- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 15, 2007

Remaining competitive in today’s automotive industry is a tough business. Generating profits is not a just a matter of building better vehicles than the competition, but also producing cars and trucks that satisfy customers’ ever-shifting demands. With well over 300 different vehicle models to choose from today, consumers’ expectations are becoming more and more precise. Jeep hopes its all-new 2007 Wrangler Unlimited hits several of those narrow sweet spots, appealing to a broad swath of buyers.

There are two primary attributes that have distinguished Jeep Wranglers over the years. The first is styling. The signature seven-slot grille, round headlights, exposed door hinges, fold-flat windshield and angular external fenders all contribute to Wrangler’s classic, timeless look. Worldwide, the vehicle is instantly recognizable.

Wrangler’s second inherent quality is off-road ability. With its short front and rear overhangs, heavy-duty differentials, low-range transfer case, mountain-high ground clearance and competent power train options, the classic Jeep tackles even the toughest terrain, including the legendary Rubicon Trail. Both the distinguished design and go-anywhere capability have helped Jeep maintain its loyal Wrangler fan base.

The larger automotive marketplace, however, is much tougher to please.

The past several years have included a massive influx of crossover utility vehicles (CUVs) that provide generous amenities and civilized on-road manners while also including ample space, comfortable ride heights and often all-wheel-drive capability. Even Jeep, in fielding the Compass and Patriot models this year, has succumbed to this soft utility vehicle craze. While defacing and watering down the Wrangler would be akin to automotive treason, Jeep needed a way freshen the off-road flagship’s appeal. Its answer is the all-new 2007 Wrangler Unlimited.

Approach the Wrangler Unlimited head on, and you won’t notice much out of the ordinary. However, the instant its flanks become visible, Wrangler precedent is shattered: the new Unlimited model includes four full-size doors. No Wrangler has ever offered exclusive cabin entry for rear-seat passengers, and the Unlimited wheelbase reaches 20.6 inches farther than that of the standard 2007 Wrangler and 12.6 inches longer than the 2004-06 two-door Wrangler Unlimited. At 173.4 inches in overall length the new Jeep also eclipses the old Unlimited by 6.4 inches.

Wrangler Unlimited’s expansion yields 46.4 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seat up and a cavernous 86.8 cubic feet when the rear bench is folded. Rear legroom improves by just half an inch compared with that of the previous Unlimited, so most of the size has gone to cargo capacity.

Jeep ditched the old 4.0-liter inline-six, instead offering a 3.8-liter V-6 developing 202 horsepower and 237 foot-pounds of torque. While these numbers are not astronomical improvements over the 190 horsepower/235 foot-pounds of the previous powerplant, the inherent efficiency of the new engine allows for better fuel economy, despite a curb weight gain of a few hundred pounds. According to Jeep, the new Unlimited Rubicon model rates at 17 city and 19 highway miles per gallon with the standard six-speed manual transmission and 16 city/19 highway with the optional four-speed automatic. The last two-door Rubicon Unlimited, employing the same transmissions, yielded 15 city/19 highway with the manual and 14 city/18 highway with the auto.

Underneath the bodywork, this Jeep is engineered with traditional live axles front and rear, including a Dana 30 front and heavy-duty Dana 44 rear unit. Rubicon models come with Dana 44s at both ends. Jeep also employs power-recirculating ball-type steering and four-wheel disc brakes with ABS. Tire choices range from 225/75 on 16-inch wheels up to 255/70s on 18 inchers.

The 2007 Wrangler Unlimited is available in both two-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive configurations. The Unlimited X and Sahara 4WD models are engineered with a second-generation Command-Trac system that has a two-speed transfer case and 2.72:1 low-range ratio. An optional limited-slip rear differential supplements the part-time 4WD system.

Stepping up to Rubicon trim yields the Off-Road Rock-Trac two-speed transfer case with 4.0:1 gearing, front and rear electric axle lockers, an active front sway bar that disengages and exclusive LT255/75R17 B.F. Goodrich Mud Terrain tires.

Electronic roll mitigation and the electronic stability program further enhance the Jeep’s abilities. Roll mitigation monitors steering position and vehicle speed to determine if a roll is imminent.

Maneuverability specs vary according to Wrangler’s fitted tires. With the large P255/70R18 tires, Unlimited posts impressive figures: approach angle is 44.4 degrees, departure is 40.7 degrees and breakover is 20.9 degrees. These tires allow a ground clearance of 10.2 inches. Wrangler Unlimited’s smallest tires, P225/75R16s, produce a still-impressive approach, departure and breakover angles of 40.6, 37.5 and 17.8 degrees, respectively. Ground clearance is 8.7 inches.Although the 2007 Unlimited is not a full-sized pulling machine, it still manages a moderate towing ability. Fitted with the available 4.10:1 axle ratio, all four-door Wrangler models tow up to 3,500 pounds.

When equipped with 3.21:1 axle gears, only 1,000 pounds of towing capacity is available. Both 2WD and 4WD versions of the “X” and Sahara trim models are available with both ratios when the six-speed manual transmission is chosen. Rubicon models get the 4.10:1 gears exclusively, as do all models with automatic transmissions.

In accordance with its new market position, Wrangler Unlimited X, Sahara and Rubicon models arrive with many features synonymous with luxury and convenience. Power windows and door locks with remote keyless entry are available, as is full-screen navigation, Sirius satellite radio and MP3 capability. The Wrangler’s innovative convertible soft-top opens in either “sunroof” or “full convertible” mode. Jeep’s available Freedom Top — a three-piece hardtop — includes driver and front passenger removable panels providing a host of configurations.

Seeing the four-door 2007 Wrangler Unlimited brings to mind maturity.

This is a grown-up vehicle aimed at a fully developed audience that demands refinement alongside capability. However, with maturity comes responsibility, which clearly came to the design table to preserve all of Wrangler’s off-road abilities as not to marginalize this vehicle’s die-hard fan base. Jeep succeeded and should expect more customers to embrace this “heritage” model.

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