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.

Ensconced in the driver's seat, you face a new four-spoke steering wheel and a cluster of simple analog gauges. The materials inside don't set any standards for quality, but they're adequate for the Wrangler's adventure-gear mission and the general style is clean and attractive. All 2007 Wrangler trims--X, Sahara, and Rubicon--are available with a choice of soft top (which can be folded back like a sunroof or fully down) or three-piece modular hard top (which offers myriad roof configurations).

Luxury conveniences abound. New for 2007 is an optional harman/kardon navigation/audio system with 6.5-inch touchscreen and an available 20-gig hard drive that can store MP3s, JPEG photos, and other digital data (transferable via a USB 2.0 port). Sirius Satellite Radio is back (standard on Rubicon), and all Wranglers come with an aux jack for MP3 players. Also of note, the 2007 is the first-ever Wrangler to offer power windows and door locks (when the doors are removed, the electric cables detach via a snap connector).

The four-cylinder engine has been dropped--as has the trusty 4.0-liter PowerTech inline-six. For 2007, all Wranglers are motivated by an overhead-valve 3.8-liter V-6 developing 205 horsepower (a 15-horse increase) and 240 pound-feet of torque (up from 235). The six-speed manual and four-speed automatic transmissions continue. A new "fly-by-wire" electronic throttle provides improved engine control; in low range, the throttle-response curve changes for especially precise power modulation. Fuel economy has increased slightly, to an EPA city/highway estimate of 17/19 mpg.

Wrangler devotees can breathe easy: The Wrangler has grown in size and sophistication, but it hasn't lost its legendary off-road capability (at least not the full-monty Rubicons we drove). Approach, breakover, and departure angles remain best in class, the live axles are still there front and rear, the tires are beefy 17-inchers (for 2007, the Sahara model will offer first-ever 18s). Yet the new Rubicon is also pumped up with an enhanced, Off-Road Rock-Trac two-speed transfer case (with ultra-low 4.0:1 low range), electronic front and rear lockers, revised suspension geometry, a driver-actuated electronically disconnecting front anti-roll bar (enabling a 28-percent increase in wheel travel), and Brake Lock Differentials--which can brake a spinning wheel to maintain and even side-to-side torque split.

The Wrangler's size increase means it's not the off-road scalpel it once was (the JK seemed a little big on some of the valley's narrowest trails), but for 99 percent of driving situations buyers will unquestionably prefer the JK's superior ride and bulldog-solid stance. They'll also appreciate the new, anvil-like fully boxed frame; Jeep claims it's 100-percent stiffer in bending and 50-percent stiffer in torsion than the TJ's.

The Wrangler has gained about 300 pounds, and even with the 3.8-liter engine's extra power and torque you can feel the added weight, but--again--most buyers will welcome JK's added spaciousness and its bounty of convenience features and safety gear (especially since fuel efficiency is improved).

The base Wrangler X starts at $18,765 including destination, and you can expect a fully loaded Rubicon to top $29K. Oh, and if you happen to see Tarzan on your off-roading adventures, be sure to pull over. This new Wrangler is right up his alley.

Four a Few Dollars More
The new Unlimited replaces last year's stretched two-door (all 2007 Unlimiteds are four-doors). The Unlimited's hardware mirrors the standard Wrangler's (offered in X, Sahara, and Rubicon trims), including the new 3.8-liter V-6 and all the available electronic conveniences and rock-crawling goodies. But thanks to a 20.6-inch wheelbase stretch, the Unlimited boasts spaciousness the two-door can only dream about. Rear-seat legroom is up by 1.6 inches, and there's a full foot of added hiproom, meaning three adults can now fit in back. Behind the second row lies a generous 46.4 cubic feet of space (nearly triple the two-door's volume); fold the rear seat down (it also splits 60/40), and total cargo capacity climbs to nearly 87 cubic feet.

The Unlimited can tow up to 3500 pounds (versus 2000 for the two-door). And if you like the look but never plan to drive off-road, there's even a two-wheel-drive version available. In maxxed-out Rubicon guise--like our test vehicles in Africa--the Unlimited is a formidable go-anywhere rig. It doesn't have the extreme breakover angle of the shorter two-door, and there are situations we encountered (such as driving into and out of a steep but narrow gulley) that the regular Wrangler handled far more easily, but we never had to leave the Unlimited behind. It's a bona-fide Wrangler.

The base two-wheel-drive Unlimited X starts at $20,410; the Unlimited Sahara we drove was priced at $31,075, and you can expect a fully loaded Unlimited Rubicon to top $33,000. Your beach buddies are gonna love it.

