SEE ALSO: Jeep Buyer's Guide
SPECIFICATIONS Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price $ 18,460 Price As Tested $ 24,730 Engine Type OHV 12-valve 4.0 Liter I6 w/SMFI* Engine Size 242 cid/3956 cc Horsepower 181 @ 4600 RPM Torque (lb-ft) 222 @ 2800 RPM Wheelbase/Width/Length 93.4"/66.7"/155.4" Transmission Three-speed automatic Curb Weight 3334 pounds Fuel Capacity 19.0 gallons Tires (F/R) P225/75R15 Brakes (F/R) Disc (ABS)/drum (ABS) Drive Train Front-engine/four-wheel-drive Vehicle Type Four-passenger/three-door Domestic Content 81 percent Coefficient of Drag (Cd.) 0.55 PERFORMANCE EPA Economy, miles per gallon city/highway/average 15/18/16 0-60 MPH 10.5 seconds Maximum cargo capacity 800 pounds Maximum towing capacity 2000 pounds * Sequential multi-port fuel injection
Jeep is lucky when it comes to one of its products. Most car companies must completely redesign its models every four years or so, but its Wrangler is in a time warp. Buyers demand that it retains its rugged looks but want it to provide a fairly civilized ride.
The current Wrangler, the TJ, comes in base SE, uplevel Sahara and as our tester for the week, Wrangler Sport.
OUTSIDE - After 60 years, the basic Wrangler shape is as recognizable as a Coke bottle. The last redesign came in 1997, and with it came the return of round headlights and easier-to-use doors that are almost car-like. The flat-nose and almost-flat windshield don't help with its aerodynamics, but the wide fenders, slab sides and quick-change ability to become a convertible is reason enough to make it one of the company's most popular vehicles. Three new colors, Yellow, Blue Pearl and Silver Metallic have been added, bringing total color choices to nine. With all Wrangler models, a set of removable, fabric half-doors are standard. They come off quickly, lifting easily from a set of pins at the leading edge of the door. A pair of painted steel doors is optional, and feature roll-up tinted windows for a touch of civility and security. And as expected, a soft top is the standard overhead covering, though a snug-fitting hard top is optional. A set of attractive steel wheels comes standard on Sport models, while four alloy wheels are an option.
INSIDE - Jeep incorporated a true car-like dashboard when Wrangler was redesigned in 1997, which made it easier to live with on a day-to-day basis. Dual airbags were the most important feature, though its optional tilt steering column, cruise control and leather-wrapped steering wheel creates plenty on envy among owners of older Wrangler versions. Tall front bucket seats do an admirable job of keeping occupants firmly in place, while rear seat passengers will find just enough leg and headroom once they've stepped up and over the high door sills and have squeezed past the front seats. All that is academic if the soft top is down or the hard top is off. Standard Wrangler Sport features include full carpeting, full door trim, a mini-center console, AM/FM/cassette with four speakers, fully padded overhead Sport Bar and interior lighting.
ON THE ROAD - The standard Wrangler powerplant is a 2.5-liter inline four cylinder engine. It produces 120 horsepower and 140 lb-ft of torque. It's simple in design, with overhead valves and cast iron construction, but it's economical, returning up to 20 mpg on the highway. The better choice, however, is the company's venerable 4.0 liter inline six cylinder engine. It produces 181 horsepower, which isn't enough to toot the horn about, but it gives a stump-pulling 222 lb-ft of torque, which makes it nearly unstoppable off-road. It's not too sophisticated, either, but seemingly bulletproof for long-lasting service. This is definitely the engine to have because it accelerates confidently into freeway traffic and won't force frequent downshifts over high mountain passes. The standard five-speed manual transmission is the logical choice because a three-speed automatic seems to need an overdrive gear to make it more suitable for the street. A traction-lock rear differential is optional.
BEHIND THE WHEEL - Wrangler's 1997 redo brought another important change underneath. Its full-length ladder frame was retained, but instead of using bone-jarring leaf springs, soft-riding coil springs were implemented, making the overall ride much more pleasant to live with on a daily basis. Purists howled, saying that the pounding ride is what makes it a Jeep. Many of those detractors, however, have since ridden in (or bought) a new Wrangler and are pleasantly surprised at its on-road civility and off-road prowess.
SAFETY - Dual front air bags, ABS standard.
OPTIONS - Preferred package $1310, Convenience Group $165, Doors $123, Add-A-Trunk $125, fill-sized spare tire $115.