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Published: Monday, 1/9/2006

Jeep Wrangler and Compass to share the spotlight in Detroit

The 2007 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon has bigger wheels than the 2006 models, thereby allowing better off-road performance. The 2007 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon has bigger wheels than the 2006 models, thereby allowing better off-road performance.

DETROIT Fans can rest easy that the Toledo-made 2007 Jeep Wrangler remains true to its 65-year-old roots: The slotted grille, round headlights, and upright rectangular windshield are all still there.

At the same time, the redesigned Wrangler has become both brawnier and more, well, civilized. The newly fashioned vehicle will be unwrapped for the first time today at a media event prior to the North American International Auto Show in downtown Detroit.

Need better off-road performance? The new Wrangler has increased ground clearance, larger wheels and tires, enhanced solid axles, and an electronic disconnecting front sway bar to help tackle even tougher terrain.

Want more power? How about a 3.9-liter V-6 with 205 horsepower and 240 foot-pounds of torque.

Tired of that infernal wind noise and bumpy ride on highways? Welcome, for the first time, a curved windshield plus a longer wheelbase and 100 percent stiffer frame in bending, to name a couple of changes.

Need more space? Try 5.1 inches more shoulder room and 4.6 inches more hip room in the front seat and nearly double the cargo capacity behind the rear seat, where a new lockable underfloor storage area is found.

And, as another first, Wrangler owners can get power windows and locks on removable full-framed or half doors.

First and foremost, this is a true Wrangler, said Mike Donoughe, vice president of Chrysler s body-on-frame product team. We wouldn t do anything to hurt the Wrangler.

The Blade got a sneak peek at the new two-door Wrangler, the direct descendant of the famed World War II vehicle.

A four-door version by DaimlerChrysler AG is expected to be introduced this year, and the sport utility vehicles will be built starting in July at a $900 million multifactory complex off Stickney Avenue in Toledo. Jeep Libertys also are made at the factory next door.

Jeep is targeting single or recently married professionals with the Compass, which combines the attributes of an SUV and a car. Jeep is targeting single or recently married professionals with the Compass, which combines the attributes of an SUV and a car.

Sharing the stage today at the Cobo Center event, one of the premier auto shows in the world, will be the Jeep brand s first front-wheel-drive-based product with a fully independent suspension, the 2007 Jeep Compass.

To be made in Belvidere, Ill., alongside the upcoming Dodge Caliber compact car, the Compass has local ties that go beyond the revered Jeep brand name, since it will be powered by a 2.4-liter, 4-cylinder engine made in Dundee, Mich., at the Global Engine Manufacturing Alliance factory part-owned by Chrysler.

The Compass expands the Jeep brand to buyers who want the attributes of a SUV and car melded together, giving them the chance to have four-wheel-drive and cargo space with higher fuel economy and better handling at a lower price. The so-called crossover vehicle is expected to attract additional customers to the Jeep brand, namely single or recently married educated professionals in their early 20s to early 40s with a median income of $60,000 wanting upscale, fashionable, and refined items.

The Wrangler, meanwhile, is pure sport utility vehicle and designed to keep followers happy while drawing in new buyers with expanded safety features and other attributes.

About 80 percent of Wrangler customers do not consider another vehicle, according to Chrysler.

Top on the features wish list of diehard Wrangler owner Jessica Gallant of Arcadia, Ohio, is an in-dash global positioning unit. More important, though, is that the SUV remains true to its roots, said Ms. Gallant, who currently drives a 2005 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon both on and off roads.

I, for one, didn t buy a Wrangler for its aerodynamics, speed, or great gas mileage, she said. It is a blast to drive 365 days of the year, rain or shine.

Wranglers, to me, are what the Jeep brand is all about.

The Wrangler being unveiled today not only is faithful to its lineage but has a full-screen navigation system as an option. That system even has a trail function feature, allowing offroaders to track and retrace their routes.

The redesigned SUV will come in three trim levels Wrangler X, Sahara, and Rubicon and have 16, 17, or 18-inch wheels, depending on the version and option. Prices will not be released until this summer, but the model it replaces starts at $18,800 for an SE version.

The SUV will be sold with a diesel engine outside of the United States. Mr. Donoughe declined to discuss whether a diesel Wrangler eventually will be offered in the United States, too.

The redesigned Wrangler has an available soft top, which offers drivers the option of folding the top back just over the front seats or completely. The SUV s hard top features three panels, two up front and one in the back, for more open-air options.

Contact Julie M. McKinnon at: jmckinnon@theblade.com or 419-724-6087.

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