After selling Wrangler with just two doors for decades, Jeep added a four-door for the 2007 model year. Sales of the SUV icon now run 60 percent four-door.
Enter the Unlimited.
Unlimited is offered with a softtop standard and a removable hardtop, a $1,585 option, making it a four-door convertible SUV with adult seating front and rear. And it's a blast to pilot in fair weather or foul. Wrangler looks like it was created for adventure and shares its go-anywhere, any-time attitude with those who drive it.
It was created by stretching the two-door 20 inches, wheelbase and length, to add the doors and space to accommodate butts and legs in back.
We tested the 2009 Wrangler Unlimited with four-wheel-drive and removable hardtop in Sahara trim.
Its rugged good looks sport the signature Jeep round headlamps and seven-slot grille.
Hinges, bolts and fasteners are exposed to add to the only-in-a-Jeep mystique. But you have to provide the splatters of mud.
Not only is the hardtop removable, but so are the doors. How much more free-spirited can you get? Windows in all doors lower completely, and rear doors open 90 degrees to ease entry/exit.
Even with adults in back, cargo room is ample for gear or groceries. Without passengers, the split rear seats, and headrests, fold to hold even more.
The 4WD transfer case isn't as smooth in going from two- to four-wheel-drive or 4WD low as a dial-up system, but once in 4WD, Wrangler is at its best—on pavement or field. A few 4WD runs cleared a path to the mailbox for the postal truck.
Seats are well padded to minimize bouncing and beating off-road, but on clear pavement the suspension tends to impersonate a buckboard. The body leans a little in corners, a lean that's exaggerated at speed.
Wrangler offers only a 3.8-liter, 205-horsepower V-6. It's no screamer, which is just as well because so much road noise filters into the thinly insulated cabin, it's hard to hear the engine rev, much less the passenger shout or radio blare.
Rated at 15 m.p.g. city/19 m.p.g. highway, the V-6 begs the question, where's a high-mileage 4?
Despite uncertain gas prices, Wrangler has none and no plans to add one.
Chrysler created a Wrangler Unlimited EV, an extended-range hybrid that can go 40 miles on its lithium-ion battery pack before recharging. Need to keep driving after those 40? A small gas engine burns about 8 gallons to power a generator to produce electricity for 400 more miles.
In addition to the Unlimited EV, Chrysler has a Jeep Patriot, Dodge minivan and Chrysler 200C sedan with the same 40/400-mile range. Then there's a battery-only Dodge Circuit sports car with a 150-200 mile range before recharging.
Circuit and 200C are concepts; Wrangler, the minivan and Patriot prototypes. One will be built for North America in 2010, three others in 2013. No date for the fifth. Chrysler won't divulge the order, but it does say the hybrid ends the need for a 4-cylinder gas Wrangler.
But we digress. The Unlimited's cabin is built for simplicity with big, easy-to-see, reach and use controls to adjust climate and audio systems along with power windows/mirrors. Missing are the dozens of buttons that tell the weather next week or the number of road barricades a mile ahead.
The Wrangler tested starts at $28,320 with traction and stability control, anti-lock brakes, trailer-sway control that activates stability control to keep what's being towed in line, Hill Start Assist to prevent rollback on inclines, air conditioning, AM/FM/CD/MP3 capable audio system, power windows and locks, remote keyless entry, stain-free seat fabric, temperature gauge and compass, floor mats, fog lamps, tow hooks, satellite radio, 18-inch aluminum wheels and tubular side steps.
One option worth considering is remote start ($185) to warm the SUV up outside while you warm up inside.
Read Jim Mateja Sunday in Rides. Contact him at transportation@tribune. com.