There's really no rational explanation as to why the dare-to-be-different Jeep Wrangler continues to exist at all. 

Yet the Jeep brand's popularity in general, and the Wrangler's in particular, is a major reason why parent Chrysler (now Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, or FCA) has seen record growth for the past five years. 

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The throwback Wrangler still doesn't look all that different from the Jeep that made its bones on the World War II battlefields more than 70 years ago. Subsequent versions were never sent to automotive finishing school to be made over, sanitized, civilized and modernized. Over the decades, while other more socially acceptable Jeeps have been fitted with comfy content, it seems that all that the Wrangler has ever received are a few styling and mechanical updates from time to time.

Still, the Wrangler - neƩ CJ for Civilian Jeep - remains an icon for the ages and its hardcore following continues to expand. In 2014, Wrangler sales of nearly 200,000 units in North America represented an impressive 21-percent year-over-year increase. Even in the best of times, few automobiles can claim that kind of growth.

Of course not all owners go canyon crawling in their Wranglers (the Jeep, not the jeans, that is), but the fanaticism displayed by the ones who do spills over to those who are simply content in the knowledge that their Jeep possesses that capability. Simply put, the Wrangler sets the example for the Jeep line and it's the undisputed standard for off-road ruggedness for all makes.

What has really helped popularity is the extended-length four-door Unlimited model. With more than 20 extra inches in length, all of it between the front and rear wheels, it's easily the Wrangler's best-ever product enhancement (it arrived for 2007). It has allowed the Wrangler to proliferate and become family true transportation and not just a second-vehicle off-road toy.

Another significant upgrade was the 2012 introduction of a more modern powerplant. The 3.6-liter V6 puts out 285 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. It's the same engine used in the Jeep Grand Cherokee and many other products, even the Dodge Grand Caravan minivan.

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The 3.6 can be fitted with a six-speed manual transmission or optional five-speed automatic. The latter gives the Wrangler an mpg rating of 17 in the city and 21 on the highway (16/21 for Unlimited models).

Both the two- and four-door Wranglers can be ordered with a new premium soft top that is easier to clean while its three layers add a degree of noise insulation. Also, the back seat of the four-door Unlimited model as well as the soft top both folds more easily using just one hand. 

For greater convenience, the optional hardtop and doors on both two- and four-door Wranglers can more easily be removed with a new standard "Torx" tool kit. 
For 2015, the Wrangler lineup consists of base Sport, Willys Wheeler, Sahara, Freedom Edition, Rubicon and X trim levels. The first two come with part-time four-wheel-drive with an available limited-slip rear differential. 

The tougher-customer Wrangler Rubicon uses the Off-Road Rock-Trac unit with its extra-low-range gearing, front- and rear-locking differentials for greater agility and 32-inch off-road rubber. 

You would think that that would be enough, but for extreme rock crawling, mountain climbing and mud and creek crossing, there's the two- and four-door Rubicon X. Both come with special BF Goodrich off-road tires and Trak-Lok anti-spin rear differentials with available electronic rear lockup. When equipped with the manual transmission, the Rubicon X has a crawl ratio of, incredibly, 73:1. If traction permitted, the "X" could crawl straight up. The vehicle also includes a "power dome" hood, tougher rock rails and matching black front and rear off-road bumpers, black fender arches and black 17-inch wheels.

Wrangler pricing begins at $23,800, or $27,600 for the Unlimited, including delivery charges. That's not an unreasonable price to pay for a vehicle that's practically unstoppable in just about any weather situation and will take you wherever you want to go when there are no more tracks or trails to be found.

 

What you should know: 2015 Jeep Wrangler

Type: Two-/ four-door, sport-utility vehicle

Engines (hp): 3.6-liter DOHC V6 (285)

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Transmissions: Six-speed manual; five-speed automatic (opt.)

Market position: Iconic doesn't begin to describe the Jeep Wrangler. It is, in essence, the very definition of the term "sport utility vehicle." Its popularity also continues to expand despite a minimalist approach to creature comforts.

Points: Loved for its go-anywhere ruggedness; Adding the extended four-door Unlimited model to the lineup for 2007 was a major game-changer, as was upgraded powertrain and interior for 2012; Rock-Trac 4x4 option makes this Jeep an almost invincible off-road warrior; Evolutionary refinement will continue, but wholesale changes, never.

Safety: Front airbags; anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control; hill-start assist.

MPG (city/hwy) 17/21 (AT); Base price (incl. destination) $23,800

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By comparison

Toyota 4Runner

Base price: $34,100

Truck-based sport ute hangs on following FJ Cruiser's departure.

Subaru XV Crosstrek

Base price: $22,450

Hatch-based Impreza model more than looks tough with standard AWD.

Nissan Xterra 4x4

Base price: $26,600

Sturdy off-roader will keep you moving in most on- and off-road conditions.