Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Review

jeep wrangler unlimited review

No vehicle represents America’s can-do spirit as authentically as the Jeep Wrangler. Born from the conflict that defined our Greatest Generation, the Jeep embodied our nation’s core values: simplicity, honesty and never-say-die durability. That was then. Now, not one but two badge engineered CUV’s are dragging the Jeep brand’s hard-core off-road rep through the [ankle deep] mire. Which puts a lot of weight on the ’07 Wrangler Unlimited’s elongated shoulders. Does the new Wrangler have enough talent and gumption to make up for the sins of the sons?

Necessity dictated the design of the general purpose military vehicle in 1941. With its windshield folded down and wheels removed, large numbers of Jeeps could be stacked onto and into transport ships. Tradition demands– and receives– respect for these styling cues. Even so, the Wrangler has evolved. Every corner, once sharp as the pant crease of an Army Class-A uniform, is subtly rounded. The grille that has stood at starched upright attention for more than sixty years is gently swept back. The windscreen still folds forward, but now it’s hinged in the middle to accommodate its new slightly curved shape. Aerodynamic it’s not. But for a Wrangler, the new model is positively sleek.

The top is as stubborn as ever. When I asked the Chrysler rep to take down the “Easy Folding Soft Top,” I initiated a 10-minute wrestling match between man and machine. The machine won. Despite unbuckling hasps, releasing latches and unzipping Velcro, the origami-impaired rep couldn't get the damn thing down. While I’m reasonable confident that a properly trained, well-practiced owner could eventually remove the canvas lid, the transformation shouldn’t be attempted impulsively at, say, a stoplight. In fact, I reckon the optional three-piece modular “Freedom Top” was named for its ability to liberate owners from said task.

Meanwhile, the new Wrangler (codenamed JK) has sprouted an extra pair of doors. Despite its additonal length, the outgoing Unlimited two-door required a contortionist’s skill to access the back. With rear portals, back seat egress is downright civilized– which is a bit like marveling at how easy it’s become to swing open The Gates of Hell. Not to put too fine a point on it, Jeep’s second row accommodations are rear passenger purgatory, bereft of comfort or room in any direction. And that’s when you’re standing still. Flail about the countryside at speed and your companions will emerge bruised, battered and bitching.

I drove the ’07 Wrangler Unlimited back-to-back with an outgoing ’06 two-door model. The advancements are profound. The front seats are far more comfortable and offer something remarkably akin to lateral support. Also new for ’07: optional power windows and locks for the [still] removable doors. The power window controls are now located in the center of the dashboard just below the stereo. The rest of the spartan dash gets a Chrysler parts-bin makeover; a vast improvement for Jeep, but nothing special in and of itself.

Jeep’s streamlining and improved chassis insulation deliver a much quieter (if not quiet) ride. Wrangler owners have come to expect rigs that porpoise down the highway, skitter through corners and labor to a stop. Thanks to the new Unlimited's added width and wheelbase, its dynamics are far more refined than its ancestors’. Through quick slalom-like maneuvering, the body continues to dance the Tango after the orquesta típica stops playing. But it recovers quickly. You can navigate city traffic with greater confidence, to the point where the Unlimited is a plausible daily driver.

Wrangler drivers can kiss their beloved 4.0-liter in-line six goodbye; the venerable I6 couldn’t meet federal emissions standards. All ’07 Wranglers are now blessed with Chrysler’s 3.8-liter V6, good for 215hp and 245ft-lbs torque. While its genesis might not inspire much joy in Mudtown (Dodge Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country?), the pushrod powerplant is simple enough to take the requisite beating and gives Wrangler improved torque at higher revs; it can get out of its own way when asked. Zero to sixty? Top speed? About as important to Wrangler lovers as a Porsche Cayenne's towing capacity to its target audience.

I’ve yet to take the new Wrangler Unlimited off-road, but junketed journalists report that the model is the genuine article; including tales of a Jeep rolled, righted, repaired and restored to service. Experience suggests that the new model’s extra length won’t help it in up-and-over situations, but learning your 4X4's limitations is all part of the fun.

Ironically enough, Jeep is about to experience the “fun” of learning its brand limitations. Making the Wrangler more urban-friendly while maintaining its die-hard demeanor was the right thing to do. Turning its back on its heritage was not. Is the new old-style Jeep good enough to protect the brand's rep from their silly soft-roaders? Yes, but only just. Which tells you just how good the Wrangler Unlimited is, and just how bad those CUV's really are.

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  • on Oct 02, 2009

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  • Sklutch Sklutch on Sep 12, 2010

    I've owned my 2007 Wrangler Unlimited long enough for the 3yr/36K warranty to expire. While I've owned it, it's only had 3 major issues (two recalls and one expired battery) that weren't caused by me. I finally was punished for my habit of gleefully rolling over the concrete dividers in parking lots by apparently scraping off the fuel vapor recovery canister. :( I had my soft top removed by the dealership and stored in the basement of my old apartment...where I left it when I moved. I just didn't want the security concerns of a softie anymore, having owned an Isuzu Amigo and replaced window panels on 4 occasions when someone decided they liked my stuff more than they liked working for it and cut their way through. The "Freedom Top" is wonderful and I haven't had any issues with leakage. Admittedly, I don't off-road, since my family sold the family farm and I don't have to make my way to the back 40 for some good fishing, anymore. I can remove the front panels inside of 5 minutes, stuff them in the back, and get some sun on my bulging forehead...offsetting my natural geek pastiness. As for mileage, I average 18MPG in town, but have reached 22MPG on long trips. I'm willing to basically screw the planet with this mileage because I prefer to have the capability to off-road when needed and I can only have one vehicle...and I don't have kids so I don't care about future generations. :) The ride is surprisingly smooth for a Jeep. My first Jeep was a 51 Willys customized by my grandfather and used on the farm to pull stumps, deliver lunches, haul dead animals, etc. I spent most of high school rolling in a friends CJ-7, and I find the ride to be great. I've been told that the ride is a good bit bumpier/sway-ier in the back seats, but it's my ride and I refuse to be a passenger. This Jeep has been my first completely new car and I've been extremely happy with it.

  • ToolGuy According to Americans, the very lovely and quite powerful Ford Fairmont (1978-1983) was Way Better.Source: Sales figures.
  • Goatshadow Use case: trade it in the moment the warranty is up.
  • SCE to AUX Why can't the NHTSA find or keep its leaders?
  • Faith Shoot my 2015 Ecodiesel with 170k miles just went out. I'm bummed big time
  • Marky S. To: article author: My Pleasure! I just don't want to be seen as a "know-it-all". There is a good detailed article on Wikipedia about the poor Edsel. Many believe that Ford gave up on it too soon, although there are a variety of reasons why Edsel was not popular. It actually sold respectable well, considering that this NEW nameplate was introduced during a Recession.
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