NEW JEEP WRANGLERS TAKE ANOTHER EVOLUTIONARY STEP IN 65-YEAR HISTORY
THREE-FOOT-HIGH GRANITE BOULDERS AND OFF-CAMBER STAIRSTEPS ARE MAJOR OFF-ROAD OBSTACLES FOR THE TYPICAL SUV TODAY IN THIS ERA WHERE BUILDING TRUCKS MORE LIKE CARS is the mantra among automotive manufacturers.Asked to face a true off-road adventure, the majority of today’s SUVs would remain at the trailhead, parked like trailer queens at a car show.
Jeep is the odd one out — at least the group of engineers and designers heading up the Wrangler division. They continue to believe that having a vehicle with four-wheel-drive means it should be at home off-road, yet civilized enough to be both family and street friendly. Imagine that. We did, but we didn’t quite imagine just how well Jeep could refine the 2007 Wrangler and new four-door Wrangler Unlimited until we drove them over the Rubicon Trail and around the highways and streets of Lake Tahoe, CA.
JEEPS ALL-NEW MODELS PROVE TURNING 65-YEARS-OLD IS A REALLY GOOD THING.
MORE OF EVERYTHING
During round-table discussions with passionate owners, one thing was clear; when it came to what they wanted changed in the next generation Jeep, “Nothing” was the answer. So Jeep just added more of everything. More on-road refinement. More power. More off-road capability. More interior comfort and space. More safety features. More options. More convenience features. More value for the dollar.
Yet the new JK still looks like a Jeep Wrangler and retains the Wrangler familiarity in all the right places. The distinctive grille is still there, as is the familiar Jeep shape. Sure, the front bumper has integrated fog lights now, the headlights and taillights have a new shape and placement, the fender flares are flatter and wider, the windshield has a slight curve to it, the body panel gaps are much tighter, and the door skins now wrap around into the interior panels. But the new look hasn’t degraded the Wrangler appeal in the least. The refinements are just that, refinements.
A LARGER PRESENCE
Paving the way for many of the additions and refinements is a new chassis. The 2007 Wrangler and four-door Unlimited have a new, fully-boxed frame that is now wider than Dodge Ram pickups, making the new model Jeep more than five inches wider overall than its predecessor, and giving it a 3.5-inch wider foot print.
The new four-door Unlimited benefits from the same chassis with 20.6 inches added to the wheelbase.
We never found the extra width or the longer wheelbase to be a detriment on the demanding Rubicon. In fact, they added an increased level of off-road capability and comfort compared to the older models we’ve driven.
On-road, the difference the new chassis on both models makes is night and day.
Despite its bigger presence, the Wrangler and Unlimited still maintain class-leading approach and departure angles, ground clearance, suspension travel and underbody protection; all key elements in maintaining true offroad capability.
A big part of that off-road prowess and refined street stability is the refined steering and new suspension. Jeep still retains the recirculating-ball system, but it’s been highly refined and delivers a much faster responding, tighter and more precise feel than the old version.
The suspension is also much nicer. The new Wranglers use a five-link coil suspension for the still solid front and rear axles. Softer spring rates are found in the front compared to the old TJ. The track bars are now mounted outboard of the new frame and the springs inboard. In addition, the new high-pressure monotube, shocks are now canted inboard at the top, which Jeep engineers say provides a much more consistent suspension control between a light load and a heavy load.
But the coolest change is the electronic- disconnect front stabilizer bar, which debuted on the 2006 Dodge Power Wagon. Jeep calls the new setup the Active Sway Bar System (ASBS). It works fast and effectively. Push a button on the bottom of the instrument cluster stack and, if the Wrangler is moving slower than 18mph in four-wheel-drive, one side of the front sway bar instantly disconnects giving 28-percent more suspension travel. The suspension and traction improvement with ASBS activated in demanding off-road conditions is remarkable to say the least.
As soon as the vehicle’s speed increases above 18mph, ASBS automatically re-engages, reducing body roll and shortening up front suspension travel.
MORE TRACTION FASTER
Jeep has retained the same transfer cases as last year. The second-generation Command-Trac NV241, a part-time, two-speed with a 2.72:1 lowrange is in the Wrangler X and Sahara models. The Rock-Trac NV241 with 4.0:1 low-range gearing is under the Rubicon models.
