For over 80 years, Jeep has been one of the most iconic and recognizable American automotive brands. With roots dating back to World War II and an image steeped in adventure, freedom and the great outdoors, Jeeps hold a special place in the hearts of loyal owners.
But are Jeeps actually good cars for everyday driving needs?
In short – it depends. While legendary for off-roading capabilities, Jeeps are controversial when it comes to factors like reliability, safety, and ownership costs.
This article will dive into every aspect potential buyers consider when choosing an SUV to determine once and for all: are Jeeps good cars? Key factors we’ll evaluate include:
- Off-road performance – the heart of any Jeep
- Capability as a daily driver – ride, comfort, tech
- Reliability and ownership costs – repairs, gas mileage
- Safety ratings – crash tests and standard features
- The best Jeep models – Wrangler, Grand Cherokee, Gladiator
After weighing all these criteria, you’ll have the complete picture of the pros and cons to make an informed decision if a Jeep is the right vehicle for your needs. Let’s hit the trails and find out!
Table of Contents
Jeep’s Legendary Off-Road Capabilities
No vehicle is more synonymous with off-roading than the Jeep. Engineered for rugged terrain with 4-wheel drive, ample ground clearance, and skid plates protecting the underbelly, Jeeps are built to conquer the steepest hills, deepest mud, and rockiest trails.
Jeep’s advanced 4WD systems distribute power between front and rear axles to maximize traction over uneven surfaces. Short overhangs and approach/departure angles optimize clearance over obstacles. Combined with all-terrain tires, heavy-duty shocks, and limited-slip differentials, Jeeps deliver superior off-road performance compared to other SUVs.
Just how capable are Jeeps? The iconic Rubicon Trail through the Sierra Nevada mountains is considered one of the toughest off-road routes in the world. With extreme elevation changes, boulders, and gravel-strewn uphills, most vehicles wouldn’t dream of attempting it. But modified Jeep Wranglers and Gladiators confidently traverse this trail every year. No other production vehicle could handle these harsh conditions straight from the factory.
Adventurous owners also modify their Jeeps with lift kits, skid plates, winches, and specialty tires to further enhance off-road capabilities. An entire aftermarket industry caters to those who want to push their Jeep’s limits over rough terrain.
While few owners will tackle the Rubicon Trail, Jeeps excel on mild to moderate trails as well. Their abilities ensure you can enjoy off-roading adventures and reach scenic locations other vehicles can’t access.
Capability for Daily Driving Needs
Jeeps are purpose-built for off-roading, but how well do they perform for everyday driving needs? As more buyers consider Jeeps for daily commuting rather than recreational use, their on-road manners determine if they make a good primary vehicle.
Compared to car-based crossovers, Jeeps don’t provide the smoothest or quietest ride on paved roads. The rugged solid-axle suspension optimized for off-road traction transfers more vibration and noise into the cabin. However, ride comfort varies across models – trim levels with bigger wheels and tires usually sacrifice comfort.
In terms of handling, Jeeps are stable and secure at highway speeds. The Wrangler’s old-school recirculating ball steering can feel vague on center, but electric systems in the Grand Cherokee, Cherokee, and Gladiator offer more precision. Body lean in turns is typical for this class. Adaptive suspensions with selectable drive modes in higher trims improve responsiveness.
Tall ride height provides excellent forward visibility. Driver comfort features depend on trim, but popular options like power seats, automatic climate control, and Uconnect infotainment make daily driving more pleasant. Some Jeeps have cramped rear seats and cargo space compared to rivals, a concession of the rugged frame. But there’s enough passenger and storage capacity for most buyers.
Towing and payload capacities vary. The Gladiator pickup can tow up to 7,650 lbs, giving it versatility as a daily workhorse. Grand Cherokee tows up to 7,200 lbs while other models range from 2,000-4,500 lbs – ample for light trailers.
Overall, Jeeps make very capable daily drivers and commuter vehicles, even if they sacrifice some on-road refinement in favor of off-road talents. Those wanting maximum comfort should consider a crossover. But Jeeps strike an ideal balance for owners who occasionally head off the beaten path.
The Reliability Controversy
Ask any group of drivers about Jeeps, and inevitably the topic of reliability comes up. Unfortunately, Jeeps have a infamous reputation for developing problems and breaking down more often than competitors. But are modern Jeeps as unreliable as the stigma suggests?
Surveys show mixed results. Consumer Reports ranks Jeep near the bottom for reliability, with most models scoring below average. The Wrangler has performed particularly poorly over multiple years due to issues like power equipment failures and air leaks. Meanwhile, J.D. Power positioned Jeep around mid-pack in initial quality surveys. So results vary depending on the source.
Anecdotally, it’s not uncommon to hear first-hand accounts of faulty transmissions, electrical gremlins, and premature part failures in Jeeps, particularly Wranglers. Some describe them as “endlessly money pits”. But plenty of satisfied owners report driving their Jeeps for years without major issues.
The reality is that results depend on multiple factors like manufacturing variability, how the vehicle is driven, and quality of maintenance. Those venturing off-road – especially if modifying their Jeep – expose it to stresses more likely to cause problems. Proper maintenance and care reduces risks. Shoppers should research common issues with the specific Jeep model and year they’re considering.
