2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Freedom Long-Term Test Intro


It’s perhaps a bit ironic that Jeep has Ford to thank for at least one sale. Last summer’s media blitz surrounding the coming release of the still-coming Bronco stirred a latent yearn within the soul of my wife. A winter vacation to an RV park in Florida had her thinking aloud about the joy of driving topless (the Jeep, you pervs), while an oft-delayed home refinance freed up a good portion of our paychecks.

The result – the 2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Freedom you see before you. In the time-honored tradition of TTAC thumbing noses at the buff books and their manufacturer-supplied long-term testers, I’ll be bringing periodic updates about the ownership of one of the most venerable nameplates to grace our roads. A brief discussion of the buying process – and the disposal of our previous steed – will be included.

Last – let me emphasize – this is my wife’s car. Neither of us has, in forty-two years on this earth, ever purchased a new car. My bride has long relied on cast-offs from others, never truly choosing exactly what she wants – so this process was guided by her wants and needs. I lent whatever expertise I could, and was the primary contact with the dealership – but it’s HER baby.

Our beloved 2012 Chrysler Town & Country (occasionally and amusingly mistyped as Tonn & Country) had seen our family through everything you’d expect of a minivan – from hauling an entire vanload of Girl Scout Cookies, to hauling said scouts across town to one event or another. It’s been from our Ohio home to Maine, to Wisconsin, and at least twice to Florida – one particularly memorable trip loaded with our two kids as well as both my mother and my mother-in-law to a week at the various Disney parks. But it’s getting old – the transmission, for one, had been giving us problems beyond my ability to fix.

After making our Jeep purchase, I decided to get rid of the van the easy way – CarMax. I entered info into their online “Sell My Car” instant quote, got a number roughly equal to what I’d likely get if I sold on Craigslist, and spent a whopping 40 minutes inside the local store to get a check. Not a paid plug for CarMax at all – just a pleasant experience in disposing of an unneeded vehicle.

Enough with the old – onto the Jeep. While my country-girl bride had long made suburbanite Chris aware of her love of lifted pickup trucks, somehow I’d never realized through fifteen-plus years of marriage that Jeeps fell into that category for her. The top-down driving experience is another factor – one that basically made all other categories of new car forgettable. We briefly considered a Gladiator – but we often need a weatherproof cargo area while traveling. Even with a tonneau, a truck bed wouldn’t be ideal. It was Wrangler now, or wait a year for the Bronco to be readily available and compare the two. The trans problems on the van sealed the deal.

My wife, after riding shotgun in so many of my test vehicles on cold winter mornings, had made one feature a requirement in any new purchase – heated seats. The $995 Cold Weather Group, which also includes remote start, was a must-have while shopping. She’s not what one would call a driving enthusiast – so an automatic trans was needed as well. She wanted the three-piece hardtop – not the sliding fabric sunroof called the Powertop, nor the traditional fabric soft top that would likely be a bit frigid come an Ohio winter. We were gas-engine agnostic – while I like the V6 Diesel offered in the Wrangler, the extra per-gallon cost would take entirely too long to pay back. So we looked at both the two-liter turbocharged four (from Alfa Romeo) and the familiar Pentastar V6.

Finally, the paint color choices affected our searches. She looked at the palette of available colors and was dismayed by what she saw as we drove through local dealerships. Not at all surprising, but dealers tend to stock the hot sellers – black, white, gray, silver, red. She was bored by those – she’s driven cars in those shades of ennui all of her life. Our Chevy Trailblazer is painted maroon – so she didn’t want the similar Snazzberry. She doesn’t much like yellow and orange, so Nacho and Hellayella were out. That left us two shades of blue, both of which she told me she’d be happy with. We nearly had completed a deal on a Freedom Edition in Hydro Blue – a bit darker than this Chief Blue – but that fell through.

Seems the Chief Blue is a bit unusual. After speaking with Jeep representatives, we found that the color was only produced between November 2020 and February 2021, which explains why I couldn’t find them anywhere – and when I did, it was almost always on the Islander trim package, fitted with a white hardtop rather than the black seen here. My wife hated the white hardtop – in her words, it reminded her of the Toyota FJ Cruiser that was so often seen with a white contrasting top.

