2002 Jeep Wrangler
This 2002 review is representative of model years 1997 to 2006.
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
The 2002 Jeep Wrangler arguably has the most iconic status of all American vehicles because it's the direct descendant of the one that helped win World War II. That model made Jeep a household word, like Coca-Cola, McDonald's and Levi's.
Watchers of the History Channel might know that the current-generation Jeep Wrangler was preceded by the World War II Willys MB and Jeep CJ-2A and CJ-7—and 1987-95 Wrangler.
No Wrangler was designated a 1996 model because Jeep just kept pumping out 1995 Wranglers until the significantly redone 1997 Jeep arrived with the most significant redesign in Jeep history.
While the 1997 Wrangler retained old-fashioned solid front and rear axles, it got a car-like all-coil-spring suspension that replaced antique leaf springs, which caused a dreadful ride even on seemingly smooth roads. The new suspension greatly improved ride and handling during both on- and off-road driving.
Also, the new-generation model was made nearly one inch wider and the track (distance between wheels on the same axle) was made an inch wider for more stability.
Still, the wheelbase (distance between front and rear axles) remained a very short 93.4 inches. The length was nearly the same at about 150 inches, and the Wrangler still stood very tall.
The rugged body-on-frame construction also was kept for 1997, and the frame was strengthened.
However, every body panel except for the doors and tailgate was changed from the 1987-95 Wrangler, although the vehicle's producer, Chrysler Corp., wisely kept the signature Jeep grille, fold-down windshield and squared-off shape. The traditional round Jeep headlights replaced square ones, which had been utilized for some time and disliked by Jeep fans.
Off-Road Prowess Retained
Several improvements were made for 2001, including a new instrument cluster, revised anti-lock brake system and a plastic (rather than metal) Add-a-Trunk unit for the rear cargo area that provides a lockable covered compartment.
All versions of the current $15,305-$23,650 Wrangler convertible have four-wheel drive that must be disengaged on dry roads but has low-range gearing for serious off-road jaunts.
More Affordable Six-Cylinder
The 2002 Wrangler also has an upgraded sound system and new heating, ventilation and air conditioning system for faster, quieter heating and cooling. A 30-inch tire-and-wheel package is newly standard on the Sahara and optional on the Sport, which gets a new look with hard doors, roll-up windows, fog lights and tow hooks now standard.
For example, the entry two-door Wrangler SE is a convertible with a soft-top and plastic side windows. You must move up to the $20,280 Sport to get those standard full-metal doors with roll-up windows.
The Wrangler is like a mountain goat off-road, but is one of very few vehicles better suited to off-road journeys than driving on pavement. Even the lowest-priced economy cars have a better ride and more comfort than the Wrangler.
Marginal Four-Cylinder Engine
The X, Sport and Sahara trims have a larger inline 6-cylinder engine. This 4.0-liter motor produces 190 horsepower, more torque and lively performance to 65 mph. However the 65-75 mph passing time is average.
Poor Fuel Economy
The engines are hooked to either the manual gearbox, which has a rather truckish shifter, or responsive 3-speed automatic, which costs $625 and will be replaced by a more modern 4-speed automatic for 2003.
Tight Rear Seat
There is scarcely any cargo space unless the back seat is folded forward or removed. And putting the soft-top down or up can be a hassle, with all its zippers, fasteners and struts.
A giant step is needed to enter the Wrangler because it's high and has intrusive doorsills. The upright front seats are comfortable, but the driver's seat needs to slide back a bit more for tall folks. Adults of any height will not want to spend much time in the uncomfortable rear seat.
New safety items include next-generation airbags with an on-off switch for the front passenger airbag.
While steering is quick, the ultra-short wheelbase and off-road-style suspension often produce a markedly jerky ride even on apparently smooth pavement.
Watch That Handling
The sporty looking Wrangler looks and initially feels as if it invites hard driving, but it doesn't come close to providing sports-car-style handling—or even the handling of an economy car with a sport suspension.
A Wrangler driver also must be careful during off-road driving. After all, this is no military Humvee.
No Anti-Lock for Base Trim
The Wrangler has lots of personality and is in a class by itself. But for those who don't use its off-road abilities, the uncomfortable ride, sparse sound insulation and annoying wind noise at highway speeds make the Wrangler pretty much of a style statement or fair-weather weekend toy for short trips.