2002 Jeep Wrangler: Undisputed King
This is the undisputed king of all-road vehicles, but living with a Jeep Wrangler is much easier than it used to be.
The Wrangler was completely redesigned and re-engineered for 1997 and the result was a vast improvement over its predecessors in every respect. Now it's quieter, roomier and more comfortable. It rides better. It handles better. It's more capable off road. And it's affordable.
Yet the Wrangler remains true to its gritty heritage dating back to World War II when Jeeps served with distinction around the globe. If you've wanted a Wrangler for years, be sure and buy this latest generation-distinguished by its round headlights.
Jeep's Wrangler is available in three models. At first glance, the base SE looks attractive, but its low price quickly rises when carpeting, nicer seat fabric, a rear seat, a stereo and other options are added. Not having a rear seat is certainly an option for those who don't think they'll ever use it. The SE comes with a 4-cylinder engine that is best teamed with the standard 5-speed gearbox.
Sport and Sahara models come with the much more powerful 4.0-liter 6-cylinder engine.
One of the biggest decisions when buying a Wrangler is selecting the top. Purists prefer the soft top, a high-quality piece of equipment that can be configured according to the weather. Folding the top down takes only a third of the time it took before, and if a screwdriver is handy, the windshield can be flipped down for breezy, low-speed touring in the back country. The side curtains, however, can be a hassle in everyday use. Stopping at a toll booth in the rain can mean a lap full of water when the side curtain is unzipped.
The hard top provides more security for expensive gear. The hard top also offers better protection from weather. It comes with full-height doors and wind-up windows. Driving one at dawn through a violent thunderstorm felt dry and secure. Rearward visibility is aided by the rear-window defroster, wiper and washer. Wind noise is greatly reduced. The top can be removed and stored when not in use.
Wrangler isn't a luxury car, but isn't the penalty box it used to be. Paved roads seem much smoother. Corners are handled with more dignity. It feels stable at 80 mph. And wet pavement is not to be feared. At the same time, the Wrangler's off-road capability is superior to that of even the legendary Jeep CJ. It's an impressive balancing act.
Greater approach and departure angles mean the Wrangler can cross trenches and clamber over rocks and fallen trees that would trap the old Jeep. Few vehicles can match the Wrangler's rock-climbing ability. At the same time, it does not feel like a utility truck when winding down a curvy road. Still, the Wrangler is no sports car. Its handling is competent, but the basic design is essentially truck, with a high center of gravity. Hurrying this or any sport-utility vehicle around tight corners is not a good plan.
Overall improvements of 2002 Wrangler (versus 2001 and previous TJ):
1. 30" Tire and Wheel Group, speed control, full doors with roll-up windows
and sentry key are standard on the Wrangler Sahara.
2. Full doors with roll-up windows, fog lamps and tow hooks are standard on
the Wrangler Sport.
3. New HVAC System with overall improvements in performance and quietness.
4. Sound system that includes 2 new tweeters in addition to the
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