Driving Impressions

By November 10, 1999

The new Wrangler isn't a luxury car, but it's not the penalty box it used to be. Paved roads seem much smoother. Corners are handled with more dignity. The interstate 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.

The Wrangler engineers achieved this balance by designing a coil-spring suspension to replace the Jeep's 50-year-old leaf-spring suspension. And they mounted it onto a rigid new chassis that provides a stable platform for the suspension to do its job. Coil springs provide better handling on and off road and enormous suspension travel.

Greater approach and departure angles mean the new Wrangler can cross trenches and clamber over rocks and fallen trees that would trap the old one. Few vehicles can match the Jeep's rock-climbing ability. At the same time, the new Wrangler feels less like a utility truck when winding down a curvy road.

A cautionary note here. The Wrangler is certainly sporty, but it's not a sports car, a distinction that eludes some drivers–to their frequent dismay. 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 courting disaster.