Car reviews - Jeep - Wrangler - wagon range
16 Mar 2007
By CHRIS HARRIS
JEEP’S unrelenting new-model drive continues with the release of an extended wagon version of its completely redesigned and comprehensively improved JK Wrangler range.
On sale now from $34,990, and known as the Wrangler Unlimited, it brings a four-door five-seater body to the series for the first time in Australia (some 1940s to 1960s CJ Jeeps offered similar body styles Stateside).
Meanwhile the new JK Wrangler two-door four-seater wagon kicks off at $30,990.
Both come in three versions – base Sport, well-equipped Renegade and the new super-serious off-roading Rubicon edition.
Not messing with the proven formula, Jeep has retained much of the trademark Wrangler styling cues, including the squared-off wheelarches, exposed hinges, externally mounted spare wheel, seven-bar grille flanked by round headlights and removable full or half-frame doors, hardtop and soft top options.
The windscreen still folds down, but is now curved instead of flat, greatly increasing air flow, slashing wind noise, improving weather sealing and generally summing up how actually different new from old Wrangler really is.
In fact, compared to its 1996-vintage TJ Wrangler predecessor, almost everything has changed, from the body and interior to the ladder-frame chassis, suspension and drivetrains, with big gains in space, performance, safety, refinement and on-road driveability.
Other than packing in an extra 523mm to the two-door Wrangler’s 2424mm wheelbase, as well as two extra side doors, the Unlimited is otherwise identical to its shorter sibling.
The two-door wagon is 133mm wider at 1873mm, 99mm wider in track at 1572mm, and 51mm longer in wheelbase than the outgoing Wrangler. However, at 4223mm long, it’s also about 66mm shorter in overall.
Yet despite the latter dimension, rear-seat legroom, hip room and shoulder room balloons considerably, as does cargo space.
Now there’s 490 litres (Unlimited: 1310L), 1600L with the rear seats folded (Unlimited: 2320L), and 1730L with them removed (the Unlimited’s are fixed). The old Wrangler only managed 255L, 719L and 1348L respectively.
New front seats are said to offer better comfort and support, the dashboard has been restyled for a more modern appearance and better ergonomics, fresh trim materials are used, ventilation has improved, there are more storage areas (including a lockable underfloor location) and the audio system has been upgraded – reflecting the model’s widespread youth appeal.
Australia is one of the first markets in the world to receive the new diesel Wrangler.
Available in both body styles and co-developed with Italian engineering firm VM Motori, the 2.8-litre common-rail turbo-diesel four-cylinder CRD unit delivers 130kW of power at 3800rpm and 400Nm of torque between 2000 and 2600rpm.
Petrol powered Wranglers now use a new 3.8-litre overhead valve V6 producing 146kW at 5000rpm and 315Nm at 4000rpm, banishing the heavy 130kW/305Nm 4.0-litre OHV six-cylinder unit that dates back to the old American Motors Corporation days – Jeep’s owners before Chrysler’s 1987 takeover of the marque.
Among other efficiencies, the implementation of an electronic throttle control assists in bringing down fuel consumption.
In the two-door Wrangler, the V6 petrol returns a combined 11.5L/100km in manual mode, and 11.6 for the auto (that’s down from the TJ’s 13L/100km effort), while the Unlimited’s combined average in either gearbox guise is 11.8.
Because of its increased mass and lower gearing needed for the hardcore off-road abilities that the Rubicon models offer, the two-door’s manual/auto numbers are 12.5 and 11.6L/100km respectively, with those figures each rising by 0.3L/100km when referring to the Unlimited.
Diesels consume less fuel, as the CRD manual’s 9.9 (Unlimited: 10) and automatic’s 9.7 (Unlimited: 9.9) tallies testify.
Both powerplants utilise a six-speed manual gearbox, while the diesel’s five-speed automatic goes two better than the petrol’s four-speed auto transmission by offering an extra gear as well as an alternate second gear ratio according to whether the vehicle is changing up or down, for smoother and more efficient progress.
Two types of transfer cases are offered.
All bar the Rubicon models, which are inexplicably petrol-only for now, feature Jeep’s second-generation Command-Trac part-time, two-speed transfer case utilising a 2.72:1 low-range gear ratio. It is claimed to be stronger, more durable, smoother and more efficient in operation.
