2016 Jeep Willys Edition Wrangler Review

We test the special edition Jeep Wrangler that pays homage to the Willys-Overland CJ-2A

Apr. 27, 2016 By Josh Burns
2016 Jeep Willys Edition Wrangler Profile

The Willys Edition Jeep Wrangler may pay homage to the first civilian (or CJ) Jeep, the Willys-Overland CJ-2A, but itís a far cry from that original Willys model first offered back in 1945. The Willys Edition is based on the modern body-on-frame Jeep Wrangler JK platform, which is in its ninth year of production and is still selling like hot cakes.

Part of the way Jeep is keeping things fresh on the JK is by offering a number of special-edition models, which for 2016 include the Big Bear, Freedom Edition, 75th Anniversary, Backcountry, Rubicon Hard Rock, and of course the Willys Edition, which originally made its debut at the LA Auto Show back in late 2013. The Willys Edition is based on the near-entry-level Sport trim but is packaged together with key upgrades and special features to create a unique, special edition Wrangler thatís a little more suited for the trails than the average stock JK.

2016 Jeep Willys Edition Wrangler Front Left

If youíre not particularly familiar with Wrangler details, new or old, start hunting around on Wrangler forums (such as Off-Road.comís or our sister site WranglerForum.com) and youíll start seeing references to Dana 30s, Dana 35s, Dana 44s, Dana 60s and so on. Jeepers immediately know what these numbers reference, but those new to the Jeep game might not know this is in reference to the axle housing. The short explanation is the higher the number, the larger and beefier the axle, meaning the more durable it is for off-road exploration. Other than a handful of the first JK models built in 2007, Jeep thoughtfully designed every JK Wrangler with a larger Dana 44 axle in the rear for added durability, and then a Dana 30 is fitted up front. For those looking for more serious off-roading, the Rubicon and Rubicon Hard Rock models come with Dana 44s front and rear.

The problem for some off-roaders is that stock Wranglers that arenít Rubicons or Hard Rocks will also feature standard, stock gear ratio of 3.21. Although this can be upgraded at the dealer, for the Willys Edition Jeep has gone ahead and done that for you, as the upgraded 3.73 gearing provides improved acceleration better crawl ability on the trails. For additional traction off the pavement, Jeep also added its Trac-Lock limited-slip in the rear differential. Upgraded BFGoodrich KM Mud-Terrains tires (LT255/75R17) provide the Willys with a meaner look and improve grip when the pavement ends.

2016 Jeep Willys Edition Wrangler Front End

Helping provide some trail protection for your Jeep, the Willys Edition is upgraded with rock rails to protect the rocker rails. Jeep also includes its Trail Rated Kit in the Wrangler with off-road recovery items such as a D-Ring, tow strap and gloves that are all housed within a Jeep-branded bag.

2016 Jeep Willys Edition Wrangler Rock Rails

As is the case with every Jeep special edition Wrangler, the Willys Edition has customized appearance features to set it apart from the rest of the Wrangler lineup. The two-tone theme on the Willys Edition may be first noticed with the blacked-out wheels the upgraded BFGs are fitted on, but Jeep carries this theme throughout with a gloss-black, gloss-black front and rear bumper appliqués, and black Willys decals that accent each side of the hood. Out back, a black vintage ď4 Wheel DriveĒ sticker is found on the rear tailgate. A black Sunrider soft top comes standard, though a premium Sunrider soft top and Freedom top options are available.

2016 Jeep Willys Edition Wrangler Logo

How It Performs

The four-door Wrangler Unlimited has certainly opened up the platform to an entirely new buyer. Even though we tested the two-door version, the Willys Edition is also available as a Limited, or four-door, option. Our test rig was fitted with a six-speed manual transmission, and powering the Jeep is the only engine option for 2016: the Pentastar V6 rated to produce 285 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque.

2016 Jeep Willys Edition Wrangler Action Rocks

The Wrangler may serve multiple purposes for some families. For some it will double as a weekday commuter and yet it gets dirty on the trails come the weekend. At its core, the Wrangler is an adventure SUV, built to tackle non-paved roads of all of kinds, and our Willys Edition Jeep Wrangler caters to that ďget off the the highwayĒ theme with its upgrades.

