For rock-climbing and no-nonsense off-roading, a Jeep is one of the best, low-cost 4x4s around. Purchasing a Wrangler is akin to buying a brand-new 50-year-old vehicle. It's so old, it's new, in that there's nothing much like it on the road today. Yet it appeals to the young. According to the Power Information Network, an '03 Wrangler buyer ranks as the 15th youngest (out of buyers of 219 other models) in the industry.

For a tidy $18,910 plus $610 destination charge, buyers can sign onto the Jeep experience. The Wrangler X, new in '02, is a not-too-expensive step up from the strippo SE base model and includes such standards as the 4.0-liter/190-horse I-6, a rear seat, full carpeting, AM/FM/cassette stereo, cloth seat trim, tip-and-slide passenger front seat, and larger 215/75R15 tires. A $920 hardtop, $895 air-conditioning, $300 leather-wrapped steering wheel with cruise control, and some minor convenience items boosted our test model's out-the-door price to a not-quite-entry-level $21,940.

So what did our high-school experts think? The Jeep attracted more than its fair share of advocates. "I like trucks and musclecars, not the smaller coupes." A few hard-core 4WD enthusiasts thought there was too much plastic inside: "I'd trim back the plastic flares on the fenders for a more radical off-road look." One offered, "The 4.0-liter inline-six is the best motor ever made by Jeep." And most young experts were in agreement on their indifference for things practical, "I'll sacrifice space for style."

2003 Jeep Wrangler X 4x4
Price, base/as tested$18,910 / $21,940
Vehicle layoutFront engine, 4wd, 4-pass sport/utility
EngineI-6, OHV, 2 valves/cyl, LEV
Displacement, ci/cc241.4 / 3956
Max horsepower @ rpm190 @ 4600
Max torque @ rpm235 @ 3200
Transmission5-speed manual
EPA mpg, city/hwy16/19