It's big news when Jeep makes changes to the Wrangler. To the casual observer, the 2007 Jeep Wrangler Sahara 4x4 may look just like every Jeep that has hit the road since the Willys MA in 1941. To the Jeep aficionado, the 2007 Jeep Wrangler Sahara 4x4 represents a radical departure from the true path. With a base price of $22,870 ($28,010 as tested), the 2007 Jeep Wrangler Sahara 4x4 comes with a 3 year/36,000 mile warranty and an EPA estimate of 16 mpg city/19 mpg highway. Let's unravel the code, and figure out what makes this Jeep different than all other Jeeps...
Well, it sure looks the same on the outside. Up front, the iconic Jeep six-bar grille is flanked by high round headlights, just like it has been since the beginning (we'll conveniently ignore the rectangular headlights on the last AMC Jeep, the original YJ "Yuppie Jeep" Wrangler of 1987). This new Wrangler, officially the "JK" in Jeep lingo, is very close in dimension to the previous edition, the TJ
. It's about 3.3" shorter at 152.8" in length, but has a 2" longer wheelbase at 95.4". As a result, the JK jeep has an incredible 44.3 degree approach angle and 40.4 degree departure angle with a 25.4 degree breakover -- all significant improvements over TJ. Even if you don't plan to take your Jeep off road, these numbers affect the way Wrangler looks and performs. The 17" wheels are pushed out to the corners (my test vehicle wore optional $165 18" aluminum wheels), and the vehicle rides high over its chassis. Ground clearance is an astounding 10.1", up over an inch from TJ.
One area where JK has not improved over TJ or any previous Wrangler is in the soft top. What a monster! It looks great when it's up, and horrible when it's down, and it's a half-hour job in either direction. Jeep touts its new Dual Top Group (a $1,585 option), which adds a three-piece modular hard top to the mix. I'd lose the soft top entirely and go with the hard top if I owned a Wrangler -- I'd probably live longer as a result. Wrangler looks best with its top completely off anyway.
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In the Driver's Seat
Wrangler's dash is nicely laid-out, a little softer and more rounded than last year's edition.Photo © Jason Fogelson
Things are pretty much unchanged inside Wrangler as well. There's not a lot of extra fru-fru, and everything's simple and straightforward -- hey, wait a minute! What are those switches in the middle of the dash -- no!! They didn't!! My test vehicle was equipped with a Power Convenience Group ($585) that included -- I can barely type the words -- power windows. On a Wrangler. Why? Who wanted power windows on their Wrangler? The first time I went to open the window on my test vehicle, I had to pull off the road, turn on the interior lights and search for the switch. I found it, but the location is anything but intuitive.
Wrangler is available in several levels of trim -- the base X, Sahara and top of the line Rubicon. My Sahara was well-equipped, with a durable-feeling, neoprene-like cloth fabric covering the seats. A serious mudder would be wise to invest in washable seat covers right away, before grinding dirt into the fabric.
Wrangler's dash is nicely laid-out, a little softer and more rounded than last year's edition. The concentric round steering wheel is a nice touch, much nicer than the parts bin version that added nothing to the look of the TJ.
Jeep has crammed a surprising level of passive safety equipment into the cabin -- advanced multi-stage airbags, a sport bar (I guess it doesn't qualify as a roll bar), and optional ($490) supplemental front seat side air bags. Rollover protection is confined to stability control and handling enhancements -- rollover airbags don't do much good in a convertible.
On the Road
Wrangler purists are up in arms over the changes under the new JK's hood. Where previously sat an inline six-cylinder engine, now resides a 3.8 liter V6 that cranks out 205 hp and 240 lb-ft of torque. My test vehicle came with a four-speed automatic transmission, which handled the power well. With a curb weight of 3951 lbs, Wrangler is no sprite, but it will keep up with traffic.
I had a chance to drive another Wrangler on an off-road course a few months ago, back-to-back with a very competent group of competitive vehicles. The bone-stock Wrangler was amazing in the dirt, easily the most fun and most immediate of any of the off-roaders I tried that day.
On the road, it was another story in the Sahara. I never really got comfortable behind the wheel. The combination of the big wheels and tires, along with the short wheelbase made it feel squirrelly to me. I drove it very tentatively on city streets, and I avoided driving it on the highway whenever possible. I felt like any sudden steering inputs would be disastrous. I dreaded the thought of making a sudden lane change or emergency swerve. I would not want to drive this Wrangler on a daily basis.
JK is a full 6" wider than TJ at 73.7", which makes for more comfort inside and less maneuverability outside -- turning radius is up 1.4' at 34.9'. Parking is still incredibly easy -- you can jam this Wrangler into the tightest of parallel spaces with no problem whatsoever.
Wrangler's reasonable price, incredible ability and vibrant aftermarket make it the ideal choice for the serious off-roader.Photo © Jason Fogelson
You can only fairly judge a vehicle according to its intended purpose -- how well does it do what it was built to do? That's part of the problem with the 2007 Jeep Wrangler. It's trying to straddle two purposes at once -- both everyday on-road vehicle and weekend warrior off-road. I would argue that there's no better vehicle for off-roading. Wrangler's reasonable price, incredible ability and vibrant aftermarket make it the ideal choice for the serious off-roader. As a daily driver, it leaves a lot to be desired, however. The handling compromises, limited storage space and utility and thirsty nature of the beast are just not worth the tradeoffs.
For a daily driver with serious off-road chops, there are several other vehicles in this price range that treat the daily driving part of the equation with more finesse. Nissan's Xterra and Toyota's FJ Cruiser are very livable vehicles that can do their thing in the dirt with aplomb. The HUMMER H3 is surprisingly competent off-road as well. For a few more dollars, check out the new Land Rover LR2 or the Toyota 4Runner. Jeep's Liberty is also worth consideration -- you get more daily utility, pretty good off--road chops, and you'll still be flying the Jeep flag.
Even better, go out and pick up a used TJ, YJ or even a CJ Jeep, and make it your dedicated off-road vehicle. Lose the top, add a lift kit, soup up that inline 6 and really go dirt whomping. Then you can drive your '93 Civic to work on Monday with a great big smile on your face. That might be a compromise you could live with.