Are Jeeps Good First Cars? (8 Models, incl. the Wrangler)

Jeeps aren’t the most sensible first cars for a teenager, but they have unique and unfailing qualities that continue to attract enthusiasts and admirers.

So, are they any good when you’re shopping for your first ride?

Which Jeep is the better first car, if any?

is jeep a good first car

Generally: Are Jeeps Good First Cars?

A Jeep isn’t the typical vehicle you’d recommend for new drivers.

Judging by the vehicles’ miserable reliability and gas mileage in general, better first cars are aplenty.

By most practical and objective measures, Jeeps are a poor choice for a first car:

  • Poor fuel economy – Jeeps consistently underperform against their class competitors.
  • Subpar reliability – the earlier but discontinued models such as the Liberty and Patriot were appallingly unreliable. The later models still lack award-winning reliability, although they showed improvements.
  • Mediocre safety ratings – compared to similar vehicles, Jeeps have room for improvement as their rivals regularly reach near-maximum scores in IIHS and NHTSA crash tests.
  • Blind spots – a common issue among SUVs, making driving potentially unsafe for inexperienced drivers.
  • Higher center of gravity – Jeeps are generally more prone to tip on their side or roll over than sedans or other SUVs. It’s a potential problem in teenage drivers who are too eager on the accelerator when cornering or in side collisions. Teenagers are 3x more likely to get into an accident than a 40-year-old driver, but not all teenagers are unskilled or irresponsible drivers.
  • Different driving dynamics than a sedan – it’s not better or worse, but different. If you eventually transition from a Jeep to a sedan, there will be a period of adaptation.

Consumer Reports ranked Jeep vehicles #26 out of 28 in their 2021 reliability rankings.

Not everything about a Jeep is bad for a first car, though:

  • Higher seating position – as in any SUV, the elevated seat provides a better forward view of the road and safer driving.
  • 4WD option – vehicles with four-wheel-drive systems are more expensive, but you’re paying for a safer ride in poor weather conditions. A 4WD beats an FWD or RWD in car control when traction is limited.
  • Brand prestige – if you are sufficiently skilled and can afford the initial and running costs, you’ll have a car that stands out from the crowd and makes you care to maintain it.

Jeeps have an almost unrivaled brand appeal, and their vehicles have off-roading capabilities to match.

A Jeep is an emotional buy, as much as some Jeep models are average first cars, so to dissuade is futile.

If you desire a Jeep, it will be more beneficial to analyze which Jeep, among its lineup, would make a better first car.

See the comparison towards the end of this post.

Specific Jeep Models:

Most Jeep models aren’t the best candidate for a first car, but some are reasonable choices if you must get a Jeep.

#1 Is a Jeep Cherokee a Good First Car?

An SUV typically isn’t an ideal beginner’s car as its driving dynamics are different than a sedan or hatchback, which are easier to maneuver.

But every driver’s need is different, and some are more skilled than others.

If you need the cabin space, the compact Jeep Cherokee is an average first car because of its mixed credentials:

  • Good IIHS safety ratings – but its NHTSA ratings are lower than class rivals.
  • Average fuel economy – mid-20s combined mpg.
  • Good visibility – an essential quality for a teenage driver.
  • Class-average maintenance costs – $520 per year compares favorably with other compact SUVs.
  • Subpar reliability – it’s not terrible, but the record over its various model years does not inspire confidence.

Check the comparisons below for details.

Which Cherokee Year Is Best as First Cars?

Jeep Cherokees generally score well in crash tests and showed comparable fuel economy across their model years.

In this case, their reliability is the appropriate criteria you should use to choose the better one.

