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Published: Sunday, 1/15/2006

New Jeep wrangles auto show audience

BY JULIE M. McKINNON
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
The new Jeep Wrangler. The new Jeep Wrangler.
THE BLADE/LORI KING Enlarge | Buy This Photo

DETROIT - Scott Yakovich had one mission after driving from Milwaukee to the Motor City: determining whether to replace his 2001 Jeep Wrangler with a new one like it or with the redesigned model that will make its way from Toledo onto dealership lots later this year.

I came to see if I should grab a 2006 one quick or wait for the 2007, he said while examining the icon s latest incarnation. So far, I like what I see.

Mr. Yakovich and other Jeep devotees got their first look yesterday at the 2007 Wrangler on the floor of the North American International Auto Show, which runs through Jan. 22. Concepts such as the Chevrolet Camaro and Dodge Challenger, not to mention the upcoming Ford Shelby GT500 convertible and redesigned Toyota Camry, were among some other popular vehicles of the more than 700 on the show floor at the Cobo Center in downtown Detroit.

Though the doors were locked on a 2007 Wrangler Rubicon partially propped on a rock, some show-goers crawled under the frame, peered through windows, and tried to pop the hood to make their assessments.

Mr. Yakovich gave his approval to some new Wrangler features, from a hard top with three removable panels to bilevel heat vents, but he and others were unsure about replacing the existing model s 4-liter I-6 engine with a 3.8-liter V-6. Still, it took about a year before Mr. Yakovich got used to the current Wrangler when it came out in 1997 and he was driving a 1995 model, he admitted.

The more I look at it, the faster it will grow on me, he said of the 2007 model.

The direct descendent of the famed World War II vehicle, the Wrangler will be made along with a four-door version expected to make its debut at the New York Auto Show in April. DaimlerChrysler AG and its supplier partners plan to begin making prototypes of the sport-utility vehicles next month at a $900 million multi-factory North Toledo complex.

At 5.5 inches wider and 5.1 inches longer than the current Toledo-made Wrangler, the redesigned model is more than a SUV for fun, said Toledoans Keith Daly and Ryan Hill.

This strikes me more like a car you can drive every day, Mr. Hill said.

For off-roader Rick Brian of Cincinnati, though, neither the bigger size nor the different engine on the redesigned Wrangler are improvements.

But the owner of five Jeeps č including two Wranglers č said he does like the redesigned SUV s dent-resistent front fenders and solid axles, both of which will be on X, Sahara, and Rubicon models. Having a two-speed transfer case with a 4.0:1 low-range gear ratio, electric front and rear-axle lockers, and heavy-duty axles from Toledo s Dana Corp. as standards on the Rubicon model is a plus for off- roading, Mr. Brian said.

If they all had Dana 44 front axles, I d be very happy, he said after looking underneath the 2007 Wrangler Rubicon s frame with his 2-year-old son, Logan.

The redesigned Wrangler wasn t the only new Jeep garnering attention at the show. The 2007 Jeep Compass, a car-based model that will be built in Belvidere, Ill., and powered by a Dundee, Mich.-made engine, was favored by Shonn Gray of Detroit, who drives a Toledo-made Jeep Liberty and works at the Detroit factory where Jeep Grand Cherokees and Commanders are made.

Mrs. Gray said she likes the Compass design and size, which would be ideal as she is driving with her young sons, Charles II and Christopher.

But another Liberty driver, Erica Fischer of Wapakoneta, Ohio, said while she likes the Compass size and styling, she isn t ready to drive a Jeep with a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine. That might be the next Jeep I go to, but it s underpowered, she said.

The workings of the Compass engine, which will be built at the Global Engine Manufacturing Alliance factory in Dundee, was of interest to 11-year-old car fanatic Randy Wiseley of Lambertville. His father, Rob Wiseley, used it to give him and friend Tyler Bennett, 10, of Lambertville, a lesson on how an engine works. We like looking at the concepts, Mr. Wiseley said. We like looking at what s coming up, what the automakers have for us.

Randy s all-time favorite vehicle at the show, though, was the 2006 Mercedes-Benz SLR, priced at $465,650 including destination and gas guzzler tax.

Contact Julie McKinnon at:

jmckinnon@theblade.com

or 419-724-6087.



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