First Drive: 2004.5 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited

A comfortable stretch

Frank MarkusNov 20, 2004
As any practitioner of yoga or Pilates can attest, a good stretch does wonders to alleviate back pain. Remarkably, the same is true for small, elemental off-roaders, as Jeep has illustrated by stretching its iconic Wrangler 10 inches in the wheelbase and five inches out back.
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The marketing folks say the stretch was to lure customers driven away by cramped rear legroom and the lack of space for a decent-size cooler behind the rear seat. But a glance at other detail refinements suggests that maybe a few customers also were put off by the original-recipe Wrangler's painfully choppy ride. New gas-charged shock absorbers are softer in midtravel to reduce impact harshness, the optional hardtop ($795) is more rigid and streamlined, the muffler has been stretched along with the frame, and acoustic damping pads now line the hood, dash, and cargo floor.All these modifications combine with the longer wheelbase to improve ride quality substantially and reduce sound levels by a claimed 30 percent. Another side benefit of the stretch and its attendant 200-pound curb-weight increase is a bump in trailer-towing capability, from 2000 to 3500 pound.
Of course, the increased wheelspan and rear overhang curtail some of the Wrangler's rock-hopping abilities. Reducing the breakover angle from 26 to 22 degrees means the transfer-case skidplate will bang the boulders a bit more frequently, and reducing the 34-degree departure angle to 28 degrees may cause the rear bumper to drag on the most dramatic slopes. But after a day of billy-goating around the Y.O. Ranch in the Texas Hill Country, scrambling up vertical-looking rock faces, and stepping down boulder-strewn descents, we can confirm that the "Trail Rated" emblem is well-earned. Our lone constructive criticism: The throttle is too jumpy in low range to allow precise wheel placement.
The Unlimited's new soft-top features a sunroof mode in which just the 45x23-inch section above the front seat can be opened. One must walk around the car to open or close it, but it's much easier than lowering the whole top.

To limit complexity, all Wrangler Unlimited models come standard with a four-speed automatic transmission (manuals will arrive for 2005), four-wheel disc brakes (sans ABS, for now), tow hooks, a Dana 44 limited-slip rear axle, 30-inch tires, A/C, steel doors, and deep-tinted soft-top windows. And the price? $24,995. A mere $1640 stretch above a similarly equipped Wrangler X--and one your back will thank you for.
2004.5 {{{Jeep Wrangler}}} Unlimited
Base price $24,995
Vehicle layout Front engine, 4wd, 2-door, 4-pass SUV
Engine 4.0L/190-hp I-6, OHV, 2 valves/cyl
0-60 mph, sec 8.7 (MT est)
On sale in U.S. Currently
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2015 Jeep Wrangler

Fair Market Price
$22,570
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Basic Specifications
MSRP: $22,995
Mileage: 17 / 21
Engine: 3.6L V6
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