2007 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon General
General
Location of final assembly Toledo, Ohio
Body style 2-door SUV
EPA size class Multi-purpose
Drivetrain layout Front engine, 4WD
Airbags Front, front side
Powertrain
Engine type 60° V-6, iron block/alum heads
Bore x stroke, in 3.78 x 3.43
Displacement, ci/L 231/3.8
Compression ratio 9.6:1
Valve gear OHV, 2 valves/cyl
Fuel induction Sequential multiport
SAE horsepower, hp @ rpm 205 @ 5200
SAE torque, lb-ft @ rpm 240 @ 4000
Transmission type NSG 370 6-speed manual
1st 4.46:1
2nd 2.61:1
3rd 1.72:1
4th 1.25:1
5th 1.00:1
6th 0.84:1
Reverse 4.06:1
Axle ratio 4.10:1
Final-drive ratio 3.44:1
Transfer-case model NV241OR Rock-Trac
Low-range ratio 4.00:1
Crawl ratio (1st x axle gears x low range) 73.1:1
Recommended fuel Regular unleaded
Dimensions/Capacities
Wheelbase, in 95.4
Length, in 152.8
Width, in 73.7
Height, in 72.3
Track, f/r, in 61.9/61.9
Headroom, f/r, in 41.3/40.3
Legroom, f/r, in 41.0/35.6
Shoulder room, f/r, in 55.8/61.6
Cargo volume, behind 2nd row, cu ft 17.2
Cargo volume, behind 1st row, cu ft 56.5
Ground clearance, in 10.2
Approach/departure angle, deg 44.3/40.4
Load lift height, in 27.8
Base curb weight, lb 4104
Max payload capacity, lb 1000
GVWR, lb 5000
GCWR, lb 6254
Max towing capacity, lb 2000
Fuel capacity, gal 18.6
Chassis
Suspension, front; rear Live axle, leading arms, track bar, coil springs; live axle, trailing arms, track bar, coil springs
Steering type Power recirculating ball
Ratio 16.7:1
Turns, lock to lock 3.5
Turning circle, ft 34.9
Brakes, front; rear 11.9-in vented disc; 12.4-in disc, ABS
Wheels 17x7.5-in cast aluminum
Tires LT255/75R17 BFGoodrich Mud-Terrain T/AKM M+S
Load/speed rating 111/108Q
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy 17/19
Price
Base price $26,750
Price as tested $29,385
2007 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara General
General
Location of final assembly Toledo, Ohio
Body style 4-door SUV
EPA size class Multi-purpose
Drivetrain layout Front engine, 4WD
Airbags Front, front side
Powertrain
Engine type 60° V-6, iron block/alum heads
Bore x stroke, in 3.78 x 3.43
Displacement, ci/L 231/3.8
Compression ratio 9.6:1
Valve gear OHV, 2 valves/cyl
Fuel induction Sequential, multiport
SAE horsepower, hp @ rpm 205 @ 5200
SAE torque, lb-ft @ rpm 240 @ 4000
Transmission type 42RLE 4-speed automatic
1st 2.84:1
2nd 1.57:1
3rd 1.00:1
4th 0.69:1
Reverse 2.21:1
Axle ratio 3.21:1
Final-drive ratio 2.21:1
Transfer-case model NV241 Command-Trac
Low-range ratio 2.72:1
Crawl ratio (1st x axle gears x low range) 24.8:1
Recommended fuel Regular unleaded
Dimensions/Capacities
Wheelbase, in 116.0
Length, in 173.4
Width, in 73.9
Height, in 70.9
Track, f/r, in 61.9/61.9
Headroom, f/r, in 41.3/40.4
Legroom, f/r, in 41.0/37.2
Shoulder room, f/r, in 55.8/56.8
Cargo volume, behind 2nd row, cu ft 46.4
Cargo volume, behind 1st row, cu ft 86.8
Ground clearance, in 10.2
Approach/departure angle, deg 44.4/40.7
Load lift height, in 31.4
Curb weight, lb 4503
Weight distribution, f/r, % 51.0/49.0
Payload capacity, lb 1150
GVWR, lb 5400
GCWR, lb 7944
Max towing capacity, lb 3500
Fuel capacity, gal 22.6
Chassis
Suspension, front; rear Live axle, leading arms, track bar, coil springs; live axle, trailing arms, track bar, coil springs
Steering type Power recirculating ball
Ratio 14.7:1
Turns, lock to lock 3.0
Turning circle, ft 41.2
Brakes, front; rear 11.9-in vented disc; 12.4-in disc, ABS
Wheels 18x7.5-in aluminum
Tires P255/70R18 Bridgestone Dueler A/T RH-S M+S
Load/speed rating 112S
Performance
Acceleration, sec
0-303.0
0-404.6
0-507.3
0-6010.2
0-7013.8
0-8019.3
Quarter mile, sec @ mph 17.4 @ 77.4
Braking, 60-0, ft 150
Lateral acceleration, g 0.68
Speed through 600-ft slalom, mph 56.2
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy 16/19
Price
Base price $26,735
Price as tested $31,075









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