Wrangler purists might be horrified, branding it heresy. Nevertheless, plenty of Wrangler enthusiasts are sure to welcome the arrival of the new four-door model. For the first time, Wrangler owners can carry as many as four passengers, as well as pack more luggage than ever before: three times as much, to be exact. Yes, the four-door Wrangler promises essentially the same well-known, hard charging off-road capabilities as any two-door model.
With its "Open-air design," the four-door Wrangler also retains the original's capacity for fun-in-the-sun driving. DaimlerChrysler, Jeep's parent company, says it's "the only four-door convertible on the market."
Jeep launched a wholly redesigned two-door Wrangler for the 2007 model year, and the four-door is its enlarged companion. Offered in three trim levels - X, Sahara, and Rubicon - the Wrangler Unlimited is built on a 116-inch wheelbase, which is 20.6 inches longer than the span of a regular two-door Wrangler. This permits a larger rear seat with three seating positions, along with greater hip, leg and shoulder room. Result: space for five adults rather than the tight squeeze for four that marks regular Wranglers.
Available with either two-wheel or four-wheel drive, the four-door Wrangler uses the same solid-axle suspension configuration as other models. Rather than the prior inline six-cylinder engine, a new 3.8-liter V-6 produces 205 horsepower and 240 pound-feet of torque. Either a six-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission may be installed. Command-Trac and Rock-Trac transfer cases are available for four-wheel-drive operation.
In addition to exposed (outside) hinges and a fold-down windshield, the four-door model retains Wrangler's removable full-framed or half doors, as well as a choice of removable or convertible top. Buyers can select either a three-piece solid "Freedom Top" or a "Sunrider" soft top. The Freedom Top has three panels: left and right front, and a rear panel. Sunrider soft tops include a built-in "sun roof."
"Jeep-signature" design cues include a familiar seven-slot grille, round headlights, and an upright rectangular windshield. Up to three skid plates are installed, to protect the fuel tank, transfer case, and automatic transmission. Bending stiffness has doubled. Lower suspension spring rates in the four-door are meant to deliver a soft, more comfortable on-road ride.
Towing capacity is 3,500 pounds. Back doors are front-hinged, and B-pillars are exposed. Trapezoidal wheel flares add to the tough exterior appearance.
Wranglers are equipped with an Electronic Stability Program and Electronic Roll Mitigation. Seat-mounted side-impact airbags are optional rather than standard fare.
Backseat passengers enjoy 56.7 inches of hip room and 37.2 inches of leg space. Cargo volume totals 46.4 cubic feet behind the second-row seat, expanding to 83 cubic feet with the second-row seats folded flat. A 60/40-split fold-flat rear seat is standard. Options include power windows and door locks, with remote keyless entry, as well as a navigation system, MP3 capability, and Sirius satellite radio.
Four-door Wranglers have an approach angle of 44.4 degrees, breakover angle of 20.8 degrees, and 40.5-degree departure angle. Approach and departure angles are called "best in class."
Befitting its increased capabilities, the Rubicon features heavy-duty Dana 44 front and rear axles, plus an Off-Road Rock-Track two-speed transfer case with 4.0:1 low-range gear ratio. Also included are electric front- and rear-axle lockers, an Active Sway Bar System, and 32-inch off-road tires. Also available as an option on other models, the Active Sway Bar System is an electronic-disconnecting front stabilizer bar that yields a 28-percent increase in wheel travel.
With four doors on a long wheelbase, the Wrangler Unlimited looks a little odd in profile, as though the wrong body was somehow installed. Still, Wrangler fans - especially 30-something males - seem to gravitate toward this vehicle. All told, the Wrangler Unlimited delivers everything a traditional Jeep is known for, with greater energy and abundant rear-seat space.
Although the Wrangler Rubicon's ride isn't bad for a Jeep, it is somewhat jittery much of the time - maybe most of the time. Even on smooth expressways, there's a lot of constant body motion, which can make even a short trip somewhat taxing. Naturally, the Rubicon edition's brawny tires take a toll on ride quality, though they'll be welcome when the pavement ends.
Steering is quick, to mimic the snakelike maneuverability of the original Wrangler, but it lacks clarity and precision. That's to be expected, really, and no worse than many other SUVs.
Performance with the new engine is surprisingly brisk from a standstill, though not quite so vigorous when passing or merging. The automatic transmission responds quite well to pass/merge, delivering prompt and sure downshifts.
Not much engine noise is evident except for blare on hard acceleration, though tire whir and driveline whine are significant. Smallish but easy-to-read gauges are quite nice at night. Like prior Wranglers, the four-door gets a flat, upright windshield. Rearward views are blocked by headrests and clutter in the back window, but the Wrangler's big, square mirrors help with visibility.
Getting inside demands a high climb, front or rear. The backseat is roomy enough for three with plenty of headroom (though no headliner). Leg space good, too. You sit bolt upright, but not uncomfortably. Front seats are comfortable and supportive.
While the ability to take the top down is appealing, it's not a quickie operation. To take off the Freedom three-piece hardtop, you must first remove front panels, then the rear unit. You'll need a Torx #40 driver. As part of the process, be prepared to disconnect the wiring harness and washer hose.
In Rubicon trim, the Wrangler Unlimited stickers for $28,235 (plus $660 destination charge). As tested, the four-door listed for $31,450 including side airbags, an automatic transmission, CD changer, Sirius satellite radio, and the $695 Freedom Hardtop. Fuel economy, according to EPA estimates, is a decidedly non-frugal 16 mpg in city driving and 19 mpg on the highway.