While any vehicle can have problems, the data suggests Jeeps are below average reliability. This doesn’t mean they’re necessarily “bad”, but be prepared to invest time and money into repairs. Weigh the off-road benefits against the risk of higher ownership costs.
Cost of Ownership Considerations
Along with increased chances of repairs, Jeeps lag in other ownership costs that impact budget-conscious buyers:
- Gas mileage – Jeeps are notoriously thirsty. Most models rate under 20 combined MPG due to the heavy chassis and blocky aerodynamics. The Wrangler is the worst offender, averaging an abysmal 18 MPG combined. This adds up quickly at the pump.
- Insurance – Insuring a Jeep costs $600-$1500 more annually over comparable vehicles, according to insurance data. Premiums are higher due to expensive repair costs and high theft rates, especially for the Wrangler.
- Resale value – Jeeps depreciate slower than other vehicles, holding their value fairly well. But Wranglers take the biggest hit – up to 50% in the first 5 years.
While the rugged image attracts many buyers despite the drawbacks, Jeep’s mediocre reliability and poor fuel economy deter budget-minded drivers. Make sure to analyze both purchase price and long-term costs before choosing one.
Jeep Safety Ratings: Secure or Dangerous?
Safety is one of the top priorities for car shoppers. SUVs provide peace of mind with their size and mass, but are Jeeps as safe as competitors? The data presents a mixed picture.
All Jeeps come standard with crucial active safety features like anti-lock brakes, stability and traction control, front airbags, and side-curtain airbags. Higher trims add advanced options like blind spot monitoring, forward collision warning with automatic braking, lane keep assist, and adaptive cruise control.
However, Jeeps score inconsistently in crash testing by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS):
- The 4-door Wrangler and Gladiator score a concerning 2/5 stars in the NHTSA rollover test. The 2-door Wrangler does slightly better at 3 stars.
- In IIHS evaluations, the Gladiator and Wrangler also rate Marginal or Poor for rollover and side impact protection.
- The Grand Cherokee performs better, earning 4/5 NHTSA stars and Good IIHS ratings across most tests.
- The Renegade subcompact crossover earns a Top Safety Pick from IIHS and 5 NHTSA stars.
Compared to similar SUVs, Jeep’s safety record appears below average. The high center of gravity and stiff chassis optimize off-road handling but compromise stability on pavement. Fortunately, new models continue improving thanks to stronger structures and avoidance technology. But shoppers concerned with safety should carefully compare ratings.
Which Jeep is Best for You?
With a diverse range of models spanning bare-bones to luxurious, which Jeep is the best choice? Let’s compare the most popular options:
- The icon – authentic open-air 4×4 experience with the strongest off-road credentials
- Best for – off-road and overland adventures; soft-top fun
- Key features – removable doors/roof, advanced 4WD, customization options
- Price – $29,000-$60,000+
- A Wrangler with a bed – best for off-roading meets versatility
- Best for – outdoor work and play; truck needs with Jeep character
- Key features – versatile cargo bed, towing capacity, removable top
- Price – $35,000-$60,000
Jeep Grand Cherokee
- Refined flagship – premium interior with serious off-road skills
- Best for – luxury and trail conquering; family adventures
- Key features – upscale cabin, powerful engines, QuadraLift air suspension
- Price – $35,000-$65,000
- Practical midsize SUV – balances daily driving and weekend fun
- Best for – affordable family hauler with some light off-road ability
- Key features – roomy interior, available 4WD, off-road packages
- Price – $27,000-$42,000
The Wrangler remains the most fun and capable for diehard off-road enthusiasts. The Gladiator truck expands the appeal for those needing cargo versatility. The Grand Cherokee provides luxury with ruggedness. And the Cherokee is the budget-friendly family option. Consider which model aligns closest with your priorities.
Are Jeeps Good Cars? The Verdict
After reviewing all factors – capabilities, reliability, costs, safety – what’s the definitive verdict: are Jeeps good cars?
For off-roading – Jeeps are in a league of their own. The Wrangler and Gladiator especially excel over challenging terrain other vehicles can’t dream of handling straight from the factory. Jeeps open opportunities for outdoor adventures few competitors can match.
For daily driving – Jeeps make very capable daily drivers, although comfort and refinement lag less truckish SUVs and crossovers. But the iconic styling and fun-to-drive attitude appeal to many buyers.
Practicality – Reliability issues, poor fuel economy, and cost of ownership are downsides. But when properly maintained, Jeeps can be practical daily transportation.
The best candidates for Jeep ownership are buyers wanting to seriously utilize its off-road talents – overlanding travelers, weekend warriors, or those living an active outdoor lifestyle. For these adventurers, the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.
Daily driving families and commuters may be better served by a Honda, Toyota, or Subaru crossover. But plenty of Jeep owners happily adapt to the tradeoffs.
Ultimately, the “best” vehicle comes down to personal needs and preferences. For buyers wanting a fun, rugged SUV with the spirit of adventure, the Jeep lineup deserves strong consideration. Take a test drive and decide if the capabilities balance out the compromises. Love for the Jeep brand runs deep – and trying one out may just make you a believer.