The Jeep Wrangler is Chrysler’s long-running edition of the classic World War II military vehicle. Years ago, the civilian Jeep left the foxhole for Friends territory, where it continues to attract a loyal following, especially among teen-aged drivers.
We’re no longer teen-agers and we don’t watch Friends. Perhaps that explains why we found the 2002 Wrangler X, priced at $23,680, so contentious.
She: I can see by our star ratings on the Wrangler X that we didn’t do a Vulcan Mind Meld on this one.
He: Boy, you’re really giving away your age with that one, Ms. Trekkie.
She: I know we’re not totally on the same wave-length here. I had some problems with the X, which is the mid-level, six-cylinder Wrangler. But they largely had to do with the fact that when I was running errands, I was only able to fit 24 cans of dog food in the rear cargo hold. And I had nowhere to hang my dry-cleaning. But for the most part, this is an adorable little SUV, complete with neat seats that have fuzzy fabric on the bottom and leather-like material on top. The Wrangler is a snap to park. You just wedge it in wherever you feel like it. And every time you get in it, you feel like you’re going on an adventure, not to work.
He: Then why does it feel like it takes so much work just to climb in and out of the Wrangler? I’m surprised that those high sills and ground clearance don’t bother a 5-3 shrimp like you. And outside of parking, it IS a lot of work to operate this Jeep. Imagine, for nearly $24,000, you don’t get power windows. Or power mirrors. Or power door locks. That’s not only inconvenient, but it’s also a potential safety and security issue, when you can’t reach over easily to adjust the passenger-side mirror or lock the door. Those seem like basic amenities that you get even on the least expensive economy cars that cost half as much as this Jeep. In fact, this probably would be a decent $14,000 vehicle, but for $23,680, I’m not sure what teen-ager could even afford to think about owning this Wrangler.
She: And yet, we see lots of kids driving Wranglers all over southeastern Michigan, so there must be a powerful attraction there. I’ve talked with enough Jeep owners and lovers, too, to know that the Wrangler is something of an icon with the off-road set. But you can also take the top down on a sunny day and drive one of the most unique convertibles on the road. That kind of versatility has to be worth something.
He: I see the Wrangler as a limited-use vehicle that I wouldn’t recommend to a friend or to a friend’s son or daughter. You mentioned how easy it is to park the Wrangler, which is partly a function of its short wheelbase. But that same short wheelbase — the distance between the front and rear wheels — makes the Wrangler feel like a bucking bronco on rough pavement, and combined with the higher center of gravity, makes it feel tippy if you take corners too fast. I would feel really uncomfortable to have my k ids riding in a Wrangler, especially when you consider the doors are so thin, there’s not much metal between you and the vehicle next to you. Nor can you get side air bags. You even have to pay $600 extra to get antilock brakes.
She: You’re always lecturing me, but I think you’re missing the point here. Younger drivers like the authentic look of the Wrangler, and they probably don’t mind the bouncy ride all that much. I know they’ll probably appreciate the big 4.0-liter, six-cylinder engine that comes in the Wrangler X and makes 190 horsepower. Be forewarned that with the optional three-speed automatic, you’re going to get pretty dismal mileage — 15 miles per gallon in city driving, according to the EPA, and only 17 on the highway. And that’s for a compact sport-ute that really can seat only four adults.
He: A few more complaints. The driver-side visor kept knocking the rear-view mirror out of whack when I lowered it. The interior pieces didn’t fit together well, and the exposed metal seams had some very sharp edges. And the wind noise at moderate speeds is pretty bad, even for a convertible. Bottom line — one star. This is one of the least impressive vehicles I’ve tested in the past several years.
2002 Jeep Wrangler
Anita’s rating: (Acceptable)
Paul’s rating: (Subpar)
Likes: Easy to park. Classic military Jeep design. Strong visual appeal to teens. Nimble offroad capability. Unique among convertibles.
Dislikes: Primitive in nearly every respect. Ridiculously overpriced at nearly $24,000. Excessive wind noise. High sill makes entry/exit difficult. Hard to climb in and out of rear seat. Miniscule cargo bay. Tippy in corners. ABS costs $600 extra. Visor hits rear-view mirror. Extremely rough and bouncy ride. No power mirrors, windows or locks. Sub-par quality, including sloppy trim, exposed metal seams.
Type: Front-engine, four-wheel drive, 4-passenger utility vehicle
Price: Base, $18,410; as tested, $23,680 (inc. $585 destination charge)
Engine: 4.0-liter I-6; 190-hp; 235 lb-ft torque
EPA fuel economy: 15 mpg city/17 mpg highway
12-month insurance cost, estimated by AAA Michigan: $1,134 (Rates may be higher or lower, depending on coverage and driving record.)
Where built: Toledo, Ohio