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It is no secret the Jeep Wrangler has long been famous for two major things; off-road prowess and a unique look. We wrote about these and nine other reasons the Wrangler is an icon, but touring was NOT one of those things.
Long drives are not the Wrangler’s strong suit, and that’s OK; chances are that, if you are already a Wrangler owner or looking to become one, you didn’t buy it for eating up highway miles. Jeep and other manufacturers build cars far better suited for that task. However, if you find yourself needing to go cross-country, and want to make the experience more enjoyable, we have a list of things to consider and changes that will only enhance how much you love your Wrangler.
Factors that affect driving comfort
The Jeep Wrangler is a rugged utilitarian vehicle that has only in the last years made reasonable concessions to driving comfort and modern accessories. For the most part (and especially for the earlier cars), the Wrangler is still a pared-back off-roader that just happens to be allowed to drive on the roads. If you never intend to take it off-road, there are better choices.
The factors that dictate driving comfort for both driver and passengers can be split into two major areas: cabin and driving.
The improvements that can be made in the cabin for long drives can be small and simple solutions that will pay dividends in the long run.
We take for granted how much technology is in modern cars; bluetooth (and internet!) connectivity, satellite radio, and TV/video options are all available, but in the old models you got an FM/AM radio and a pair of speakers (the TJ was lucky enough to get a cassette or CD player!)
Installing a modern DVD/MP3-ready radio with Bluetooth connectivity is easy and inexpensive (and radio options with screens for movies get cheaper every year), and it is a guarantee that aftermarket speakers are going to improve the sound quality no end (always a Wrangler gripe). It is possible to go crazy with amplifiers and subwoofers, but not at all necessary if on a tight financial budget.
Controlling noise, vibration, and harshness (NVH)
One of those most fatiguing aspects of long drives is noise, be it from the road or vehicle itself. Eliminating as much as possible, especially on a vehicle like the Wrangler, is a worthwhile assignment.
Sound deadening serves to block and absorb various sound waves from entering the cabin. Long drives will more than likely be done with the doors installed so that is a good place to work on, but the other area to focus on is the floor and the footwells, where the engine and transmission is. Old car rattles will also be kept at bay, adding a more premium feel that will last for years.
Sound deadening can be bought in adhesive sheets to be stuck to vehicle surfaces or foam mats, but a thick liquid-like material that also doubles as underbody protection is also a suitable option (and might be easier for some people). Removing seats and carpets to install the sound deadening can be arduous, and there is a weight penalty, but the pros far outweigh any cons.
Your Wrangler may have only come with the soft top, but swapping to a hard top (there are loads of options for the various generations) will further insulate the cabin from the noises outside. You lose some potential flexibility at your destination, but it’s probably worth it.
The front seats of any Jeep offer adequate if not outstanding comfort and adjustment, but for the rear passengers of a short-wheel-base (SWB) Wrangler, it is almost laughably bad. That said, there are companies that sell rear-seat recline kits that claim to provide as much as 2.5 inches of extra recline. That is a significant difference for those who sit in the back, on short or long journeys.
You can go wild and swap to aftermarket front seats if money is no object, and they will provide more adjustment and therefore better comfort.
2. Ride quality
Ride quality is probably the most significant area to focus on for long drives and encompasses myriad points. While engineering a vehicle to be good or compromised on-road comes from the factory, there are things owners can do to make a worthwhile improvement, too.
Changing your aggressive mud-terrain (MT) rubber to a more conservative highway-terrain (HT) will make an other-worldly difference to both the driving and in-cabin experience. HT tires are quieter, more comfortable, and handle on-road better. All-terrain (AT) tires sit between MTs and HTs and are a good Goldilocks choice. What’s more, either will improve your fuel consumption.
Often overlooked but no less important, adequate lighting for night driving reduces a lot of fatigue and stress. Installing spot lights or a light bar is easy and there are endless, inexpensive options available, but an LED or HID headlight upgrade that is both plug-and-play and legal is a modification any owner of an older Jeep will be thankful for. Do your research and reap the rewards.
Does your Wrangler not have cruise control? Not to worry, as kits like this are available and, if you are more DIY than no-idea, then installing it yourself is not an intimidating project. Cruise control removes a lot of speeding stress, along with physical fatigue.
Upgrading your Wrangler’s steering stabilizer (or changing to a hydraulic-assisted set-up for hardcore modified vehicles with huge 37” tires) can make for a more comfortable driving experience by way of eliminating shock and impact before reaching the steering box caused by hitting curbs, potholes, and bumps.
Reducing that unpleasant feedback to the steering wheel is a welcome enhancement. An adjustable stabilizer is the best idea as it maximizes performance on and off the road, and installation is very simple and can be done in your driveway.
If you think this will eliminate any “death wobble”, it won’t (that’s due to tired suspension components, like shocks and bushes).
Suspension (and powertrain) bushes
If your Wrangler is set up for off-road, chances are you won’t swap to more highway-friendly shocks and springs. However, rubber bushes for suspension and the powertrain get tired and can fail over time, so while changing these components should be a matter of appropriate maintenance, they can be overlooked. Fresh bushes and mounts improve NVH no end and can also play a vital safety aspect.
Making any or all of these modifications will transform how your Wrangler drives and feels, both around town and on the open highway. They might not turn it into a Rolls Royce, but they won’t make you hate the idea of taking it cross-country, either.