Table Guide:

  • Safety (IIHS): 1 (poor) to 4 (good); IIHS tests average.
  • Safety (NHTSA): 1 (poor) to 5 (safest); NHTSA overall.
  • Fuel Economy: mpg city/highway/combined (base model).
  • Reliability: /100; higher = fewer problems (JD Power).
Model YearSafety (IIHS)Safety (NHTSA)Fuel Econ.Reliability
2022 Cherokee4.0/44/519/27/22NA
2021 Cherokee4.0/44/522/31/2577/100
2020 Cherokee4.0/44/522/31/2579/100
2019 Cherokee4.0/44/522/31/2578/100
2018 Cherokee3.6/44/521/30/2580/100
2017 Cherokee3.6/44/521/30/2576/100
2016 Cherokee3.6/44/521/30/2578/100
2015 Cherokee3.6/44/521/30/2573/100
Jeep Cherokee model years comparison.

The 2020 or 2018 Cherokee would be the better pick due to the improved reliability record and higher safety ratings among the model years.

However, each used car is different, so please inspect before buying.

Cherokee Compared with Similar Vehicles

Although a used car’s reliability depends on its accident and service history, the Cherokee’s relatively mediocre reliability record should make you re-think your options.

You have several exciting alternatives to the Jeep Cherokee at a similar price range and vehicle age.

See how the 2021 Cherokee compares with its rivals below.

Table Guide:

  • Fuel Economy: mpg city/highway/combined (base model).
  • Reliability: /100; higher = fewer problems (JD Power).
  • Maintenance Costs: per year avg. (RepairPal).
  • Safety (IIHS): 1 (poor) to 4 (good); IIHS tests average.
  • Safety (NHTSA): 1 (poor) to 5 (safest); NHTSA overall.
  • Visibility: excellent, good, average, poor.
 Fuel Econ.ReliabilityMaint. CostsSafety (IIHS)Safety (NHTSA)Visibility
Jeep Cherokee22/31/2577/100$5204.0/44/5Good
Mazda CX-524/30/2682/100$4474.0/45/5Good
Hyundai Tucson22/25/2382/100$5214.0/45/5Good
Subaru Forester26/33/2982/100$6324.0/45/5Excellent
Jeep Cherokee comparison with similar vehicles.

The average repair and maintenance are $521 for compact SUVs and $573 for midsize SUVs.

A vehicle’s maintenance costs vary, depending on its age and service history.

The three competitors beat the Cherokee in fuel economy (marginally) and safety ratings – essential indicators of a solid car for teenage drivers.

The Mazda CX-5, Hyundai Tucson, and Subaru Forester showed more robust reliability than the Cherokee; the CX-5 has the cheapest repair and maintenance costs.

Any one of these three alternatives is a compelling option if you wish to buy an SUV for your first car, rather than the oft-suggested used sedan.

#2 Is a Grand Cherokee a Good First Car?

The base Cherokee model is an average first car – the generally poor reliability being its Achilles heel.

But how would its larger sibling, the Grand Cherokee, compare?

Table Guide:

  • Fuel Economy: mpg city/highway/combined (base model).
  • Reliability: /100; higher = fewer problems (JD Power).
  • Maintenance Costs: per year avg. (RepairPal).
  • Safety (IIHS): 1 (poor) to 4 (good); IIHS tests average.
  • Safety (NHTSA): 1 (poor) to 5 (safest); NHTSA overall.
VehicleFuel Econ.ReliabilityMaint. CostsSafety (IIHS)Safety (NHTSA)
Grand Cherokee18/25/2179/100$6663.2/45/5
Grand Cherokee and Cherokee comparison.

If the Cherokee is average, the Grand Cherokee won’t do well as a first car either, because:

  • It’s costly for a first car – over $35,000 for the latest model.
  • It’s too large for a beginner driver – driving an SUV is more difficult than a sedan with its blind spots and body roll.
  • It’s difficult to park – again, it’s a midsize SUV. Not the ideal size to maneuver in tight areas.
  • It has poor fuel economy – 21 mpg combined is poor in today’s context. It’ll be expensive to run for a teenager attending college.
  • The insurance is relatively expensive for a teenager – close to $5,200 a year or over $400 a month. Compare it to the Toyota Yaris at $4,700 a year or under $400 a month.
  • It costs more to maintain than a Cherokee.
  • It has a similarly mediocre reliability record as the Cherokee – although the Grand Cherokee is generally a tad more reliable.

