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Autoweek on the 2007 Jeep Wrangler

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Treading lightly

New Jeep Wrangler is a careful evolution of iconic off-roader

By BOB GRITZINGER

AutoWeek | Published 02/13/06, 8:04 am et

AT A GLANCE:

2007 Jeep Wrangler

ON SALE: September

BASE PRICE: $19,000 (est.)

POWERTRAIN: 3.8-liter, 205-hp, 240-lb-ft V6; 4wd, six-speed manual

CURB WEIGHT: 3760 lbs

0 TO 60 MPH: 9.5 seconds (est.)

FUEL MILEAGE (EPA COMBINED): 17/22 mpg (est.)

Remaking an icon is dangerous business—one slip and you’re in reputation-repair mode for years to come. So when the time came to build the first new Jeep Wrangler since 1997—and the first since the merger of Daimler-Benz and Chrysler—those involved in the project knew they had to tread very, very carefully.

“Any time you mess with Wrangler, you run the significant risk of alienating the Jeep faithful,” admits Jim Issner, chief engineer for the 2007 Wrangler, which goes on sale in late August or early September. “Owners say they want more space, more capability, better ride comfort, better NVH [noise, vibration and harshness control], but then they don’t want you to change anything.”

Casual Jeep watchers won’t notice much difference between the previous-generation Jeep, the TJ introduced as a 1997 model, and the newest iteration, dubbed JK. It still sports the same seven-slot grille, round headlamps, trapezoidal wheel wells, exposed bolts and latches, exterior-mounted spare tire—all key design cues that have distinguished the basic Jeep since the first CJ-2A crawled out of the World War II mud and onto the civilian scene back in 1945.

Jeep aficionados will spot the changes, though, starting with the greatly expanded dimensions: JK is five inches longer and five inches wider, and rides on a two-inch-longer wheelbase with a 3.5-inch-wider track. Ground clearance is better on all models, as are the critical approach and departure angles. Standard 16-inch wheels replace the previous 15-inch base wheels, with 17- and 18-inch wheels available.

Under the hood, the venerable 4.0-liter inline-six engine is replaced by a more refined 3.8-liter, 205-hp, 240-lb-ft V6. That’s a gain of 15 hp at peak, with a significantly broader powerband. The former base motor, the 2.4-liter inline-four, is gone entirely.

Wrangler transmission choices include a six-speed manual gearbox or a four-speed automatic, connected to a choice of improved transfer cases (one for garden-variety Jeep off-roading, one with a 4:1 ratio for serious rock crawlers).

Overall, frame and body stiffness is dramatically improved, as are the upgraded solid front and rear axles that still underpin the Wrangler. These offer an extra 1.5 inches of overall wheel travel.

“We spent a few minutes talking about going to an independent front suspension,” says Issner. “It was a very short conversation.”

A new electronically disconnecting front antiroll bar improves Wrangler’s ability to tackle severe angles. Four-wheel antilock disc brakes are standard.

Chances are, if you liked the Gladiator concept Jeep revealed at the 2005 Detroit auto show, you will like the new Wrangler. That’s because Gladiator was a spot-on forecast of the new Wrangler from the B-pillar forward.

Though TJ and JK are close relatives, a careful examination reveals the subtle changes designers incorporated into the new model. Steve Ferrerio, head of the advanced design studio that created the fourth-generation Wrangler, points out the rounded or “crowned” sheetmetal panels that make the new truck appear more refined and improve its aerodynamics; a Wrangler-first rounded windshield (with a single center hinge); plastic fenders (with multiple aftermarket variations expected) and plastic bumper covers (required to meet new safety regulations); contoured hood, canted grille and integrated tail-lamps that retain a bolted-on appearance.

Less evident are changes such as the higher hood center required to meet European pedestrian crash standards, added crush space and reinforcement in doors and side panels, a thicker and better integrated sport bar, and the sharper and more functional hardtop with three removable panels allowing for a variety of open-air driving conditions. The Sunrider cloth top remains available.

“We tried some really revolutionary designs, and we gleaned some things from those designs,” says Ferrerio. “But we knew we needed to be evolutionary—that in this case everything has to have a purpose.”

Inside, change came much easier, from the first optional power windows and door locks (gasp!) to the fully upholstered inner door panel. (“There’s an armrest that will actually support an elbow,” notes Ferrerio.) Despite the newfangled electronics and trim, the doors are still completely removable. Seats are upgraded, fabrics and carpets are made of easy-drying antibacterial and anti-staining cloth, and there is a built-in lockable storage bin behind the back seats.

Interior space is up, with extra leg, hip and shoulder room and an extra two inches of cargo room behind the rear seat—which may not sound like much, but nearly doubles the Wrangler’s cargo space.

Other unseen additions include electronic stability control and roll mitigation, and improved airbag protection.

Wrangler comes in three trim levels: Wrangler X, Sahara and Rubicon, all fitted with the new V6 engine and all carrying the Jeep Trail Rated promise of superior traction, ground clearance, maneuverability, articulation and water fording.

“First and foremost, this vehicle is a tool to get you from point A to point B—any way you can,” says Ferrerio.

Link: http://www.autoweek.com/apps/pbcs.dll/arti.../VEHICLEREVIEWS

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