Thursday, February 21, 2008

The unmistakable Jeep


From Thursday's Globe and Mail

  • Type: Two-door SUV
  • Base Price: $26,995; as tested: $30,725
  • Engine: 3.8 litre V-6
  • Horsepower/Torque: 202 hp/237 lb-ft
  • Transmission: Four-speed automatic
  • Drive: Rear-drive with 4WD
  • Fuel Economy (litres/100 km): 14.1 city/10.3 highway; regular gas
  • Alternatives: Hummer H3, Land Rover LR2, Nissan XTerra, Toyota FJ Cruiser


  • Loaded with personality
  • Clever back seat fold-away feature
  • Removable doors and fold-down windscreen beyond cool

Don't like

  • Kind of thirsty
  • Back seat ingress/egress challenging

Although Jeep has at least half a dozen models on the market (not counting their various permutations and variants), the one that still resonates with most people is the Wrangler.

This is the model that still looks the most "Jeepy," if you will. Sure, others, like the Commander, Liberty and so on, are unmistakable, but the Wrangler most resembles the original that got the whole ball rolling back in the 1940s, and comes with a lot of history.

Although these days it wears the Wrangler badge, over the years it's been known as the CJ, YJ and TJ. It officially became the Wrangler in the mid-1980s (in the United States, anyway); it received a redo in the mid-1990s and another one last year. A four-door version was also added to the lineup in 2007.

Through it all, it's remained a stubby, high-perched sport-ute that places function over convenience and is impossible to confuse with anything else.

For '08, the Wrangler two-door comes in three trim levels: X, Sahara and Rubicon. My tester, the Sahara, is somewhere in the middle; better equipped than the X, but not as hard-core as the Rubicon, which is really aimed at the serious off-road enthusiast.

Power comes from a 3.8-litre V-6 that develops just over 200 horsepower. This engine is used throughout Chrysler's lineup, and although I've complained about its unrefined nature in some of the company's other offerings, in this application, it seems just about perfect. All kinds of bottom end, responsive and useable.

It probably makes as much mechanical noise as ever, but because of the Wrangler's bluff aerodynamics and wind-collecting styling, you don't notice it, and it doesn't really matter anyway. If you're yearning for a civilized, refined driving experience, you should probably look elsewhere.

There are two transmission choices: six-speed manual or four-speed automatic. My tester had the latter and it adds $1,180 to the vehicle's price tag.

If you're in the market for a weekend boulder-hopper that you can take into the boonies on a regular basis, the manual is no doubt the better choice, but I prefer the automatic — just lazy, I guess.

And, anyway, this engine has more than enough grunt to move it along promptly. Fuel consumption for the autobox is, unsurprisingly, inferior to that of the manual, but not by much: 14.8 litres/100 kilometres versus 14.4 in town.

Whatever gearbox you choose, you have to keep in mind that this is essentially a niche vehicle. The Wrangler is not family transport and, usually, the people who buy it don't much care about ergonomics, wind noise, drivetrain refinement or even cargo space.

Either it's an image thing or they really do want to go off-roading in a meaningful way. Speaking of which, the Sahara comes with Jeep's Command-Trac 4WD system accessed through a console-mounted lever. Unless you're a down-and-dirty, bushwhacking commando, it's more than enough for most off-road forays.

My tester had a base price just five bucks less than $27,000, and came with a few extras in the form of a folding removable top ($675), and six-disc CD stereo with MP3 capability ($475). Otherwise, standard kit includes air conditioning, power door locks, power windows, cruise control, fog lamps, a traction control system, and four-wheel disc brakes.

The Sahara is actually quite well equipped, and I particularly like the folding rear seat, which can easily be lifted up and out of the way by pulling on one strap.

There's not a lot of room back there once that's done, and my tester had the soft top rolled up and stashed back there as well, which really cut down on the storage space. Still, it'll accommodate a couple of suitcases or some golf clubs.

Getting into the back seat to actually sit down is another matter; be prepared to lose your dignity.

I would also be remiss if I didn't mention that my tester leaked water through the roof — up near the windscreen. It might just have been a matter of an improperly fitting top, but when it rained, there was a nice little puddle of water there to greet me in the mornings — on top of the dash and on the centre console/shift lever.

But, hey, this is a Jeep, and while I don't expect these kinds of glitches, they also don't put me off. The Wrangler is saturated with something that's in pretty short supply in today's market: personality.

Despite, or maybe because of, its idiosyncrasies, I actually liked it — a lot. To the point where I could see myself owning one, were I in the market for a car. I like its rough-and-tumble ambience, and the fact that you can take it deep into the back woods, fold the windscreen down, remove the top and even take off the doors is hugely appealing, as far as I'm concerned.

Keep in mind that this is coming from someone who has owned at least four Morgans over the years.

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