I'd been excitedly awaiting the opportunity to drive this new model for a year and a half. And when I first saw the "TJL" at Quantico, VA, in September of 2002, my good friend and 4WD mentor Mark Smith, a.k.a. "Mr. Jeep", called to tell me he was building a 4 x 4 course for the evaluation of military vehicles. Smith, who started Jeep trips across the legendary Rubicon Trail in 1952 and designed the Jeep Jamboree USA program, has built dozens of courses around the country, but this one was different. Since it was located within the Capital Beltway, the facility, complete with a rigorous 4WD course, allowed members of the Pentagon and Congress easy access to observe the newest vehicles, designed for military efforts and Homeland Security, put through their paces. Smith invited me to join, and after providing the necessary security clearance, I spent a day learning about some of the newest models and some of the latest technologies to come to this market. While many models proved capable and had technologies of interest, one stood out-the new long-wheelbased Wrangler-called the TJL.
Its dance card explained that the Jeep Wrangler TJL was a mix of modern automotive technology with some of the same attributes the troops valued in the original Willys MB. An up-to-date take on the original "go-anywhere, do-anything" utility vehicle, the new TJL was designed to meet the most challenging tasks that military vehicles are required to do, and perform in the most adverse conditions. Its first tour of duty- Egypt.
On the street
A small group of automotive journalists were treated to the first drive of the new 2004.5 model in the Texas Hill Country. Our tour of duty included comparing it to the current Wrangler (the TJ) on paved roads throughout this scenic region of rolling hills and ranches. We also drove it over a course of moderate to serious 4WD trails on the YO Ranch, in TX.
The legend grows
Now that's great, as long as only a couple plans to ride. However, pack four free spirits, plus whatever equipment follows them, into a Wrangler and the "excitement" factor can dwindle.
The grunt responsible for that higher rating originates in a 4-liter PowerTech inline-6 that yields 190 hp. @ 4,600 rpm and 235 lb.-ft. of torque at 3,200. (Standard Wranglers also offer a 147-hp. inline-4 displacing 2.4 liters, but Unlimited models are only fitted with the larger engine.) Additionally, the only transmission offered is a 4-speed automatic with overdrive. A Dana 30 front axle and heavy-duty Dana 44 rear axle help maintain contact with whatever terrain you might tackle. Other off-road essentials include 15-in. aluminum wheels with 30-inch Goodyear Wrangler GSA tires, high-pressure gas shocks, a 3.73 axle ratio, tow hooks, and fog lamps.
Adding length could hamper off-road performance in some conditions, but Jeep has designed the Unlimited to perform as a Wrangler is expected. Aside from being Trail Rated, the Unlimited still maintains a 20-degree breakover angle, which Jeep experts feel is a minimum for serious off-roading. A "Trail Rated" badge indicates that Jeep has thoroughly tested the vehicle on many surfaces and found that it is capable of handling "any obstacle you're likely to encounter." Engineers even promise it will defeat some hurdles that one would never see.
Check a few more boxes on the options list and you experience side steps, a mirror with a temp gauge and compass, an engine block heater, a locking fuel cap, a seven speaker stereo, speed control, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.
While the Wrangler Unlimited should appeal to 4X4 fans who like to bring friends along, it also may also signify that the newest breed of off-roadies simply have more stuff to carry. Plus, a young person may use the Unlimited as a primary vehicle and therefore need the expanded utility.
But regardless of how many occupants the new Wrangler will carry, Jeep has taken an existing form revered for its capabilities and, while preserving its temperament, broadened its "ageless" appeal.
The legend of the "Jeep" 4 x 4 vehicle began 63 years ago when automotive manufacturers across America were challenged to design a compact, lightweight, highly capable vehicle for use by the armed forces. The successful Willys MB sprang from that development challenge. (Ford Motor Company also built many of the first Jeep vehicles, as well.) Since, the CJ-2A and other models worked their way into the hearts of civilians while new military Jeep vehicles followed in the heroic path. Notably, the M-38, M-38Al and M-170 answered the call to action in all types of terrain, providing decades of dedicated service. Jeep now returns to its roots with its latest new military vehicle, the Jeep Wrangler TJL a mix of modern automotive technology with some of the same attributes the troops valued in the original Willys MB. An up-to-date take on the original "go-anywhere, do-anything" utility vehicle, the new TJL was designed to meet the most challenging tasks that military vehicles are required to do, and perform in the most adverse conditions. Its first tour of duty is Egypt.
What is the street production version of the TJL and why was it built?
Jeep has made long-wheelbased Scrambler models before and the time was deemed right to build another, when some internals at DaimlerChrysler's 4WD division saw the smart-looking and capable new military Jeep in July of 2002. The result was some of the fastest development time in this Michigan-based company's history. In production now, the new Wrangler Unlimited adds a new attribute to the tag line-"Go Anywhere, Do Anything", with its "Bring Everything" capability that comes from its stretched wheelbase. The new model provides much greater room to carry people and goods and tow gear, as well.
How does it handle?
A small group of automotive journalists were treated to the first drive of the new 2004.5 model in the Texas Hill Country. Our tour of duty included comparing it to the current Wrangler (the TJ) on paved roads throughout this scenic region of rolling hills and ranches. We also drove it over a course of moderate to serious 4WD trails on the YO Ranch, in TX. What did we learn? The longer model is smoother on the road, just as it should be. It's not darty and jouncy, as its shorter cousin is and it is also quieter, due to improvements to both its two roof options. As you'd expect, there's appreciable more interior room, which makes it easier to get in and out of, as well as to pack and store goods in. Both front seats now tumble forward (previously it was the passenger seat only) to provide easier access to the rear. And, not surprisingly, it weighs more (200 lbs.) and it can haul more (3,500 lbs.).
What are its 4WD capabilities?
As for its off-road capability, this new extension to the Jeep lineup has all the traditional Jeep DNA, when it comes to gearing and drive capability, and is designated as "Trail Rated", meaning its been tested on the famed Rubicon Trail, in northern California, that Jeep uses to evaluate all of its models. The longer model is smoother on the road, just as it should be. Its low range gearing is 2.72.1 low range gear ratio) and it has the same angle of approach (21.4 degrees), and the same ground clearance as TJ models (9.3 at the front axle and 8.3 at the rear), but has a slightly decreased angle of departure (28 degrees as compared to 34) and a slightly decreased breakover angle (22 degrees as compared to 26 degrees) because of the longer wheelbase.
When will it go on sale and where will it be built?
On sale this spring, Jeep is now building the new model at its Toledo, Ohio production facility on the same assembly line as the TJ model. Jeep representatives decline to talk about projected volume, but say that they can produce a strong mix of long wheelbase-models, at this assembly plant, as customer demand dictates. Rumors are that a more rugged Rubicon version will follow.
Engine: 4-liter inline-6 (190 hp @4,600 rpm, 235 lb.-ft. torque @3,200 rpm)
Transmission: 4-speed automatic with overdrive
Wheelbase: 103.4 in.
Length: 167 in. (to bumper)
Width: 66.7 in.
Height: 69.4 in. (hard top); 70.9 in. (soft top)
Front: 40.9 (H), 41.9 (S) /51.8/41.1 in.
Rear: 41.1 (H), 40.6 (S)/43.5/36.7 in.
Curb weight: 3,721 lbs.
Towing capacity: 3,500 lbs.
Fuel economy, city/highway: 14 /18 mpg
Safety equipment: driver and front passenger airbags; 3-point seatbelts in all positions; Child Seat Tether Anchorages
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