The crew at Jeep displayed real guts by unveiling their all-new 2007 Wrangler on safari in Africa. Not only does Zambia's Luangwa River Valley offer seriously challenging off-roading--fast-moving rivers, deep sand, craggy cliffs, steep and seemingly impassable rock faces--if you're not careful, you can get eaten. When I trotted off from the group to fetch my camera, one of our rifle-armed guides grabbed me by the shoulder and said sternly, "Not to go alone. Many lions."
Happily, we survived the toothy felines--and elephants, water buffalo, and biting tsetse flies--to tell you all about this impressive new Wrangler upgrade. Jeep hasn't cut corners: The 2007 Wrangler is so new, on paper you might not recognize it.
Compared with the outgoing TJ Wrangler, the 2007 JK is taller, longer, 5.5 inches wider, rides on a two-inch-longer wheelbase, and boasts a ton of performance, comfort, and safety upgrades--many of them clearly intended to boost the on-road appeal of this hardest-core of Jeeps. Perhaps most significant, with competitors such as the Nissan Xterra, Hummer H3, and Toyota FJ Cruiser now flaunting impressive dirt credentials and additional space for passengers and cargo, for 2007 Jeep is launching a counterstrike with its first-ever four-door, five-passenger Wrangler, the new Unlimited (see sidebar).
Side by side with the TJ, the JK is clearly the post-gym version. It's strikingly wider (including a 3.5-inch stretch in track), with a commanding, planted stance it's never had before. At each corner are large fenders; up front, they're no longer part of the bodywork, instead being clip-on plastic flares. For improved aero, the windshield now has a slight curve--but don't worry: you can still fold it down against the hood. Up front is a new blow-molded bumper (including built-in foglights) with integrated lower air dam (which also enhances aerodynamics). So, yes, the exterior is dramatically new--but there's no mistaking it's still a Wrangler. As it has since its military debut 65 years ago, the body wears more exposed hardware than a Home Depot.
The bump up in size makes for a significantly larger cabin. Front-seat occupants enjoy more overall space (including more than five inches of additional shoulder room), rear-seat passengers benefit from an additional inch of legroom, and everyone can make use of a rear cargo area that's more than doubled in size (though it's still just 17 cubic feet). There's also an enlarged (and lockable) glovebox up front and, under the rear cargo floor, a small, lockable cubby. Standard safety equipment now includes front-side airbags (mounted in the seats), seatbelt pretensioners, and such electronic handling aids as roll mitigation and stability control.