The one advantage the Grand Cherokee has over the base Cherokee is its lower depreciation rate.

The prices drop after the initial 5 years – the Cherokee loses 56%, the Grand Cherokee 51%.

If you need the added cabin and cargo space, you can take comfort in the Grand Cherokee’s better reliability showings than the base Cherokee.

See the comparison table below.

Table Guide:

  • Reliability: /100; higher = fewer problems (JD Power).
Model YearGrand CherokeeCherokee
2022 ReliabilityNANA
2021 Reliability79/10077/100
2020 Reliability79/10079/100
2019 Reliability80/10078/100
2018 Reliability78/10080/100
2017 Reliability78/10076/100
2016 Reliability80/10078/100
2015 Reliability79/10073/100
Jeep Grand Cherokee vs. Cherokee reliability comparison.

#3 Is a Jeep Compass a Good First Car?

If you wish to own a Jeep but buy one of the least expensive, the car-based Jeep Compass is an average first car, at best:

  • Poor gas mileage – when you compare it to similar vehicles. 25 mpg combined for a subcompact SUV is nothing to write home about.
  • Average outward visibility – small rear windows with large rear pillars compromise the view through the back window.
  • Below-average reliability – compared with its direct competition.
  • Relatively low insurance costs – at $4,839 a year or $403 every month for a teenage driver. Teenagers are always about 3x more expensive to insure than a 40-year-old.
  • High driving position – a plus point for any new driver in an SUV.
  • Decent off-road capabilities – handy if you need them.

Let’s see how the Jeep Compass compares with other subcompact SUVs.

Table Guide:

  • Fuel Economy: mpg city/highway/combined (base model).
  • Reliability: /100; higher = fewer problems (JD Power).
  • Maintenance Costs: per year avg. (RepairPal).
  • Safety (IIHS): 1 (poor) to 4 (good); IIHS tests average.
  • Safety (NHTSA): 1 (poor) to 5 (safest); NHTSA overall.
  • Visibility: excellent, good, average, poor.
 Fuel Econ.ReliabilityMaint. CostsSafety (IIHS)Safety (NHTSA)Visibility
Jeep Compass22/31/2578/100$5264.0/44/5Average
Mazda CX-3025/33/2879/100NA4.0/45/5Average
Hyundai Kona28/32/3079/100NA4.0/45/5Good
Jeep Compass comparison with similar vehicles.

The Mazda CX-30 and Hyundai Kona are safer and more reliable (marginally) than the Jeep Compass.

Plus, their gas mileage is superior.

#4 Is a Jeep Gladiator a Good First Car?

The 2020 Gladiator is an all-new model in Jeep’s lineup.

The Jeep Gladiator may have an impressive look, but once the initial awe wore off, problems became apparent; for first-time owners, it is a bad first car:

  • Hit or miss reliability – the 2020 Gladiator was the first model year, and the Consumer Reports rated it 1/5, which is the worst score. Owner-reported issues include the transmission, engine, and build quality.
  • Long wheelbase – good for off-roading and towing, but it causes poor handling, which is problematic for inexperienced drivers.
  • Hefty price – not ideal unless you have a generous budget. It gets significantly more expensive with options.
  • Average to poor gas mileage – 19 mpg combined; an average for its class, but poor for a teenager who wants to save on gas. The diesel option nudges the figure upwards by 4 to 5 mpg, but the meager improvement is not worth the extra thousands you pay.

#5 Is a Jeep Liberty a Good First Car?

The last model year for the Jeep Liberty was 2012.

