2003 Wrangler New Car Test Drive
Jeep Wrangler is a classic symbol of summer cruising and off-road rambling. The Wrangler is the icon of the Jeep brand, and there are no direct competitors for it. As Jeep says, there's only one.
Headlining the 2003 Jeep Wrangler lineup is the Rubicon, which boasts a serious off-road suspension, a powerful 4.0-liter six-cylinder engine, a Dana rear end, and other changes, all designed to improve 4x4 capabilities. Essentially, it's a modified Jeep from the factory, making financing and preparation a turn-key deal for off-road enthusiasts.
But all models benefit from upgrades that make them more comfortable, more convenient, more responsive, and more capable for 2003. A new four-speed automatic transmission is available on all models, eliminating the notoriously outdated three-speed automatic for much better response and improved fuel efficiency. Four-wheel disc brakes improve the stopping ability of all models. The base SE model gets a big boost in performance with a new, more sophisticated, four-cylinder engine.
New features spice up the Wrangler's spartan cabin. Redesigned front and rear seats offer more room and are easier to work with. Redesigned exterior mirrors help reduce noise, vibration and harshness and are wider, offering a better view rearward.
Built along Jeep's 'Go anywhere, do anything' design philosophy, the new Rubicon is a 4x4 gem. After driving through Hell's Revenge, Cliff Hanger, and other challenging trails around Moab, I am happy to report that the Rubicon passes the off-road test with flying colors. Front and rear locking differentials, front and rear Dana model 44 axles and a 4:1 low-range transfer case give the 'Ruby' trail capabilities far beyond those of the average SUV.
Five models of the Jeep Wrangler are available for 2003: SE ($15,665); X ($18,685); Sport ($20,495); Sahara ($24,085); Rubicon ($24,385).
SE comes with a new 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 150 horsepower. The new engine delivers 25 percent more horsepower and 18 percent more torque than the previous engine (150 hp @ 5200 rpm and 165 pounds-feet @ 4000 rpm). It works well with the standard five-speed gearbox, which is a new heavy-duty transmission with synchronized reverse gearing and improved shift quality in cold weather. An all-new four-speed automatic is also available. Still, the SE does not offer thrilling acceleration performance. At first glance, the SE looks attractive, but its low price quickly rises when upgraded upholstery, a rear seat, rear carpeting, a stereo and other options are added. If you don't want a rear seat, don't mind the easy-to-clean vinyl upholstery, and don't feel the need for speed, then the SE is a good vehicle for fishing, hunting, exploring. Having one attached to the back of your motor home comes in handy for tooling around small towns in the American West. A variety of options is available, including the hard top.
Wrangler X, Sport, Sahara, and Rubicon models come with a much more powerful 4.0-liter six-cylinder engine rated at 190 horsepower and 235 pounds-feet of torque. A heavy-duty five-speed manual transmission is standard; the new four-speed automatic is optional. The inline-6 gives up some fuel economy to the inline-4 around town, but the six-cylinder gets 19 mpg on the highway.
Wrangler X comes with cloth upholstery, upgraded front seats, a fold-down rear seat. full carpeting (covering the rear seat area, cargo area and wheel housings), AM/FM/cassette, digital clock, padded roll bar, and P215/75R15 Goodyear Wrangler tires.
Sport adds full metal doors, wind-up windows, fog lights, tilt steering column with leather-wrapped wheel, courtesy and underhood lights, and other features.
Sahara comes loaded with a high-zoot stereo, premium cloth, air conditioning, cruise control, gas shocks, monster tires (30x9.5xR15), premium fender flares, among other features.
Rubicon is named for the Class 10 off-road Rubicon Trail on the California-Nevada border, a location that is part of Jeep's evaluation for all its vehicles. The Rubicon is designed to reflect the original vision realized in 1940, when Jeep invented the sport-utility and dominated off-road travel. Jeep even recreated sections of the famed Rubicon Trail at its proving grounds in Michigan to test the durability and capabilities of its newest offering. Rubicon comes equipped with diamond plate sill guards, front and rear Dana axles and driver-actuated locking differentials. Standard are 31-inch tall tires and 16-inch five-spoke wheels. It's available in all of the Wrangler exterior colors.
All models in the lineup include a fold-down windshield, removable doors and top, and a weatherproof interior. Drivers may choose between hard- and soft-top models. Exterior paint treatments include four new colors: Bright Silver Metallic, Inca Gold Pearl Coat, Intense Blue Pearl Coat and Light Khaki Metallic. Interior trim is Dark Slate on all models except Rubicon, which offers either a Dark Slate or Khaki interior.