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New Car/Review

1997 JEEP WRANGLER SPORT

by Matt/Bob Hagin

Jeep

SEE ALSO: Jeep Buyer's Guide

SPECIFICATIONS

Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 17,140
Price As Tested                                    $ 21,643
Engine Type                            4.0 Liter I6 w/SMFI*
Engine Size                                 242 cid/3958 cc
Horsepower                                   181 @ 4600 RPM
Torque (lb-ft)                               222 @ 2800 RPM
Wheelbase/Width/Length                   93.4"/66.7"/151.8"
Transmission                              Five-speed manual
Curb Weight                                     3255 Pounds
Fuel Capacity                                    19 gallons
Tires  (F/R)                                      30/9.5R15
Brakes (F/R)                          Disc (ABS)/drum (ABS)
Drive Train                   Front-engine/four-wheel-drive
Vehicle Type                        Four-passenger/two-door
Domestic Content                                 86 percent
Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                              0.58

PERFORMANCE

EPA Economy, miles per gallon
   city/highway/average                            17/21/19
0-60 MPH                                        9.5 seconds
1/4 Mile (E.T.)                       17 seconds @ 79.5 mph
Top-speed                                            95 mph
     * Sequential multi-point fuel injection

(The Jeep has become an all-American icon and the first of the SUV breed. Bob Hagin is amazed every year at how much more civilized the Jeep Wrangler becomes, while son Matt is equally amazed - but he likes the difference between it and the last generation model.)

MATT - Dad, I find it hard to believe that this new Jeep is mechanically related to the Wrangler version that Susanne owned before we were married. That thing was so rough riding that it was almost impossible to enjoy driving it on anything but billiard-table smooth pavement. She loved it, but my lower back was glad to see it go.

BOB - I had that same reaction to the Wrangler a few years ago when I drove a new one, but I was comparing that one to the khaki-colored version I chauffeured around 45 years ago - that was the last time I drove one. Until this year, it was sprung on four cart springs, but this new Wrangler rides on a lowered chassis carried on coil springs at each end. That has smoothed the ride dramatically. And top is considerably easier to erect now, too. The one that came with my military model was never put up unless it was snowing or I had to drive the colonel somewhere. Back then it took three of us to wrestle into place.

MATT - But the Jeep hasn't gone entirely modern, Dad. Its 4.0 liter straight-six engine has heritage from the engine used during Jeep's American Motors days. Since then, it's been upgraded of course, and now it pumps 181 horsepower. That's still a bit low in my book, but it's a trade-off because the 222 pound-feet of torque it produces is important for off-roading. It's nice to know that Chrysler hasn't forgotten the main mission of the Jeep Wrangler, which is to push on when the road turns to trail. Another traditional touch is that it still uses solid axles at both ends, and as always, it has a two-speed transfer case and part-time four-wheel-drive. This new model can even be ordered with an automatic transmission, but I'd bet that most of them are ordered with the standard five-speed, a rear Trac Lock differential and the four-wheel anti-lock brake system. These all make going through the boondocks more confidence-inspiring. I liked that Jeep went back to the round single headlights, just like the old days.

BOB - The Jeep has been civilized with more than just frame and suspension modifications, Matt. There's an optional air conditioning system that works pretty well, desite the fact that the "windows" on our rag-top were really side curtains. It can also be had with fancy aluminum wheels and carpeting front and rear, but in keeping with the original intent of this Jeep, the interior can be easily stripped and hosed out when it gets really dirty. The engineers have thoughtfully provided a bunch of drain holes just for this purpose. And just like the older models, the doors can still be easily removed.

MATT - The fuel tank on our Jeep was an optional 19 gallon oversized version for extended range, and it was protected by a skid plate. It also had steps under the doors and a tilt steering column to help getting in and out. I wasn't impressed with the fuel mileage, however, at 17 mpg city and 21 mpg highway. I think part of the problem is that the Wrangler has all of the aerodynamics of a tool shed, and the axle ratio is low enough to facilitate pulling up good-sized tree stumps. All things considered, I didn't like our Wrangler Sport much as an around-town cruiser.

BOB - I disagree with you on that point, Matt. There's no greater attention-getter in the city than a cherry-red Jeep Wrangler with a tiny top strung across the roll bar over the front seats. If the exhaust system was more open to give the engine a bit more of a "rap," the thing would be perfect. The other more fancy Jeeps like the Grand Cherokee are OK for the country-club crowd, but being out in the open with the wind blowing is what an SUV is all about.

MATT - You never cease to amaze me, Dad. I didn't think that you were into that "image" stuff. I thought you were more relaxed than that.

BOB - Matt, I may be old, but not so old that I've forgotten how to have fun behind the wheel.