Of all the Jeeps, the one that tends to resonate with most people is the Wrangler. This is the model that still resembles the original Willys-Overland GP that got the whole ball rolling back in the 1940s.
Over the years, it's been known as the CJ, YJ, and TJ and officially became the Wrangler in the mid-1980s (in the United States anyway). In 2007, a four-door version was also added to the lineup, but through it all, the Wrangler has remained a stubby, high-perched sport-ute that is impossible to confuse for anything else and places function over convenience.
In 2008, the two-door version came in three trim levels: X, Sahara and Rubicon. Power was provided by a 3.8-litre V-6 that developed just more than 200 horsepower. This engine was used throughout Chrysler's lineup, and was a good fit for this particular vehicle. It featured all kinds of bottom end, and was responsive and adaptable. Unfortunately, this came at the expense of fuel economy, thanks in part to the Wrangler's boxy aerodynamics and wind-collecting styling.
There were two transmission choices: six-speed manual or four-speed automatic. For weekend warriors, the manual was probably the better choice, although fuel consumption didn't vary much between the two: 14.8 litres/100 km versus 14.4 litres/100 km in town.
Buyers also had to keep in mind that the Wrangler was - and is - a niche vehicle. This was not practical family transport, and was aimed at drivers who wanted to project an image or go off-roading in a serious way. For the latter buyers, it came with Jeep's Command-Trac 4WD system accessed via a console-mounted lever, which - unless you were a down-and-dirty, bushwhacking commando - was more than enough for most off-road forays. Not to mention barging through the snow.
Base price was just five bucks under $20,000, and you could order things like a folding removable top, and six-disc CD stereo with MP3 capability.
Standard kit on the middle-of-the-range Sahara model included air conditioning, power door locks, power windows, cruise control, fog lamps, a traction control system and four-wheel disc brakes.
All versions featured a folding rear seat, which could be easily lifted up and out of the way by pulling on one strap. There wasn't a lot of room back there, but it'd accommodate a couple of suitcases or some golf clubs. Getting in to the back seat to actually sit down, however, was another matter, and the soft-top was known to leak during hard rainfall.
Transport Canada has two safety recalls on file for the 2008 Wrangler. The first concerns possibly faulty inner fender liners that could chafe against the brake lines and eventually lead to a fluid leak and a loss of front braking; the second affects the automatic transmission models, which could, during serious off-road activity, overheat and eventually seize or boil over.
The U.S.-based National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has an additional three safety recalls on record. Two for sketchy trailer hitches, and one affecting right-hand drive models that may have issues with the rear brakes.
NHTSA also has a dozen technical service bulletins for this vintage of Wrangler. These range from steering linkage/assemblies that could fail during off-road or continuous gravel road driving conditions, to cold start issues, to headlights fogging up, to passenger side airbags deactivating themselves.
There's a pretty good chance pre-owned Wranglers have seen their share of off-road driving, so buyers should bear this in mind.
Consumer Reports is somewhat lukewarm about the Wrangler. While it gives this model of Jeep an "average" grade for predicted reliability, it clearly has misgivings. "Squeaks and rattles" seem to be a major problem and the V6 engine has proven to be a little on the thirsty side. Incidentally, the two-door Wrangler fares better than its four-door "Unlimited" counterpart. Some comments from owners: "Dealer cannot stop the waters leaks around the A and B pillar on both sides," "Needs rear air ducts," and "Soft-top hard to figure out." Inferior fuel economy seems to be a common complaint.
Market research company J.D. Power, meanwhile, gives the '08 Wrangler failing marks in just about every category. There doesn't seem to be any area of this vehicle that meets this organization's approval. It garners a below-average grade for predicted reliability.
Expect to pay anywhere from the low teens to the mid-$20,000 range for a three-year-old Wrangler. The top-of-the-line Rubicon model appears to run about $3,000-$4,000 more than the base X model. Curiously, there seems to be a large disparity between the Red Book and Black Book values of the base X model. The Red Book evaluation is probably the more accurate of the two.
2008 Jeep Wrangler
Original Base Price: $19,995; Black Book: $18,100-$23,425; Red Book: $11,300-$15,950
Engine: 3.8-litre V-6
Horsepower/Torque: 202 hp/237 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed manual/four-speed automatic
Fuel Economy (litres/100 km): 14.1 city/10.3 highway (automatic)
Alternatives: Hummer H3, Land Rover LR2, Nissan XTerra, Toyota FJ Cruiser