She also did NOT want a Rubicon model. While the real Jeep enthusiasts will no doubt wince when I say this, our Wrangler is not going to be seeing a ton of time on trails. The on-road driving manners matter more to our use than do the additional articulation and better off-road traction afforded the high-zoot Rubicon trim. Yes, I hear the “mall crawler” jabs – it won’t be that. My wife spent 19 years in retail – the LAST thing she wants to do these days is go shopping.

Our eyes turned to a pair of packages – the Willys and the Freedom. Once we narrowed down to these packages, I had multiple browser windows open looking for inventory across a five-hundred-mile radius. Between the search tool on Jeep.com, and checking dealer inventory via Cars.com and Autotrader.com, I was watching for the right car to pop up

.

I rather favored the Willys trim – which mostly offered a blacked-out grille, dark wheels, and tires with raised outlined white lettering – but my wife liked the Freedom just a bit more. Still, we’d have taken either one if we could find it.

A bit on the long-winded name of the model – the Unlimited refers to the four-door bodystyle, while Freedom adds a touch of jingoism to this mostly-made-in-Ohio Jeep. The Freedom builds upon the basic Wrangler Sport, adding a number of bits – some highlights:

  • Alloy wheels
  • LED head and fog lamps
  • Rock-protecting sill rails
  • Half leather/half cloth seat surfaces
  • Power windows and door locks
  • Keyless entry
  • A big black star on the hood, fender flags, and Oscar Mike trim on the seats and tail

We had an unusual Sunday afternoon free of commitments in early March, and we headed out to a nearby dealer to simply test a Freedom edition in a forgettable color. Twenty minutes behind the wheel, and my wife told me to start the process of making a deal.

A few stops and starts ensued – but between my searching and the salesperson, we finally found this Chief Blue Freedom Edition in Indiana. A dealer trade commenced, and about a week later we spent about 40 minutes inside the dealership signing the documents before she drove home with the front two Freedom Panels stowed in the cargo hold and my youngest daughter embarrassed as her mother played 80s’ music entirely too loudly for her taste.

No, I’m not going to talk about the final purchase price or my payments. While I’m perfectly satisfied with what we paid, I’ve no doubt that I could have done better and possibly saved myself $10 a month or something had I done one simple trick that involved opening seventeen different credit cards and joining the Stonecutters or something like that.

Full disclosure – I did not use my industry role in any way during the purchase of the Jeep. I didn’t reach out to anyone at Stellantis (man, it’s hard to not write FCA/Chrysler/DaimlerChrysler/AMC/Willys) until after driving home, when I confirmed the details on the limited production of the Chief Blue color. The salesperson learned of my side job here when she noticed that I rolled up to the dealer in a Durango Hellcat, but otherwise, this deal was like any other.Well…perhaps not completely like any other. A salesperson at another dealership that showed a Hydro Blue Wrangler in stock texted me a few days after we signed on this one. I was a bit hasty in my reply.

So – how does it drive? Well, it’s a Jeep. It’s not a Miata, nor is it a minivan. My wife is thrilled with the wooshes and chirps of the spooling turbo and loves every moment behind the wheel. I’ve barely driven it – after all, it’s her Jeep as she continually reminds me.

Jeeps take well to personalization, of course – I have a feeling that a trailer hitch will come along so we can mount a bike rack and possibly a hitch-mounted basket for extra cargo space while traveling. Suspension, wheel, and tire mods are not likely – not, at least, while it’s under warranty. As it sits on pretty basic all-terrain tires, it still can handle just about anything either of us would encounter.

Last summer as everything shut down, our family would typically take a weekend day for a road trip to a state park somewhere and go hiking – after all, I was still getting loaner cars from the manufacturers and needed to get miles on them even if I wasn’t commuting to work. So we went exploring but found ourselves hemmed in by vehicles that couldn’t handle the terrain. Our new 2021 Jeep Wrangler will let us continue exploring beyond the pavement. I’ll update you in a few months with how those adventures pan out.

[Images © 2021 Chris Tonn/TTAC]





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