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New Car Review


by Tom Hagin


SEE ALSO: Jeep Buyer's Guide


Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 19,615
Price As Tested                                    $ 22,945
Engine Type                OHV 2-valve 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"/153"
Transmission                              Five-speed manual
Curb Weight                                     3287 pounds
Fuel Capacity                                    19 gallons
Tires  (F/R)                                     P225/75R15
Brakes (F/R)                                     Disc /drum
Drive Train                   Front-engine/four-wheel-drive
Vehicle Type                        Four-passenger/two-door
Domestic Content                                 81 percent
Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                              0.55


EPA Economy, miles per gallon
   city/highway/average                            17/20/18
0-60 MPH                                         11 seconds
Towing capacity                                 2000 pounds
Payload capacity                                 800 pounds
     * Sequential multi-port fuel injection

The Jeep Wrangler is probably the most recognizable vehicle in the world. So when the Chrysler Corporation, the parent company of Jeep, decided to make its utilitarian SUV more updated for the masses, it was careful not to change things too dramatically.

Wrangler comes three ways: the base SE model, the mid-line Sport version or in top-line Sahara trim, which was the model we tested.

OUTSIDE - Despite its complete makeover in 1996, Wrangler has retained the rugged and distinct Jeep profile that has endured since World War II. The changes included round headlights instead of the square units used for the last few years, a sloping hood, a flat grille and a three-inch taller windshield. Though a redesigned canvas soft top is standard on all models, an optional removable hard top dramatically reduces wind noise and helps insulate the interior. Full steel doors and roll-up windows come with the hard top, along with a rear window wiper and washer, deeply tinted glass and a rear cargo lamp. The hard top is also optionally available as a dual top package, which adds a matching- color soft top. Our Sahara test vehicle came standard with wheel well flares, side steps, a covered spare tire mounted on the tail gate and special alloy wheels wearing beefy Goodyear Wrangler white-letter tires.

INSIDE - While the exterior stays true to the Jeep image, Wrangler's interior has been thoroughly restructured. The most obvious change is the addition of a car-like dashboard panel that houses dual airbags and an up-to-date dash pod. The audio and climate controls are centered and high in the dash, while the front seats are supportive and nicely contoured. There's a lockable center console and glovebox, along with cupholders between the seats. Our Sahara tester was loaded with features like full carpeting, a cargo net, uplevel cloth upholstery, leather- wrapped steering wheel, tilt steering column, and seat-back map pockets. Also standard on Sahara models is an AM/FM/cassette stereo and variable- speed intermittent wipers. Speed control is a new option, while air conditioning also brings an extra charge.

ON THE ROAD - Wrangler comes with either a 120 horsepower 2.5 liter four cylinder engine or a much more powerful in-line six. Our test Jeep came with the more powerful engine, with 181 horsepower and 222 lb-ft of torque. It's very basic in design, tracing its roots back to the days when Jeep was part of American Motors, but it gets a healthy dose of modern technology with multiport fuel injection and computerized engine controls. Noise and vibration are noticeable under heavy acceleration, though its power is a definite improvement over the four. It uses a part-time 4WD system and automatic hubs, so activating and de-activating the system can be done from the driver's seat. A five-speed manual transmission is standard and a three-speed automatic is optional. We tested an automatic on a off-road press trip and while climbing boulders and fording streams was easier with the automatic, the five-speed was much better suited on the highway, where most new Jeeps are used.

BEHIND THE WHEEL - The biggest changes came underneath. Extra suspension travel was gained when Jeep changed the previous model's leaf springs to a more modern coil spring design. When we tested this system on the famed Rubicon Trail in Northern California, it out-performed similar late model Jeeps that had also made the trip. The new springs give a better ride as well, and the new model soaks up bumps with ease. Wrangler continues to ride on rugged frame rails, but it has acquired added stiffness in those rails and the crossmembers that connect them, which allows the coils to do a better job. Sahara models ride a bit more firmly, as gas-charged shock absorbers are standard. Handling feels safe and controlled, and while power steering has been standard on all Jeeps, it now features a variable-ratio system to improve steering feel. Front disc and rear drum brakes handle stopping, but an anti-lock braking system (ABS) is optional on any six-cylinder model.

SAFETY - Dual reduced-power airbags are standard; ABS is optional.

OPTIONS - Air conditioning: $895; speed control: $250; locking rear differential: $285; full-sized spare tire: $215; hardtop: $1,160.