The big change Jeep brought to the party is enhanced traction. The ’07 Rubicons come with beefy Dana 44 axles (standard models come with a Dana 30 front and either a Dana 35 or Dana 44 rear axle) fitted with electric-locking Tru-Lock diffs and a 4.10 gear ratio. The Tru-Locks are electrically-actuated lockers-not limited-slips. No more waiting for the air-activated lockers of the past to engage. A single button next to the ASBS instantly activates the rear, or both rear and front lockers, giving the Wrangler Rubicon and Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon the kind of traction that used to be available only as an expensive aftermarket upgrade.
If you are thinking of buying a plain Wrangler and think you’re being left out, don’t fret. Regular Wranglers get Brake Lock Differentials (BLDs) along with Chrysler Group’s Electronic Stability Program (ESP)-both firsts for Jeep.
BLD is built-in to ESP and allows the on-board computer to electronically control the amount of power going to each wheel and adjust it using brake modulation to maximize traction whenever tires start spinning. The cool part is there are special BLD computer calibrations for both regular driving and when the transfer case is in 4-Low.
ESP brings a lot to the table, too. This sophisticated computer system helps the driver maintain vehicle control and stability in all sorts of situations that might otherwise lead to some undesirable consequences.
The system, which has three driverselectable modes-”on,” “partial on,” and “full off”-includes Hydraulic Brake Assist, Traction Control, the BLDs, and Electronic Roll Mitigation. The latter applies braking at individual wheels when the system “sees” a scenario where vehicle speed, direction and steering input are on the verge of inducing a roll-over.
Electronic Throttle Control is another key update to the new Wrangler. No more pogo-sticking as you bounce along the trail. Now throttle control is velvet smooth-on or off-pavement.
V-POWER INSTEAD OF I-6
Speaking of throttle, gone is the straight-six. Under the new hood is a Chrysler 202hp, 3.8-liter V6 mated to a six-speed manual or four-speed automatic. The V6 is lighter and shorter than the old engine, and it’s also more fuel efficient.
EPA numbers show the four-wheeldrive Wrangler and Wrangler Unlimited get 17/19 city/highway with the sixspeed and 16/19 respectively with the automatic. The 2WD Wrangler Unlimited models get 17/21.
The V6 doesn’t feel as torquey off-idle as the inline-six did at lower rpm, but it definitely provides a wider, stronger, smoother power band above 3,400rpm.
Towing capacity for those interested in toting ATVs, boats, pop-up camp
trailers, or PWCs, is 2,000 pounds for the short-wheelbase Wrangler and 3,500 for the four-door Unlimited.
The wider chassis and redesigned Wrangler body now leaves an engine bay that easily accommodates the V-6 and hints at V8-power in the future. But that’s just speculation.
FINALLY, ROOM TO SPARE
One area where there’s no need for speculation is the interior of the new Wranglers. The all-new interior finally brings a level of refinement and comfort never before seen in Jeep’s long history.
The wider body adds almost five square feet of space to the front seating area with 5.1 inches more shoulder room and 4.6 inches more hip space. Rear passengers get a similar increase in space and an additional inch of legroom. The rear seat folds and tumbles too, providing a generous amount of rear cargo storage.
Jump into the four-door Unlimited and those with a family will think they’ve gone to Jeep Nirvana. The interior is well done, the seats comfortable, and access to both front and rear seating rivals any of Jeep’s mid-size SUV competitors.
As for cargo space, there’s more open space behind the second-row seats of the Unlimited than that found in the Toyota FJ Cruiser, Hummer H3 or Nissan Xterra. Fold the 60/40 split seat down and you instantly have nearly 87 cubic feet to work with.
Those are the types of features that will bring the 2007 Jeep Wrangler and Wrangler Unlimited onto the radar screens of a lot of SUV buyers who liked the icon looks but have never really considered buying a Wrangler because of practicality issues.
Another item that will be attractive is pricing: The all-new Wranglers average $1,200 less than similar ’06 models — this with more than $1,800 in upgraded contents added to each model!
For example, the base model Wrangler X has an MSRP of $18,756 while the top-of-the line Wrangler Rubicon lists for $26,750. Unlimiteds start at $20,410 for the 2WD model and top out at $28,895 for the loaded Unlimited Rubicon.
Today that’s a lot of value for the dollar — especially when the four-wheel-drive system is one that is just as comfortable in the mud, rocks, and sand as it is cruising the mall or dicing through rush-hour traffic. Happy birthday, Jeep! You’ve proved we can have our cake and eat it too.