The fact that it is a discontinued model and has below-average quality – even for its time – makes the Jeep Liberty a poor choice for a first car:

  • Awful reliability – countless reported design, mechanical, and build quality issues. It has consistent mid-70s scores on JD Powers when 80/100 is the respectable average.
  • Poor gas mileage for a daily driver – combined mpg under 20 would leave you skimping on lunch to save money for gas.
  • Expensive to maintain – $674 per year, according to RepairPal ($573 is the average for midsize SUVs). The cost will only increase for a discontinued model with appalling reliability.
  • Subpar safety ratings – an average of 3 out of 5 stars in the NHTSA tests suggest an unsafe vehicle when five stars have become the industry norm today.

Almost every equivalent option available on the market now would beat the Liberty for a first car.

#6 Is a Jeep Patriot a Good First Car?

The Jeep Patriot is another discontinued model, alongside the Liberty, and as such, is a bad first car for a teenager’s daily driver:

  • An abandoned design – the Patriot debuted in 2007 and rode through the next decade without a redesign, at which point its production terminated, indicating a neglected model.
  • Poor fuel economy – 21 mpg combined is an abomination when competing models can get close to 30 mpg.
  • Expensive to maintain – at approx. $596 per year, the cost is higher than the $521 average for compact SUVs. This cost will only continue to climb as the remaining road-going Patriots become junkyard-bound.
  • Plasticky interior – the increasingly dated look would not impress your passengers.
  • Unimpressive ride quality – rough and uncomfortable for a daily driver.
  • Subpar safety ratings – the NHTSA tests had an average of 4 out of 5 stars, which is poor when modern vehicles typically score five stars.

On the flip side, if you can find a cheap used Patriot but with proven reliability, the insurance cost is one of the lowest on the market.

It costs $1,258 a year or $105 each month to insure; or for a teenage driver, $4,598 a year or $383 each month.

For comparison, the Grand Cherokee would cost $5,168 a year or $431 every month for a teenager.

However, you have many subcompact SUV options on the new or used car market more worthy of your money and monthly commitments.

#7 Is a Jeep Renegade a Good First Car?

The Renegade is Jeep’s entry-level model and a rugged alternative to most other subcompact SUVs.

If you need a vehicle with off-roading capabilities, want the Jeep’s reputation, but can look past some of its shortcomings, the Jeep Renegade can be a reasonable first car:

  • It’s the most affordable current Jeep – if you want the cool looks of a Jeep.
  • Agile handling – excellent daily driver around town, and fun to drive.
  • Average reliability – generally, the Renegade showed improvement over Jeep’s past compact models but could never reach the award-winning-level reliability of their Japanese counterparts.
  • Manageable maintenance costs – $498 per year compared to the $466 average for subcompact SUVs. The average for all vehicle models is $652, according to RepairPal.
  • Its short wheelbase – shorter than the Cherokee or Wrangler. The Renegade’s overall compact size is excellent for driving on city roads and parking.
  • High seating position – a plus point compared to a sedan.

However, these are drawbacks you should note:

  • Middling fuel economy – 27 mpg combined for a subcompact SUV is average for the segment.
  • Tight backseat legroom – passengers may complain; not for long trips.
  • Noisy interior at highway speeds – unavoidable considering its boxy shape.
  • Subpar safety ratings – an average of 3.9 out of 5 stars in the NHTSA test isn’t comforting.

Most Jeeps have an excellent off-road capability but generally underwhelming build quality.

Renegade Compared with Similar Vehicles

If safety and gas mileage feature highly on your list (they should, for a first car), consider the alternatives below.

Table Guide:

  • Fuel Economy: mpg city/highway/combined (base model).
  • Reliability: /100; higher = fewer problems (JD Power).
  • Maintenance Costs: per year avg. (RepairPal).
  • Safety (IIHS): 1 (poor) to 4 (good); IIHS tests average.
  • Safety (NHTSA): 1 (poor) to 5 (safest); NHTSA overall.
  • Visibility: excellent, good, average, poor.
 Fuel Econ.ReliabilityMaint. CostsSafety (IIHS)Safety (NHTSA)Visibility
Jeep Renegade24/32/2777/100$4983.8/44/5Average
Mazda CX-329/34/3175/100$3454/45/5Average
Honda HR-V27/31/2979/100$3014/45/5Good
Subaru Crosstrek22/29/2580/100$4924/45/5Excellent
Chevy TrailBlazer28/31/2983/100$5244/45/5Average
Jeep Renegade comparison with similar vehicles.

