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Published: Tuesday, 1/6/2004

Stretch Wrangler to debut today

BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
The longer-wheelbase version of the Wrangler, dubbed the Unlimited, will be designated a 20041/2. The longer-wheelbase version of the Wrangler, dubbed the Unlimited, will be designated a 20041/2.
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DETROIT - With 1,500 more pounds of towing capability, 2 added inches of backseat legroom, and 13 more inches of cargo space, the “stretch” version of the Toledo-made Jeep Wrangler is finally here.

The Wrangler Unlimited, dubbed a 20041/2 because it will be widely available in April, roughly halfway through the model year, will make its true public debut today during media previews of the North American International Auto Show in downtown Detroit. (Jeep dealers, industry analysts, The Blade, and other select news outlets have been shown the Unlimited, but photos were not allowed to be released until today.)

The Unlimited has a wheelbase 10 inches longer than the 93.4 inches on a standard Wrangler, an overall length 15 inches greater, and towing capability of 3,500 pounds instead of 2,000. Still, the Unlimited maintains the minimum off-roading guideline of a 20-degree breakover angle, the measurement of a vehicle s ability to drive over a jagged ridge without touching its underside.

Jeep dealers and customers locally and nationwide have been waiting for the Unlimited, which is to be priced between a $19,335 Wrangler X and $25,085 Wrangler Rubicon. The Unlimited will be on display at the Cobo Center show, which opens to the public Saturday and runs through Jan. 19.

Wrangler owner Andy Karam of Utica, N.Y., bought his rig in 1995 because he wanted both a convertible and the ability to tow his boat. He has since become interested in off-roading - and he needs extra room to store items without dealing with the bulkiness of other SUVs.

“It s a very versatile vehicle, and four-wheel drive is a must up here, especially with our harsh upstate New York winters,” Mr. Karam said. “The new Unlimited will answer my new needs.”

DaimlerChrysler AG started developing the Unlimited more than 18 months ago, and The Blade first reported more than a year ago that it was in the works. Officials for United Auto Workers Local 12 have been told the Toledo Jeep Assembly Plant will make 20,000 to 25,000 Unlimiteds a year, and about half of buyers will be new to the Wrangler line. The local plant made about 85,000 Wranglers last year.

The longer-wheelbase vehicle will be 30 percent quieter on road and better at crawling over rocks off road than other Wranglers, a Chrysler official has said. It will have tip-and-slide front seats for easier access to the backseat, a 4.0-liter inline 6-cylinder engine, heavy-duty rear axles, 30-inch Goodyear Wrangler GSA tires, fog lamps, and tow hooks.

Another standard feature on the Unlimited will be a Sunrider soft top, which creates an open-air “sun roof” when the section over the driver and front passenger is folded back. The soft top has larger, deep-tinted side windows so backseat passengers have a better view.

- JULIE M. McKINNON



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