The 1998 Jeep Wrangler isn't perfect, but it is much better than the previous generation, which was phased out in 1996.

At highway speeds the engine revs high and guzzles gas, returning a shameful 11 miles per gallon at 70 mph (with the air conditioner running). That is nowhere near the EPA estimate of 18 mpg on the highway.

The test vehicle seemed to be running fine, so I don't think the poor fuel economy can be blamed on a mechanical failure.

Still, I can't gripe about the Wrangler's performance. This small Jeep is not just fast, it's powerful too.

Chrysler engineers gave the Wrangler an all-new suspension system. They tossed out the old leaf-spring suspension and mated a version of the Grand Cherokee's Quadra Coil system to the Wrangler's rugged steel frame.

The result is a vehicle that can take a tremendous pounding off-road while still offering an almost carlike ride on smooth pavement.

The suspension is still firm, but rolling over a big bump won't make the Wrangler buck and lurch like a wild bronco.

The vehicle's new dash is attractive and user-friendly. I particularly liked the high-quality feel of the switches for the turn signals and windshield wipers. The AM/FM stereo came with a CD player and a cassette deck.

However, all these strong points are canceled out by problems, such as cheap carpet and poorly positioned window cranks.

The Wrangler we tested was a '97, but the 1998 model is virtually identical. Wrangler has a unique character and a real personality. There's nothing bland about this machine. It has a cool, macho all-American image. And I really like that. The brawny Wrangler makes the imports look like Tonka toys.

1998 Jeep Wrangler Sport

Base price: $17,140.

Price as tested: $22,628.

Safety: Dual air bags, four-wheel anti-lock brakes.

Engine and transmission: 4.0-liter six-cylinder, four-speed automatic.

EPA rating: 15 mpg city/18 mpg highway.

Incentives: None.