was the case beyond a voyage I took years back that involved a long highway trip in the back seat of a Wrangler with a leaky soft top in the rain at night.

Anyway, as I said above my wife suggested it might be fun to take a look and if we liked it, it might be even more fun to drive around for a year or so until our daughter actually got her license.

So in the end we went to the dealer and took a look and drove a new one.  To my (but probably nobody else’s) surprise, we actually both liked it more than we expected.  Our dealer only had silver and black ones though and after looking at the options there we decided to look around a bit more.

Our goal was not to spend a lot of money and so we decided on the 2-door as it was $3000 cheaper than the 4-door and we already had two other larger vehicles as well as it being the “classic” Jeep shape although nowadays the 4-door supposedly outsells it 3-1.  This was late last summer and although I knew Jeep Wranglers were popular, especially around here in Colorado, I figured I had time to see what my options were.

I was surprised to learn that the Wrangler is one of the few cars in the U.S. that many people actually custom order, in addition an order would usually be filled in less than six weeks, and even more interesting a factory order was often discounted as much or even more than one sitting on the lot.  At the time it was still unknown if this model would still be in production for the 2018 model year of it it would be superceded by the new “JL” version.

As it turned out, Jeep ended up producing BOTH versions side by side for the 2018 model year, with the “JK” version finally wrapping up in April 2018 but at the time of looking it was thought that 2017 might be it.  The best pricing was to be had from several out of state mega-dealers, one of which was in Idaho and another in Virginia, and the pricing was usually around 5-7% under the invoice (not MSRP) price with some aggressive shopping.

After submitting details of what we were interested in to both of them along with a couple of more local dealers, and receiving written bids back with very minimal hassle (a welcome change from the usual), we backed off and decided that even though the pricing wasn’t bad, it was still more than we really wanted to spend and we decided to see what was available used.

That’s when we realized that these things hold their value better than most other American branded vehicles and due to the large amount of customization options from the factory as well as aftermarket, this wouldn’t be as easy as for example deciding on a Honda Accord EX in a particular color.

After looking for a month or two at a few used ones with various prices, ages, and accrued mileages, I saw an ad on Craigslist for the one we ended up purchasing.  It was being sold by the son of a gentleman from Arizona that had passed away, so the son brought the Jeep back to Denver to sell it out of the estate.  We went down, looked at it, kicked the tires, drove it, kicked the tires a bit more, looked at it again, made an offer, rejected the counteroffer and eventually met around the middle as we all sort of figured we would.

At $24,000, it was more than we ideally wanted to spend but better than the $31,000 that a new one would have been with the same options (all of which we wanted).  Wranglers seem to drop in price around $2000 per year until they are worth about half the new price and then drop even slower from thereon out, based on that we did alright.

A quick trip to the bank around the corner and all of a sudden we owned a Jeep Wrangler!

So here it is.  It was two and a half years old when we bought it, had 19,000 miles on it, still was under the factory 3yr/36,000 mile bumper to bumper warranty as well as the 5year/100,000 mile powertrain warranty.  My wife wanted to drive it and give me the Highlander and we still also had the Mercedes at the time, all of which was fine with me.

Of course then my wife drove it for a few days and decided maybe the Jeep life wasn’t for her after all, and she returned to the cushiness of the Highlander…I on the other hand have sort of fallen in love with it and currently use it as my main transportation, especially since we sold the Mercedes back in February.

It’s officially the Sport S model (the base is the Sport without the extra S) and like every one of this series in North America comes equipped with Chrysler’s Pentastar 3.6liter V6 engine producing 285hp @ 6000rpms and 260ft-lbs of torque at 4800rpms and a manually shifted 4-wheel-drive system with a low range.

This engine has been fitted to all versions of the JK-series Wrangler, both 2- and 4-door, since 2012.  Before that (since this series was introduced in 2007) it had the 3.8liter “minivan” motor.  The Pentastar is considered a better engine with more power and refinement and is currently used in a vast array of FCA’s products from the Wrangler to the ProMaster to the Dodge Challenger to the current minivans etc. (basically whatever it can fit into really).

I’ve personally driven this engine in a ProMaster van, a Jeep Grand Cherokee, a Dodge Caravan and now this Wrangler and enjoyed it in every application.  It makes plenty of power, is reasonably economical, quite reliable and while the sound it makes doesn’t remind you of tearing silk as with a good BMW inline-6, it sounds at least as good as a higher quality polyester blend tearing if that exists…

Getting the Sport S version as opposed to the base Sport (no S) means it came with Air Conditioning as standard along with 17″ alloy wheels, 255/75-17 tires and a few other niceties.  Standalone options on ours included power windows and door locks, the hardtop with removable front portions (for a targa-top feel), a 5-speed transmission derived from a Mercedes unit that is considered quite bulletproof and may have been very similar to the unit in my Chrysler 300C with the V8, 3.73 gearing, tow package, limited-slip rear differential, connectivity package (bluetooth, trip computer), and a couple other minor things.  Of course, like all Wranglers it was built in Toledo, Ohio.

