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Jeep Wrangler gets a make-over

The new Wrangler is true to its WW II roots, but now offers more interior room.

January 10, 2006; Posted: 12:47 p.m. EST (1747 GMT)

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DETROIT (CNN/Money) - How do you redesign Mount Rushmore?

OK, the Jeep Wrangler isn't exactly Mount Rushmore, but it's pretty darned close. Even when it was first introduced in 1986, replacing the Jeep CJ, the Wrangler was clearly recognizable as the son of the CJ. A little lower, a little wider, a little squarer but still the civilian descendent of the little off-roaders that helped whip the Axis more than forty years before.

"It's those boundaries that we zealously guard," said Mike Donoughe, vice president for the body on frame product team at DaimlerChrysler's Chrysler Group.

Without looking closely, it could be easy to miss that the 2007 Wrangler is a different machine from the outgoing version. Even some things you can't see have been kept the same just because Wrangler fans like them that way.

In the early 21st century, you might think that the doors would have something more technologically sophisticated than a cloth strap to keep them from swinging all the way forward into the front fenders. Not on a Wrangler. (The simple strap makes it easier to take the doors off.)

You might also think that it would have independent suspension rather than big axles, at least in the front, like almost every other SUV in the developed world does these days.

Nope. Not on a Wrangler.

That's because people who buy Jeep Wranglers aren't just looking for an SUV. They just want a Wrangler.

DaimlerChrysler, Jeep's modern parent company, brags that 80 percent of Wrangler buyers never even considered another vehicle.

That's probably why the Wrangler continues to exist given what would seem to be obvious shortcomings compared to other small SUVs. The ride is rough and, unless you get the recently introduced extended version, you have to choose between taking friends or luggage.

The new Wrangler does offer a few innovations and design changes, though. For one thing, there is two more inches of storage space. That nearly doubles the amount of storage space, the company brags. The extra space comes in the form of a lockable under-floor bin which, the company says, can be used for gloves, rope or a first-aid kit.

The 2007 Wrangler's hard-top roof now comes apart in three sections (two over the front seats and one over the rear seats) so you needn't choose between having the top fully on or fully off.

The windshield and body panels are slightly curved -- it's hard to see this even standing right next to it -- to improve airflow and give the vehicle a more muscular look.

Still, there are plenty of touches the company added to endear the car further to serious off-roaders. The fenders, for example, are now made of black rubber so that it's harder to ruin them when bashing them against rocks and trees. If you do smash one of them up, they can be easily removed and replaced.

It's also got more ground clearance than the previous version.

For those not so tied to the Wrangler name, there's competition in the form of the new Toyota FJ Cruiser which has its own retro cachet that harkens back to that companies own old-time off-roaders.

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