Nothing is more traditional in the world of sport utility vehicles than the smallest, entry-level Jeep model. The Wrangler is a direct descendant of the military Jeep that provided invaluable assistance for the Allied victory during World War II. In fact, the Wrangler’s predecessors are considered by many to be the pioneers of the SUV category, even though the term “SUV” didn’t come into existence until after Jeeps had been around for decades.
A new, more affordable X model aimed at younger buyers joined the lineup for 2002. It is equipped with a 4.0-liter engine and cloth seats. In 2003, a super-duty Rubicon model debuted with locking front and rear differentials, all-disc brakes and a 4-to-1 Low-range transfer case. For 2004, a new 30-inch spare-tire cover is available for the Sahara edition, all models have tilt steering, and a CD player becomes standard in X, Sport, Sahara and Rubicon versions.
DaimlerChrysler’s Jeep division produces the two-door Wrangler convertible in two forms: with either a folding soft-top or an optional removable hardtop. A reworked Wrangler is thought to be nearing production, but DaimlerChrysler has not yet made an announcement. The Wrangler was last redesigned for the 1997 model year.
Even with a quick glance, there’s no mistaking the heritage or toughness of the Wrangler. It starts with the upright vertical grille that echoes the World War II version. The windshield and soft convertible top fold down when the driving situation permits. Half-steel doors contain zip-out plastic side windows, which adds to the vehicle’s paramilitary appearance.
The folding soft-top is a four-ply design. A metal hardtop with full steel doors and roll-up side windows is optional, which makes the driving experience considerably more civilized. The Wrangler is only 155.4 inches long overall and 66.7 inches wide; it sits on a 93.4-inch wheelbase. With the soft-top erected, the Wrangler is 70.9 inches tall.
Two bucket seats are installed up front. A folding two-place rear bench seat is standard on all models but the base SE, where it is offered as an option. An optional Add-A-Trunk feature provides a lockable storage compartment in the cargo area. Made of injection-molded compound, it features thumbscrews for easy removal or sliding forward.
Under the Hood
The Wrangler is equipped with four-wheel drive and a choice of engines. Installed in the SE model, the Wrangler’s base engine is a 2.4-liter inline-four-cylinder that produces 147 horsepower. Upscale models get a 190-hp, 4.0-liter inline-six-cylinder engine. Both power plants team with either a five-speed-manual transmission or an optional four-speed automatic. Part-time four-wheel drive is intended for use only on slippery surfaces.
Antilock brakes are optional on all models except the SE and Rubicon.
Modern-day Wranglers are a lot more civilized than their ancestors from the early 1990s and before. Whether the Wrangler is motoring down the highway, whipping through urban byways or traversing the most demanding offroad terrain, it is nimble, quick, precise and fun to drive. The Wrangler can get noisy, but not nearly as much as it did in the past.