The gearing is interesting in that the standard gearing is a 3.21 set.  This one has the 3.73 set which makes it quite a bit more sprightly at the expense of a little bit of fuel economy.  In reality it’s a brick, hence the fuel economy would never be stellar anyway.  I average in the high teens and can reach 20mpg on a very good day at a steady cruise when I keep my foot out of it, at least it takes regular.

What I found interesting is that as fuel economy became more and more important is the cost of the gearing option.  When the JK-series debuted choosing the 3.73 over the 3.21 was a $50 option. Last year it was a $695 option.  This is for something that costs the company NO additional money whatsoever to manufacture/install except in the way that the fuel economy is calculated and affects their corporate average.

The color is called Sunset Orange Pearl and changes quite a bit depending on the light.  It’s probably most similar in shade to those orange road construction signs, sort of a very dark orange with a lot of red in it.  Originally I thought it was the same as what is available on the Dodge Challenger and a few other Jeep models but having parked next to them since we’ve had it, realized that the shade is slightly different.

It was only available for 2015 and wasn’t introduced until later in the model year, our car was built in February of 2015.  It’s a distinctive color and we’ve only seen a couple of others like it, unlike white or black or silver ones that seem to be everywhere.  The new Wrangler JL now has a very similar color called “Punk’n”.  It’s a Jeep, might as well have a fun color, leave the gray tones for the boring cars.

The Jeep was in very good condition when we got it with the exception of some very minor surface scratches but an extremely scratched glovebox door.  The owner’s son had no idea what happened but it appears that maybe something heavy and irregular shaped was placed in the passenger footwell and proceeded to heavily gouge the glovebox door.

After pricing out a new one at the dealer I looked on Ebay and found the actual 2015 Jeep Wrangler that was used for crash testing by the IIHS that was being parted out by a wrecking yard on the east coast.  I called them and they had the door at a reasonable price.  They sent me pictures of it (above) and I also found the video of the crash test (below).  The door was basically brand new (the crash test car had 75 miles on it when crashed), had probably never been used and popped right in after I swapped out the locking latch.

As I alluded to above, I had not really been a Jeep fan.  I could probably be best described as having been ambivalent.  However, driving it is not like the really old ones, it is surprisingly quiet, is plenty quick (dare I say sprightly?  It really is!) enough, has excellent visibility, and being a 2-door is absolutely fantastic at turning in tight quarters and parking anywhere.  The biggest problem is that you tend to “over”steer it into parking spots or corners and end up making a much tighter turn than anticipated when switching to it from a different vehicle.

With the hardtop on, it is easy to carry on a conversation or hear the radio, and on the freeway, while noisier, it is nowhere near as bad as the old ones were, especially old ones with a soft top.  The hardtop seals well, and does not leak (at least mine doesn’t).

On the freeway, it’s happiest at around 70-75mph, but will do and maintain 80-85 with a bit more determination.  And faster speeds with even more…  The handling is better than expected, at higher speeds with the short wheelbase it’s perhaps a little bit squirrelly but again you get used to it. In the winter it’s amusing to drive if there is some snow on the hood, as you reach a higher speed the aerodynamics are so bad that the wind hits the windshield and turns around, blowing the snow off the FRONT of the hood in the travel direction as opposed to up and over the roof.

Around town at more moderate speeds it takes corners quite well, sitting so high up you have excellent visibility and tend to take it a little easier around corners anyway.  I don’t really think I could get anywhere appreciably faster in any other car, at least not in town.  It has a pretty wide track, as a result does not feel overly “tippy”.

Ride comfort is obviously not its forte, and it is nowhere near as comfortable in that aspect as the Highlander for example.  Then again, on normal roads it is not at all bad (really), the only time it gets ugly is on really bad roads or especially on a railroad crossing with poorly maintained asphalt, then it can be brutal and you learn to sort of brace yourself and keep your teeth away from your tongue. But while it spends the majority of its time on paved roads, I completely realize that isn’t what it was really made for.

The interior I find to be very well designed, while the plastics are all hard (who cares, it’s a Jeep), they are easy to clean, look attractive, and the cloth seats are very comfortable.  Everything falls well to hand and there are enough cubbyholes and little nets to hold everything.

The deep well on top of the dashboard is great to throw the phone in while driving and the sunglasses in when going indoors.  This interior replaced the original version for the 2011 model year and having been in both, this one is quite a bit nicer but the old one wasn’t exactly horrific either.

Instrumentation is crisp, clear and comprehensive with the trip computer also showing transmission and oil temperatures along with other operating parameters.  The heater is like a blast furnace, even on the coldest winter days it spits out heat almost immediately and very strongly and the A/C in the summer, well, it’s an American system, i.e. it gets cold enough that I frequently actually have to turn it down.