The Mazda CX-3, Honda HR-V, Subaru Crosstrek, and Chevrolet TrailBlazer are excellent choices for a first car due to their superior fuel economy, reliability, safety ratings, and outward visibility.

#8 Is a Jeep Wrangler a Good or Bad First Car?

For first-time buyers opting for a Jeep because they must have a Jeep and want a serious off-roader with the fun factor, the Wrangler is the right first car to get:

  • 4WD option – the full-time four-wheel-drive system makes driving safer in sketchy road conditions for inexperienced drivers.
  • A rugged vehicle – it’s one of the rare occasions where dents and scratches don’t matter as much visually.
  • Extensive customization options – if you want to make the Jeep your own, the Wrangler has more accessories than most other vehicles.
  • Reasonably-priced Jeep – the Wrangler is not the cheapest Jeep, but it isn’t far off, especially when considering the hybrid Wrangler 4xe that costs $20,000 more.
  • Excellent outward visibility – one of the best in the Jeep lineup; a plus point for new drivers considering a first car.
  • Strong resale value – it depreciates only 35% from its initial price after 5 years; most vehicles lose around 40% to 60%.

However, for all other new drivers (non-Jeep lovers), the Wrangler’s drawbacks could be a dealbreaker:

  • Poor fuel economy – you shouldn’t expect otherwise.
  • Substandard reliability – the newer model years are more reliable, but the older ones are inferior in this department.
  • Miserable safety ratings – judging by the IIHS and NHTSA tests, the older the model year, the more unsafe it is (see below).

Which Wrangler Year Is Best as First Cars?

Table Guide:

  • Safety (IIHS): 1 (poor) to 4 (good); IIHS tests average.
  • Safety (NHTSA): 1 (poor) to 5 (safest); NHTSA overall.
  • Fuel Economy: mpg city/highway/combined (base model).
  • Reliability: /100; higher = fewer problems (JD Power).
Model YearSafety (IIHS)Safety (NHTSA)Fuel Econ.Reliability
2022 Wrangler3.6/44/519/24/21(*)NA
2021 Wrangler3.6/44/522/30/2580/100
2020 Wrangler3.6/44/522/30/2579/100
2019 Wrangler3.6/44/522/30/2574/100
2018 Wrangler3.6/4NA22/30/25NA
2017 Wrangler3.3/4NA22/30/2572/100
2016 Wrangler3.0/4NA22/30/2573/100
2015 Wrangler3.0/4NA22/30/2575/100
Jeep Wrangler model years comparison.

(*) The standard engine for the Wrangler from 2022 onwards is V6; V4 in previous years.

The newer Wranglers registered improvements in reliability and safety ratings.

If you wish to buy a Jeep Wrangler as your first car, opt for the 2020 or 2021 model year as they are more reliable.

Avoid the 2018 Jeep Wrangler as it had 11 recalls, which is more than double the average across the model years, indicating a highly problematic vehicle.

Wrangler Compared with Similar Vehicles

An SUV typically does not make a good first car for teenagers as they learn to drive and minimize repair costs.

However, for drivers with better skills and need the extra cargo room, it is worth considering other compact SUVs before deciding.

Let’s see how the Wrangler compares with the regular top ten SUVs in the JD Power’s quality award.

Table Guide:

  • Fuel Economy: mpg city/highway/combined (base model).
  • Reliability: /100; higher = fewer problems (JD Power).
  • Maintenance Costs: per year avg. (RepairPal).
  • Safety (IIHS): 1 (poor) to 4 (good); IIHS tests average.
  • Safety (NHTSA): 1 (poor) to 5 (safest); NHTSA overall.
  • Visibility: excellent, good, average, poor.
 Fuel Econ.ReliabilityMaint. CostsSafety (IIHS)Safety (NHTSA)Visibility
Jeep Wrangler22/30/2580/100$6943.6/44/5Excellent
Chevy Equinox26/31/2881/100$5374.0/45/5Excellent
Buick Envision24/31/2685/100$233NA5/5Excellent
Honda CRV28/34/3083/100$4074.0/45/5Excellent
Jeep Wrangler comparison with similar vehicles.