The two-door option is clearly the less desirable choice for families just due to pure size and lack of storage space. But if itís a fun sporty ride youíre aiming for, look no further than our two-door Willys equipped with the six-speed manual gearbox. Our lighter two-door Willys Edition is a blast to drive around town and on the trail. Even in an off-road rig thatís a far cry from a sportscar, thereís still a rewarding feeling clicking through the gears of a manual-trans Wrangler Ė it simply feels sportier than its boxy frame might suggest, and thereís no five-speed automatic transmission limiting the revs. The Pentastar V6 offers plenty of bottom-end zip and great power as it accelerates to highway speeds, and if youíve ever driven one, itís a great improvement over the previous 3.8L V6 first offered on the JK.

2016 Jeep Willys Edition Wrangler Pentastar Engine

But donít kid yourself: a Wrangler is not the best SUV for pure on-road operation. The factory soft top does a decent job of cutting down outside sounds but it still is a noisy ride, though upgrading to a hard top will make the cabin even quieter. The more aggressive BFG tires are good for off-road grip, but the larger voids on the mud-terrain tires donít help in this area either and are a little louder on the highway than your typical SUV tire, even though the KM is on the mild end of the mud-terrain spectrum. Two-door Wranglers offer limited cargo space, especially if you plan to have backseat passengers. The good news is the seats will easily fold down to accommodate more luggage in back if youíre only taking a driver and passenger along for the ride.

On the street, the Wrangler feels like the boxy SUV it is. The handling isnít exactly crisp, as the steering response can feel a little vague at times. The manual transmission gives the impression itís a little sportier than it is, though. To us, the sacrifice is worthwhile on the road and itís simply a matter of adjusting expectations to a vehicle thatís more suited for the trail than the street Ö sacrifices need to be made somewhere. If youíre buying a Wrangler and never planning to take it off-road, youíre buying the wrong SUV.

2016 Jeep Willys Edition Wrangler BFGoodrich Tires

Escaping the pavement is when the Willys Edition Wrangler really shines. Whereas the suspension may seem a little soft at times on the road, itís clear the ďperformance suspensionĒ is well tuned for soaking up bumps on the trail. The manual gearbox is even more fun in the dirt, especially for speedy fire roads Ė you can blast around turns and rev up the engine to a higher RPM to match the conditions. When the trail gets tougher, shifting the Wrangler into 4Lo allows you to easily crawl over obstacles and rocky terrain, thanks to the impressive 41.5-degree approach angle, 31.6-degree departure angle, and the 24.8-degree breakover angle. If you doubted why Jeep offers the BFGoodrich KM tires on the Willys Edition, your concerns will be laid to rest in the dirt, as they provide great bite in terrain of all types, such as soft sand, loose dirt, rocky hills and mud.

Final Thoughts

There are very few stock vehicles that can even be mentioned in the same breath as the Wrangler in terms of off-road capability, especially now that the Toyota FJ Cruiser is gone. Although the 4Runner offers decent off-road capability, it still doesnít quite hit the same levels as the live-axle Wrangler JK platform. It really stands alone. 

2016 Jeep Willys Edition Wrangler Driving 

The Willys option has increased a little in price from when it was first introduced, as the two-door option (like our test unit) starts at $28,195 (vs. the $25,795 when it first came out). Our actual test unit prices out at $33,930, as ours features the Premium Black Sunrider Soft Top ($500) and upgraded Alpine 9-speaker stereo system ($945), and a few other upgrades as well. Jeep does also offer the half-doors as an optional upgrade as well. The Unlimited four-door version starts at $31,995.

The Willys Edition is a great option for buyers who seek adventure that doesnít involve pavement. This Wrangler package takes some of the thinking out of which upgrades to make. Most importantly, Jeep packages these thoughtful add-ons on a unique-looking, special edition Jeep that doesnít look like every other JK on the trail.

2016 Willys Edition Jeep Wrangler
Engine: 3.6L Pentastar V6
Horsepower: 285 @ 6,400 rpm
Torque: 260 lb.-ft. @ 4,800 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Curb Weight: 3,760 lbs.
Height: 72.5 in.
Track Width: 61.9 in. (front & rear)
Length: 164.3 in.
Wheelbase: 95.4 in.
Ground Clearance: 9.6 in.
Approach Angle: 41.5 degrees
Departure Angle: 31.6 degrees
Breakover Angle: 24.8 degrees
Gross Vehicle Weight Rating: 6,029 lbs.
Towing Capacity: 2,000 lbs.
Payload Capacity: 1,000 lbs.
Fuel Tank: 18.6 gal.
Seating Capacity: 2
Axle Ratio: 3.73
MPG Rating: 17 city, 21 hwy
Aver. MPG (tested): 18.8 (combined)
Price: $33,930

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