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2006 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Road Test

By CharlesOfria

Category: $20,000 - $30,000 Compact 2 Door SUV
Who should buy this car: The sportsman who needs a no frills, go anywhere mountain goat at an affordable price
Comparable models in this class: Nothing Yet

When I was a child, the world of personal motor vehicles consisted of 3 distinct types--cars, trucks and jeeps.  If you think that was an unusual point of view, I offer you this challenge:  Take an average person who has no interest in automotive matters and point to a 2006 Mazda RX8 and ask them what it is and they will know that it is a car.  Point to a Chevrolet Avalanche and they will say "that's a truck".  Then point to the Wrangler and the response will invariably be, "That is a Jeep".  If in the course of a conversation, you mentioned that you owned a Jeep, the person you were talking to might then ask, "Which Model?".  If you reply that you have a Jeep Jeep , they will understand.

What is it that keeps this Jeep so recognizable and popular?  Good question.  The first Jeeps were designed to satisfy a military requirement for a reliable 1/4 ton go-anywhere, do-anything vehicle.  The company that designed and began producing them was Willys-Overland Motors, Inc.  The first production Jeeps were built in 1941 for the military.  Since Willys did not have the production capability to meet the demand, Ford stepped in and built them using the Willys blueprints. 

The Jeep became available to the general public in 1945 and was called the Jeep CJ-2A.  Over the years, the Jeep was refined and re-engineered, but always stayed true to its original concept

In fact, the Jeep stayed so true to that concept that the basic design and engineering of the 2006 Jeep Wrangler is rather primitive.  There are solid axles front and rear, which means no independent suspension (an independent suspension was thought not to be rugged enough).  The motive power is from a cast iron overhead valve inline 6 cylinder engine that is largely the same engine that American Motors designed decades ago.   The Wrangler even uses large round sealed beam headlights, a design that was replaced on most vehicles in late '50s with smaller quad sealed beams.  Modern vehicles stopped using sealed beam headlamps altogether in the mid to late '80s in favor of more capable lighting like halogen lamps or Xenon high intensity discharge (HID) systems.

The interior of the 2006 Jeep Wrangler still has areas of painted metal with weld marks and rough edges that are visible around the floor area.. Door checks are nothing more than fabric straps and the convertible top takes from 10 to 20 minutes to remove or erect, with plastic side windows, zippers, Velcro and clips standing in the way of open air fun. (or staying dry in a sudden downpour)

So what is it about this vehicle that keeps it so desirable today, more than 60 years after its introduction?  For one thing, there isn't a better off-road runabout on the planet anywhere near the price of the Wrangler.  This vehicle can go trail blazing, rock climbing and mud wrestling better than anything out there today.  Another reason it is so popular is that people like the no-nonsense look of the Wrangler, and some even think it's cool looking.  And therein lies the problem.  If you buy this vehicle because it looks cool, but rarely intend to take it off-road, you will be in for a rude awakening.

The Jeep Wrangler is a rough and tumble vehicle that is hard riding, noisy and difficult to get in and out of.  The new Unlimited model pictured here is a bit more civilized due to a longer wheelbase, so the ride is a bit better and it tracks straighter at highway speeds, but the only vehicle it is superior to on paved roads is the shorter wheelbase Wrangler.  Compare its on-road performance with any other vehicle sold in the US and there is no contest.

The 190 horsepower straight six has adequate power, but it sounds course and sends vibrations through the cabin.  The trail-rated, all terrain tires drone annoyingly on the road.  Reach highway speeds and the wind noise starts competing to see which can more affectively drown out the stereo.

Also, there are few creature comforts in the Wrangler.  The doors are designed to be easily removed, but because of that, they are not electrified, so no power windows (remember hand cranks?) and no power mirrors.  You adjust the mirrors the old fashioned way, by nudging, which is particularly challenging when you have to adjust the right side mirror and you don't have arms like Allan Houston.

