If you were to poll owners of '97-'06 Jeep Wranglers, most would
probably tell you that they don't like change. They fear change.
To them, change means messing with something they love. This
is nothing new. We saw the same thing in 1997 when the TJ debuted.
It didn't take long, however, for the TJ to endear itself to the die-hard
Once photos of the 2007 Wrangler (JK) appeared, the community
was immediately divided. Some people liked the new styling, the extra width, yada yada yada. But many die-hard TJ owners scoffed
at all this new technology and myriad changes.
Here's the interesting thing, though. Jeep conducts many focus
groups and really does pay attention to what owners say. Each
year at Camp Jeep, owners get to vent their frustrations and
let Jeep know what's on their wish list. When Jeep asks owners
what they'd want changed, they often say "Nothing. Leave
it alone." But if they rephrase the question, such
you like the Wrangler to be more comfortable? Would you like
it to be quieter inside?" they get an entirely different
response - "Yes!"
Then the Government and the bean counters step in.
So here's where we're at for 2007. For all of you TJ lovers,
hear this now. If you don't want change, you want the Wrangler
to be dead. It's that simple. Really. Jeep literally cannot produce
the TJ anymore, even if they want to. It won't meet 2007 Governmental
There's the short version.
OK, so let's put all that grumpiness aside and let's talk about
what's here now - the all-new 2007 Jeep Wrangler. It's wider. It can have 4 doors. The Unlimited is longer.
And it rocks!
We've seen the new JKs now since they debuted in Detroit and
New York earlier this year. But it was high time we got in the
seat and drove these newfangled four-wheelers. And Jeep agreed.
They could have introduced the new Wrangler anywhere, but despite
logistical nightmares and costs, they did it on the famous Rubicon
Trail. Just weeks after the brand new plant opened up and weeks
before any Wranglers have been released to dealers, they flew
wave after wave of media types into the Lake Tahoe area and shuttled
us to the Rubicon to play on the rocks.
Awesome view flying into Rubicon Springs.
Mark Smith, Jeep legend, and part owner of Rubicon Springs.
Because of time constraints, we were flown by helicopter into Rubicon
Springs, where we spent the night in tents and enjoyed the unmatched
hospitality of Mark Smith and his Jeep Jamboree USA staff.
There were plenty of Wranglers lined up in camp and the afternoon was spent going over them with fine-toothed combs. The
loose and casual atmosphere also allowed us all the face time we
wanted with Jeep PR, Marketing and Executives.
The air was crisp and cool, and you could seemingly spot every star in
the Milky Way that night, as we stood around the bonfire having drinks and
probing the Jeep folks for juicy tidbits of info.
Our JKs sat ready for us to check them out.
Media types freezing and telling lies with Jeep brass.
One of the most interesting conversations I had was with Mark
Moushegian, Design Manager for the Wrangler. Uncommon for car
designers, Mark actually was assigned the exterior and the interior of the new Wrangler.
Mark cleared up a common misconception for me. Most people are
under the understanding that the JK is based on the Rescue concept
vehicle. On the contrary, Mark had penned the Wrangler almost
two years prior to the Rescue! Incidentally, Mark also designed
the Dodge Hornet concept this past year.
Mark would give us the walk-around the following morning, discussing
the design aspects of the new Wrangler, pointing out Wrangler
hallmarks, such as the seven-slot grille, round headlamps, trapezoidal
wheel flairs and upright windshield. These cues are all retained
but in a more updated look. Curves are introduces, not only overall,
but subtly in areas that you don't notice immediately.
Mark Moushegian (left) listens as Mark Smith (right) tells us about the history of the Rubicon Trail and Rubicon Springs.
Exec. VP, Global Sales, Marketing & Service, Joe Eberhardt (left) freezes with the rest of us during the introduction at Rubicon Springs.
Mark Smith told
us a bit about the Rubicon Trail itself and we also heard from
engineers and execs, but as we stood there nearly freezing during
the 39 degree sunrise, all eyes were sneaking glances at our
chosen JKs for the trail ride, wondering how their heaters would
Finally, it was time. We had ogled the Wranglers front to back,
top to bottom the previous night but we really just wanted to
drive them. Let's go!
We've already covered all of the main specs, features and options in previous articles, so this one will focus on what we actually
got to drive.
My ride for the trail was a two door, six-speed
manual Rubicon. The tops were down and the windows gone and stored
elsewhere. Jeep wanted us to ride in the open air and we were
perfectly willing to do so - especially since the heaters really
do work nicely.
Nothing like being thrown right into the fire. No howdy, small-talking,
get to know you ice breaking on the road here. Grab a Jeep and
hit the trail in 4 Low. The JK has the easiest-shifting transfer
case lever I've ever used. Gone is the fighting and cajoling
to get into low-range, due to the redesigned shifter. I did notice, however, that the clutch has a very deep cycle in order to fully disengage it.
It didn't take me long to find a nice rock to crawl up and test the flex.
The JK crawled right up the rock without any fuss, whatsoever.
The transmissions and transfer cases are essentially the same
as the outgoing TJ Rubicons (6 spd. manual or 4 spd. automatic).