All three SUVs, Chevy Equinox, Buick Envision, and Honda CR-V, are excellent alternatives to the Jeep Wrangler.

They are safer, more reliable, and more fuel-efficient.

But still, they aren’t a Jeep.

Is the Jeep Wrangler Safe for a Teenager?

Judging by the IIHS and NHTSA crash tests, the Wrangler isn’t the safest vehicle (see the table above) for any driver.

If you want the safest compact SUVs that money can buy, opt for the Honda CR-V or Chevy Equinox; they have impeccable IIHS and NHTSA ratings.

Further, the 2018 Wrangler has 11 recalls (probably its worst year), the 2018 Honda CR-V has 2 recalls, and Chevy Equinox has 5.

Comparison: Best Jeep for a First Car

See the table below on how the various Jeep models compare in the areas that matter.

Table Guide:

  • Safety (IIHS): 1 (poor) to 4 (good); IIHS tests average.
  • Safety (NHTSA): 1 (poor) to 5 (safest); NHTSA overall.
  • Visibility: excellent, good, average, poor.
  • Fuel Economy: mpg city/highway/combined (base model).
  • Reliability: /100; higher = fewer problems (JD Power).
  • Maintenance Costs: per year avg. (RepairPal).
Safety (IIHS)Safety (NHTSA)VisibilityFuel Econ.ReliabilityMaint. Costs5-yr depreciation
Grand Cherokee3.2/45/5Excellent18/25/2179/100$66651%
Jeep models comparison.

If you want the most reliable Jeep, the Wrangle is the right vehicle for you.

If safety ratings matter the most to you, the Cherokee is as good as it gets for a Jeep.

If you need a Jeep for serious off-roading, opt for the Jeep Wrangler.

All in all, if you cannot resist the allure of a Jeep and must get one for your first car, the Jeep Wrangler should be your pick for 3 reasons:

  1. It has outstanding value retention among Jeeps and other vehicles on the market.
  2. It is, on average, the most reliable Jeep, although not by much.
  3. It has excellent outward visibility, which is crucial for less-experienced drivers.

Which Jeep Depreciates the Least?

A Jeep is an emotional purchase, more so than most other vehicles, so it is crucial to check which Jeep model will lose the least value when you decide to move on.

The 5-year depreciation values below assume a brand-new vehicle and an annual driving distance of 13,500 miles (the average for American drivers).

Model5-yr depreciationReliability
Grand Cherokee51%79/100
Value depreciation among Jeep models.

The Jeep Wrangler is the clear winner with the best value retention among Jeeps.

Considering the high resale value, it makes sense to buy a new Jeep Wrangler if you can afford the purchase price, plus allocations for the following:

  • state and local sales tax,
  • title and registration fees,
  • documentation fee,
  • interest charges on the car loan,
  • monthly gas and maintenance costs, and
  • insurance costs.

The 2020 Jeep Wrangler or newer is more reliable than the earlier model years.

Plus, newer models will always have more advanced safety features to support a safer drive for teenage drivers.

Alternative Vehicles to Jeep for a Teenager’s First Car

There are many exciting options in the crowded SUV segment.

SUVs are generally more expensive than sedans, but if you value the higher seating position and greater outward visibility an SUV affords, consider:

  1. Honda – Honda CR-V, HR-V.
  2. Buick Envision.
  3. Chevrolet – Equinox, Trailblazer.
  4. Nissan – Rogue.
  5. Ford – Bronco.
  6. Hyundai – Tucson.
  7. Subaru – Forester.
  8. Mazda – CX-3, CX-5.

Always do your research, inspect, and test drive before buying.