Few vehicles in America have as much history or as dedicated a following as the Jeep Wrangler. This compact SUV and its earlier CJ predecessors have been providing Americans with rugged off-road ability and iconic style for more than 60 years. Whether it's South Dakota's badlands, San Diego's Pacific Beach or mud bogs in Arkansas, the original Jeep seems right at home.
While the Wrangler's traits and affordable price have made it a steady seller through the years, the vehicle has also come bundled with a lot of drawbacks, such as a harsh and noisy ride, a cramped interior and a dated level of refinement. So for the 2007 Wrangler, Jeep has performed a full redesign aimed at fixing the previous model's most outstanding faults without diluting its character.
The new Wrangler is about the same length as before but much wider. This provides additional shoulder and hip room for both front and rear passengers. For additional space, there's the new Wrangler Unlimited. Like last year's model, the Unlimited is built on an extended wheelbase. But this time it happens to be topped with the Wrangler's first four-door body style. The four-door has a roomier three-passenger backseat and a cargo capacity that's better than many other small SUVs.
The 2007 Jeep Wrangler's body structure is stiffer than before and works in conjunction with enhanced suspension and steering tuning to provide a more refined on-road experience. Additional sound insulation and new top designs reduce wind noise. For power, Jeep has replaced the previous inline six-cylinder engine with a new 3.8-liter 202-horsepower V6. It's more powerful than the old engine, but it also must move more weight; the Wrangler Unlimited weighs in at about 4300 pounds, more than 1000 pounds heavier than last year's regular Wrangler.
Underneath, the general hardware configuration is the same -- lives axles suspended by five-link designs -- and Jeep has made sure that off-road ability is still intact. There are 10.2 inches of ground clearance, steep approach and departure angles, and low-range four-wheel drive. The hardcore Rubicon trim level returns as well, and again features many hardware upgrades meant to make it the most capable production vehicle you can buy for off-road use.
There's little doubt that the 2007 Jeep Wrangler is much improved overall. The vehicle's character and heritage haven't been overshadowed or watered down by the new features and refinement. And yes, you can still fold down the windshield and take off the doors, even on the four-door. But as before, we consider the Wrangler a niche-market vehicle. Consumers just wanting a capable small SUV will be disappointed by its average acceleration, uninspired interior design and meager handling abilities. Nissan's Xterra or Toyota's FJ Cruiser will likely suit those buyers better. But for those wanting the original American rock crawler, there is still only one Jeep.