The Wrangler also gains Brake Lock Differentials (BLD). Incorporated into the ESP stability control algorithm, it provides brakes to any spinning wheel for the right amount of traction during off-road scenarios.
Meanwhile the Rubicon adds Off-Road Rock-Trac to its artillery, an upgraded 4x4 system with a two-speed transfer case and a 4.0:1 low-range gear ratio.
Jeep says that Off-Road Rock-Trac, along with the Rubicon’s Tru-Lock front and rear locking differentials that provide low-speed manoeuvrability via a dash switch by evenly splitting torque between both wheels for increased traction, are designed for more intense off-road situations.
Over the TJ, the JK brings improved ground clearance, to match its impressively short front and rear overhangs. The best-in-class approach and departure angles for the two-door are 44.3 and 40.4 degrees respectively (a 0.1 degree lower than Unlimited), while the breakover angle is 25.5 degrees is 4.7 degrees higher than its stretched sibling.
An electronic-disconnection front anti-roll bar – known as the Active Sway Bar System – presents extra wheel travel when needed.
The latest Wrangler sits on a fully boxed frame that is twice as stiff in bending, and 50 per cent torsionally stiffer, as previously. This helps dynamic and refinement properties, and provides a better base for severe crash impacts from all directions.
Boxed cross members contribute to the Wrangler’s formidable off-road abilities, as do a reworking of the five-link coil suspension configuration and its component geometry, and new (and relocated) shock absorbers and springs – with lower rates for better ride pliancy.
The front suspension’s longitudinal location of the axles by leading control arms, and the rear’s trailing control arms, are aided by steel front and rear track bars that provide lateral support for the axle with minimal angle change during suspension travel situations.
A revised powered re-circulating ball steering system sees it mounted as rigidly as possible for much-needed gains in on-centre feel and overall precision, as well as benefits in handling, stability and braking abilities.
DaimlerChrysler’s aforementioned ESP is standard across the entire Wrangler range, and includes Hydraulic Brake Assist, Traction Control, BLD and ERM Electronic Roll Mitigation – which diverts braking and torque wherever it is needed to counteract rollover forces.
It can be partially switched off (deactivating the traction control system while operating the ESP at a higher activation threshold) or fully switched-off (ESP and ERM are off, BLD remains), but defaults back on with each engine start.
Weights invariably rise, to 1730-1890kg for the two-door, and 1875-1955kg for the Unlimited. The TJ entered the scales from just 1564kg.
Braked towing capacity has improved markedly, from 900kg for the old Wrangler, to 1600kg for the two-door and 2300kg for the Unlimited.
All models include the electronic driver and safety aids mentioned above, as well as dual front airbags, air-conditioning, cruise control, fog lights, power door locks with keyless entry, powered front windows, a soft top, 16-inch alloy wheels, a radio/CD/MP3 player and removable carpets with a drain hole for hosing down the cabin floor.
Jeep says the Renegade adds $4000 worth of value for $2000 extra ($2500 on Unlimited). It features a dual top with Sunrider soft-top and Freedom Top three-piece modular plastic hard top, tinted glass, a six-disc CD/DVD player, premium speakers and tubular side steps.
Besides the additional 4x4 hardware, the Rubicon builds on the Sport specification by including 17-inch wheels with all-terrain tyres, odour-resistant fabric and a premium audio system.
Jeep expects to sell between 2000 and 2500 JK Wranglers per year, making it the company’s bestseller.
The Unlimited should make up at least two-thirds of that volume, while the CRD diesel is thought to capture around 30 per cent of all sales.
Aside from Holden’s upcoming Hummer H3, Jeep can see rivals as varied as the Toyota Prado, Holden Commodore and Honda CR-V.
“It is a more mainstream model than the TJ Wrangler ever was,” says Gerry Jenkins, managing director for the Chrysler Group in Australia.
All Wranglers are made in Toledo, Ohio in the United States.
Now only in its sixth generation since (civilian) production commenced in 1945, the American off-road icon started life and the American Military’s General Purpose, GP vehicle.
It rapidly became known simply as the ‘Jeep.’
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