The 4.10 gear ratio of the Rubicons is also the same, though
the Dana 44s are different. But these similarities made it easy
for us to check out the new 3.8L V-6 engine - the only one offered
in the US. At a glance, the new engine shows more power than
the ages-old inline 6 that went bye-bye, providing 205 HP (@5200rpm)
and 240 lb.-ft of torque (@4000rpm). Digging deeper, though,
reveals that while the horsepower and torque are a bit higher
than the I-6, both come in at a much higher band than the old
inline, which one would assume to be a deficit for off-roading.
We were a little concerned about the new engine and how it would
act off-road but we were very pleasantly surprised - at least
with the manual tranny. We drove the auto later on-road but
did not have the opportunity to drive it off-road, so we'll reserve
judgement on that for later. The same goes for either transmission
in the 4-door Unlimited in an off-road setting.
In the 2-door, manual configuration, the engine did just fine.
In fact, at least with my driving style, it did great. Sure,
we all would love a little more torque down low but I was never
put in a situation where the engine didn't give me what I needed
when I wanted it and it never petered out and stalled on me.
What was most notable about the engine off-road was how quiet
it was. It sounded smooth and almost happy to be working on the
trail. Unlike the noisy, sometimes angry sound of the inline
six this guy whirred along the trail, just going about it's business.
Engine compression going downhill was comparable, as well, allowing
us to go down most hills and obstacles without the use of brakes.
On large steps, when we really wanted to creep down slowly and
gently, I was literally able to floor the brakes - almost standing
on them - and the Jeep continued on at a snail's pace, thanks to great gearing, and did
not stall. Perfect. Just like my TJ. Incidentally, brake rotors
have been upsized to 11.9" front and 12.44" rear from 11" and
11.2" on the TJ.
Perhaps the nicest thing about the new engine on the dusty Rubicon
Trail was the new electric fan. You could hear it cycle on and
off with a gentle buzz and it never had that high-revving roar
the inline six had. Better yet, it also didn't fire a downward
blast at higher rpm's. The TJ's fans would cause such a huge
cloud of dust from underneath that the Jeeps looked like Peanut's Pigpen going down the trail. You'll be thankful
for this, as will anyone behind you.
Inside, veteran Wrangler owners will immediately notice the
4.6 inches of additional hip room and 5.1 inches of shoulder
room. Personally, as I age like a fine wine, I am becoming more
- well - robust. My status as Daddy has allowed me to expand
and I take up more space than I did in my younger years. To me,
the extra width was greatly welcomed.
Another big hit is the new front seats. As the TJ got longer
in the tooth, the seating position shrank - kind of like an old
lady. The driver's seat had gotten lower in the last couple years
of the TJ (again, due to Government regulations), making it where even us six-footers felt like kids
behind the wheel - having to sit up straight to see over the
hood (especially with the windshield down). The new JK's seats
have a lever to raise the driver's seat up, allowing even shorter
drivers to get a good view. I found myself jacking it all the
way up for the most commanding view of the trail.
As pointed out by the Jeep execs back at camp (we won't repeat
their joke), Rubicons and Sahara models have YES Essentials stain-resistant
fabrics for easy cleanup. The seats were comfortable and nicely
supportive for a stock, everyday seat. Our ride was so pleasant and smooth, however, that we never had the chance to spill anything on the seats to test the fabric out.
The interior layout of the JK made sense and all of the controls
were where we expected them be with little hunting or fiddling
about. The new 368-watt, seven speaker audio sysstem is of particular
note. SIRIUS was enabled and a CD was in the changer so we could
evaluate the sound. For a stock system - especially a Wrangler
one - it sounded great. High end is handled by tweeter pods on
the dash, larger-than-TJ speakers are in the dash for mid-range, and the subwoofer
has been moved to the rear of the Jeep where it belongs, so the
center console is still usable for storage. Another plus is that
the EQ on the radio has a mid-range. Right on!
One thing I noticed that was a little strange was that the tachometer
and speedometer are reversed (like in the Liberty), meaning that the speedo is on the
left and the tach on the right. I found myself having to train
myself throughout the day to look at them correctly and often-times found my hand blocking my view of the speedometer.
Fit and finish in the Jeeps was good. The interior materials
did look and feel plain and a bit cheap in some places, though,
with flat and basic textures. The upside of this, of course,
is that cleaning will be easy, which I think is probably the
point. And yes, there are still plenty of water drain holes throughout
the floor so with the carpets out, you can still hose the Jeep
down after a good day on the trails.
So there we were, riding in the comfortable seats of our JK,
working our way out of the Rubicon Trail. The Wrangler's ride has been greatly
improved, due to many factors. Track width has been increased several
inches to 61.9 making the JK more stable on side-hills. We had
the Jeep laying very far over to its side and we never felt a
bit of pucker. Having driven my own TJ's since 1996, my rear
end was giving me much more confidence than before.
Wheelbase has been increased on both two and four door models.
The standard Wrangler is up 2" to 95.4, while Unlimited is up
12.6" to 116". By way of comparison, a Commander's wheelbase
CONTINUED - PAGE 2 --->>>
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Michael Cohn is the founder and Editor of ROCKCRAWLER.com. Michael has owned six Jeeps and was one of the few present at the introduction wearing shorts.
Michael at email@example.com.