The top is not at all insulated (although an insulation package is available both from MoPar as well as aftermarket vendors that supposedly helps a lot), but the climate control systems is strong enough that this is not a must-have at all.  I believe it also suppresses noise at higher speeds which might be a bigger benefit.

I’ve made a couple of minor modifications, the first one was after driving to Laramie a couple of times and being scared absolutely out of my wits when driving past an oncoming big rig at 70mph on a two lane road.  The wind blast causes the hood to lift up against the rubber hold-downs and the hood slams violently up and down several times causing the whole vehicle to move on the road and sucking it towards the oncoming lane and almost causing a “code brown” condition for the driver.

Looking into it I came across a couple of incidents on the forums where the hold-downs had actually failed people in this scenario by snapping and the security latch didn’t do its job, resulting in the hood slamming back against the windshield and causing major damage.

I found a product manufactured by DayStar that for $23 provided a much heavier duty set of rubber latch centers with metal holding pins that once installed make it harder to latch and unlatch the hood but stop ALL movement whatsoever.  These things work extremely well and make my trips to Laramie as uneventful as in any other vehicle with a normal hood latch setup.

This problem, colloquially called “hood flutter”, is commonly noted by people that drive their Wranglers at higher speeds in windy conditions or with oncoming traffic and really should have been addressed by Jeep many years ago. Along with the DayStar product there are other hood latch options as well as hood locks, all of which are better than the factory setup.  The new JL series of Wranglers introduced last year has a very different setup that eliminates the issue as well.

The other thing I did is replace the stock headlights with a set of European Cibié lenses and reflectors, better bulbs, and wiring harness adapters.  As a result, with careful aiming, I have a better/sharper cutoff and much more focused beam that puts out more light (or at least the appearance thereof) and I can see better at night.

The rear bench in the Jeep can be either removed completely or just folded up against the front seat and held in place with a bungee cord.  Either way results in a remarkably large and more importantly square space for cargo.  The picture below shows the result of one of my trips to Laramie.

I fit all of that into the Jeep with the rear bench removed, some of it was in the front passenger seat but the majority was in the back. (That’s a 30″ sinkbase cabinet in the back and a table saw in the middle left). All doors and windows were able to close and I had as much room in the driver’s seat as normal.  Removing the rear bench takes mere seconds but it’s heavy and awkward to stagger around with, just like a two seat minivan bench back in the day.

The tow package came in handy a few weeks ago when I needed to rent a post hole digger for my new deck footings, I simply hooked it up and towed it home.  Who needs an F-150!?  The only issue I faced is that this towed device was so low and narrow I could not see it out the back.  So I just avoided having to back up.  A regular trailer should be better due to its width, I’ll have occasion to try that next month when I need to take some appliances up to Laramie.

Our daughter absolutely loves it and wants it as her car when she turns sixteen.  The jury is still a little out on that.  While I love driving it and am much more impressed by it than I had thought I would be I do realize it may not be the best vehicle for a new driver.

It’s considered fairly safe but it does have some handling characteristics that are “different” than other vehicles, mainly to do with its height and short wheelbase.  At least it has a wide track, I do not feel like it’s ever about to tip over, actually, and in the snow it’s a lot of fun to turn off the stability control and slide it around.  Some specific training regarding those aspects would be a good idea for her, and the winter might be a perfect time for that.

What is great about it for a new driver though is all of the bits at the extremities.  If she (or anyone) should have a minor “incident”, I love the fact that I can just replace the bumper or the fender liner or whatever easily and very cheaply.  With all of the customization options out there, many owners either sell their stock items for very cheap or just give them away.

Ours came with an aftermarket tubular metal front bumper.  I acquired a perfect condition stock unit, complete, for $40 across town, it’s currently on a shelf in the garage, I may install it eventually as it would weigh less than what’s installed now and would cause less damage to someone else’s car in a minor incident.

At this point I’ve driven it over 13,000 miles in ten months (32k total on it now) in all weather conditions and it is still as solid as it was when I got it, there are NO rattles, and nothing has gone wrong with it.  I’ve gotten a couple of oil changes done and when the dealer “offered” to change the differential fluids front and rear for $329 at the time the manual recommended it decided to buy my own fluids for less than $50 and spent an hour in the driveway without a jack and drained and replaced the fluids myself, there is plenty of room to crawl underneath and work on it.

If you’ve never driven one, and like me thought you aren’t really missing out, I urge you to reconsider.  Especially if you live in a city and don’t do a ton of high-speed freeway driving, I think it’s almost the perfect vehicle and can be equipped to be far from spartan.  Easy to see out of, extremely maneuverable, comfortable, excellent resale value even when abused or cosmetically damaged from what I’ve seen out there, simple to repair, rugged, durable, it’s great.