The cloth roof is an exercise in patience and strong fingers.  There are about fifteen pages in the owner's manual dedicated to removing and erecting the top.  There are zippers, Velcro, latches and plastic channels to overcome.  Expect to take from twenty minutes to a half an hour the first time you attempt to engage in open air motoring.  With experience, you should be able to cut that time down to about ten minutes.

But if you are an outdoorsman and love to carve your own path through the wilderness, the more challenging, the better, then there is no better vehicle in the world than a true Jeep.  Drop the transfer case into low range and this buggy has enough torque to practically climb up the side of a building.

There are more accessories and components available for the Jeep Wrangler than most other vehicles.  Everything from suspension lift kits (to increase ground clearance) to power winches, bumper guards, hard tops, snorkels (I kid you not) to keep water out of the intake system while you are fording streams, and an assortment of light bars that can turn night into day.

Other manufacturers keep promising that they will introduce a competitor for the Wrangler.  In 2004 Ford showed a Jeep-like concept reviving the Bronco nameplate, and GM has been talking about a Hummer H4 which will be comparable, but as of this writing, the Jeep Wrangler stands alone in a sea of cars and trucks.  And if you are holding out because you need a 4 door vehicle, hold tight.  There are deafening rumors that Jeep will offer a 4-door Wrangler in the next year or two.

So if you are in the market for a new set of wheels, the first question that needs to be addressed is, will it be a car, a truck or a Jeep.

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Specifications
2006 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon

Engine Type 4.0 liter Overhead Valve (OHV) 12-valve Inline 6 cylinder with cast iron block and head
Horsepower 190 @ 4,600 RPM
Torque 235 ft-lbs. @ 3,200  RPM
Fuel Recommended Regular Unleaded.
Transmissions (std.)
Transmissions (opt.)
6 speed Manual Transmission
4 speed automatic
Drive Type Four-wheel drive
Tires (std)
Tires (Rubicon)
P225/75R15 All-terrain
31 x 9.5 LT245/75R16 All-terrain
Overall Length 150.2" to bumper, 154.9" to spare tire
Wheelbase 93.4"
Width 68.3"
Turning Diameter 36 ft Curb to Curb
Curb Weight 3,694 lbs
Fuel Tank 19 Gals.
Miles Per Gallon (Manual)
Miles Per Gallon (Automatic)
16 City, 20 Highway
16 City, 20 Highway
Base Sticker Price $24,065 plus $660 Destination charge  ($28,535 for Rubicon model)

Standard Equipment
Wrangler Unlimited
(partial list)

  • 4.0 Liter Inline 6 cylinder engine
  • 6 speed Manual Transmission
  • Four-wheel drive
  • Manual hi-lo gear selection
  • Rear locking differential
  • Automatic locking hubs
  • 15 inch Alloy rims
  • All terrain tires
  • Outside rear mounted spare tire with alloy rim
  • Plastic rear window
  • Plastic side windows with privacy tint
  • Skid plates
  • 4-wheel disc brakes
  • Air conditioning
  • 4 person seating capacity
  • Cloth upholstery
  • Power steering
  • Tilt-adjustable steering wheel
  • Manual driver and passenger exterior mirrors
  • Manual wind up front door windows
  • AM/FM in-dash single CD player with 4 speakers

Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon adds...
(partial list)

  • 16 inch alloy wheels with LT245/75R16 tires
  • AM/FM in-dash single CD player, with 7 speakers
  • Rock-Trac transfer case with 4:1 low range
  • Air-actuated Tru-Lok locking differentials
  • Heavy gauge diamond-plate sill guards
  • Sunrider soft top

Major Available Options

  • 4 speed automatic transmission
  • Hard Top
  • Premium audio group includes 6 disc CD changer and 7 speakers
  • Cruise control
  • Auto-dimming inside rearview mirror with compass and outside temperature display
  • Sirius satellite radio
  • Impact Orange or Solar Yellow paint
  • Bodyside steps

For more information on the Wrangler, visit jeep.com 

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