2004 Wrangler New Car Test Drive
Jeep Wrangler remains an icon, a symbol of 'go anywhere' adventure. It's been that way for a long time. Although it has been re-engineered at least a half-dozen times in the intervening 60 years, the Wrangler is still as close as you can get to a direct descendent of the World War II-era Jeep.
That said, if you haven't driven a Jeep since your Army days, you might be surprised by how civilized this 'general-purpose utility vehicle' has become. All but the most basic model now come with a six-cylinder engine. A four-speed automatic transmission is available on all models, eliminating the notoriously outdated three-speed automatic that Jeep buyers suffered with for years. You can order four-wheel disc brakes for much better stopping ability. The side mirrors have been massaged for less wind noise and a better view over your shoulder. And many convenience features are available.
This isn't the most practical everyday vehicle, however, and may not be the best choice for someone who likes it simply because it's cute. (And it is cute.) Getting in and out is awkward due to its ground clearance. The interior is spartan. The ride quality is rough by today's standards, though many young people won't mind that. And it doesn't handle very well, so care should be excercised, particularly in the rain.
The Wrangler is designed primarily for performance off the road. For extreme off-roading, Jeep offers the Wrangler Rubicon. Jeep looked at the aftermarket modifications off-road enthusiasts were making to their Jeeps, and engineered those same features into a turn-key vehicle you can buy (and finance) right off the showroom floor. Built along Jeep's 'Go anywhere, do anything' design philosophy, the Rubicon is a 4x4 gem. We found it performed admirably on Hell's Revenge, Cliff Hanger, and other challenging trails around Moab, Utah. Front and rear Dana Model 44 axles with locking differentials, and a transfer case with a stump-pulling 4:1 low-range give the 'Ruby' trail capabilities far beyond those of the average SUV.
Five models of the Jeep Wrangler are available for 2004: SE ($16,270); X ($19,335); Sport ($21,320); Sahara ($24,910); and Rubicon ($25,085).
SE comes with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine and a five-speed manual gearbox; a four-speed automatic, all-new last year, is optional. The SE is a basic machine. It comes with a padded roll bar, steel half-doors with side curtains, tilt steering column, a mini-console with cupholders, skid plates for the fuel tank and transfer case, gas-charged shock absorbers and P215/75R15 Goodyear Wrangler all-terrain tires. But cloth upholstery, the rear seat, rear carpeting, any radio, and even wind-up windows, are extra-cost options. Options include air conditioning, cruise control, and a hard top.
The other Wrangler models (the X, Sport, Sahara, and Rubicon) come with a much more powerful 4.0-liter six-cylinder engine. A heavy-duty five-speed manual transmission is standard; a four-speed automatic is optional.
Wrangler X comes with cloth upholstery, a fold-down rear seat, full carpeting (covering the rear seat area, cargo area and wheel housings), and a four-speaker AM/FM/CD stereo with a digital clock.
Sport adds full metal doors with wind-up windows, a full-length floor console, courtesy and underhood lights, and other features. Options expand at the Sport level, also, and include fog lamps, side steps, a seven-speaker stereo, and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror. And you can order the half-doors and side curtains, if that's what you prefer.
Sahara comes loaded with the high-zoot seven-speaker stereo, premium cloth on the seats, air conditioning, cruise control, leather-wrapped steering wheel, high-pressure gas shocks, monster tires (30x9.5xR15) on aluminum wheels, side steps, body-color fender flares (instead of black), and other features.
Rubicon comes equipped with diamond-plate sill guards, beefier front and rear axles (two Dana 44's, rather than the Dana 30 and 35 used in the front and rear, respectively, of other Wranglers), a heavy-duty transfer case with an ultra-low 4:1 ratio, driver-actuated locking differentials, a special off-road suspension and four-wheel-disc brakes. Also standard are 31-inch tall LT245/75 tires on 16-inch aluminum wheels. Despite its higher price, the Rubicon is not as luxuriously outfitted as the Sahara. Air conditioning and cruise control are optional, for example. So are roll-up windows. For the most part, Rubicon is comparable to the Sport for comfort and convenience equipment.
All models in the lineup include a fold-down windshield, removable doors and top, and a weatherproof interior. Drivers may choose the standard soft top, the extra-cost steel hard top, or a package that includes both, in matching colors. The hard top comes with roll-up windows, a rear wiper-washer and rear defroster.