Stretching the Wranglers Practicality

The Jeep Wrangler is a real one of a kind SUV; its one of just a handful of vehicles that is entirely engineered around a single purpose – taking people to the far corners of the earth. For something that started out life as a military machine, the Wrangler has taken off with the general public, becoming one of the definitive automotive icons of the outdoorsy, active lifestyle. In 2005 (actual initial model-year was 2004.5), Jeep introduced a Wrangler with a longer wheelbase called the Unlimited, taking all the principles of the Jeep and stretching them to new lengths. Of course, it too was a hit, offering greater practicality, greater comfort and almost the same level of off-road capability as the regular wheelbase Wrangler. The latest Unlimited, which debuts at this years NYIAS, capitalizes on the all-new 2007 Wrangler by offering greater access through four doors.

Even though its a four-door, the new Unlimited is still unmistakably a Wrangler. It still has exposed hinges on all apertures (rear doors included), a fold-down front windshield, and buyers still have a choice between full-frame doors (as pictured) or half-frame doors with zip-up plastic windows. In terms of roofing options, the Wrangler Unlimited comes standard with a soft top roof with the Sunrider sunroof function. For those wanting increased practicality, Jeep will also offer the new Freedom Top modular hardtop roof that consists of three snap-on segments. With the Freedom Top option, buyers can turn the Unlimited from a closed to an open roof vehicle in just thirty seconds, storing the panels on board.

The idea of having modular hardtop, should appeal to many more people (including me) than with previous versions. Having experienced the extended process of raising and lowering the roof on the regular Wrangler with its many zippers, tuck-in flaps and generally slow operation, any system which improves upon the old design, particularly one that offers such roof-top fexibility is truly welcome. Though traditional enthusiasts who have struggled with previous designs may shed a tear, Im sure theyll come to adore the ease of the new system.

In order to fit those extra two doors into the Wranglers frame, the chassis was stretched by a massive 20.6 inches in its wheelbase, for a grand total of 116.0 inches between its live front and rear axles. Because Jeep knows that its customers are some of the most demanding people on the face of the planet, theyve taken the necessary precautions in finishing this extension of design with care. Despite being much longer than the outgoing Unlimited, the new frame is 100 percent more rigid, and the body is 50 percent more rigid, which not only improves its off-roading abilities, but is sure to keep the vehicle free of squeaks and rattles on smoother roads. The new Wrangler is also 20 percent quieter, thanks to better road noise isolation. Interestingly, the previous-generation Wrangler Unlimited was also sought after by some trail-riders who preferred its longer wheelbase for off-road use. Normally the shorter regular wheelbase is the ride of choice by those in the know, the old CJ5 being highly desirable by diehard 4×4 enthusiasts, but it seems theres a select group that like to go long.
For the hardcore offroader who now has kids and all that goes with them to haul along on the weekend adventure, the Unlimited is really the way to go. For the better part its just as capable as the standard, regular-wheelbase Wrangler when the going gets tough, thanks to a best-in-class approach angle of 44.4 degrees, a breakover angle of 20.8 degrees, and a 40.5 degree departure angle, and when equipped with the optional, electronic-disconnecting front stabilizer bar, it is able to offer 28-percent greater wheel travel for unparalleled wheel articulation. The top of the line Rubicon model also features the RockTrack two-speed transfer case with 4.0:1 low-gear, locking front and rear Dana 44 axles, and big, beefy 32-inch BF Goodyear tires.

While structural integrity is a major component in safety, the Wrangler offers many new passive and active features, making it the safest to date. All Wranglers feature dual-stage front airbags and ABS brakes with brake assist as standard, but the real leap forward comes from the addition of optional seat-mounted side airbags, and a three-mode stability control program with on, off and partial-on settings, for a variety of different settings – the latter item being standard, by the way. The stability control system is also linked to DaimlerChryslers Electronic Roll Mitigation system that uses the engine and brakes to intervene if a rollover is detected by monitoring speed and steering angle. Together, these systems help to keep drivers, and their passengers safe, whether theyre venturing out to pick up some groceries, or on an outing to explore the wilderness.

Its a well-known fact that even though the Wranger is an excellent vehicle for getting to the far corners of the earth, a great majority of them reside in suburban areas. For this reason, Jeep has made the Wranger a much more comfortable place. Aside from having a cabin thats much larger, the Wranger is much better equipped. Key features here include available keyless entry, an organized center console that includes a powerful (waterproof) stereo system with aux-in input, revised HVAC controls, YES essentials fabric trimmed seats, and all-important power windows.

Even though the Unlimited grants rear-passengers with more space and legroom, cargo space hasnt suffered at all; in fact, because the vehicle on the whole is much larger, luggage space been improved significantly. With the rear 60/40 split folding rear seats upright, owners have an entire 46.3 cu-ft at their disposal, and when theyre folded, it nearly doubles to 83 cu-ft with a completely flat floor. That means that with the Unlimited you can carry more of your stuff into the wilderness than almost any other heavy-duty off-roader – XTerra, H3, and FJ Cruiser included! Because security has always been an issue with the soft-top Wrangler, Jeep added an under-floor locking storage space, a 32-percent bigger locking glove box and a lockable console armrest.

The Wrangler Unlimited will be offered with a sole powerplant; the new 3.8-liter OHV V6 engine that makes 205 horsepower and 240 lb-ft of torque. Not only is this replacement engine more powerful than the old 4.0-liter inline-six, its more efficient to boot. It will be interesting to see how the new V6 will live up to the old straight-six workhorses smoothness and tractability. Available with a six-speed manual or optional four-speed automatic, the Unlimited has the ability to tow 3,500 pounds total. While this is good news, many off-road enthusiasts will long for European-bound models, which, for the first time will receive a CRD turbodiesel powerplant, which is mated solely to a manual gearbox.