Long-Term Test: 2007 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 4x4


  • 2007 Jeep Wrangler Picture

    2007 Jeep Wrangler Picture

    We live for water crossings. | October 29, 2009

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Why We Bought It
Durability
Performance and Fuel Economy
Retained Value
Summing Up

Edmunds.com's long-term test of the 2007 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 4x4 is complete after just over 15,000 miles. We found the off-road capability of this Jeep holds true to its heritage. But neither four doors nor an extended wheelbase goes far enough toward molding this Wrangler into a true SUV.

Our struggle to accumulate mileage on the Jeep was due to its highway mannerisms. It drives like a Wrangler off-road and on, and this ride isn't for everyone. Some embrace the rugged Jeep image and can tough it out seven days a week. Others see four doors and expect a more refined, SUV-like ride. They won't find it here. We fit somewhere between the daily-driver crowd and the park-it-until-the-weekend folks.

Why We Bought It
The Jeep Wrangler established itself in the market with off-road functionality at an attainable price. This 2007 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara leaves the comfort of its niche in an attempt to enter the realm of mainstream SUVs. In doing so, this long-wheelbase, four-door vehicle found itself in a zone that wasn't all-Wrangler, nor was it all-SUV. This made us wonder if it was all Jeep.

The 2006 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited marked a rebirth of the extended wheelbase not seen in the Wrangler model line since the Scrambler. The distance between axles grew 20.6 inches and width by 5.5 inches. For 2007 Jeep took advantage of the extended wheelbase to offer its first-ever four-door Wrangler. We anticipated the on-road handling would benefit from the stretch at the expense of off-road maneuverability.

As part of the redesign, the latest Wrangler received a new pushrod 3.8-liter V6. Its 202 horsepower and 237 pound-feet of torque proved to be a letdown during our full test of the Unlimited Sahara. Since this is the only engine offered for the vehicle, we felt it deserved a second chance. Our highest recorded tank of fuel exceeded EPA estimates at over 19 mpg, so maybe there are some redeeming qualities to this engine after all.

Durability
During the early months of our test, off-road driving was admittedly limited to speed bumps and steep driveways, so the Jeep was well rested for its first trip off the beaten path.

Video Production Specialist John Adolph (a weekend winch geek with lots of off-road experience) brought in the new year with an 850-mile road trip to Death Valley National Park. Along the 50-mile Grass Valley trail, Adolph commented, "I am surprised by how well the Jeep rides at speed. It did well over rutted and slightly rocky surfaces, even without airing down the tires. Steering felt tight when dodging Joshua trees on the sandy stuff. The last 20 miles of trail are softer and made up entirely of whoop-de-doos. In a short-wheelbase vehicle, these get old quick. But the longer wheelbase subdued the forward-to-back motion, so nobody puked."

We expect basic fire roads and simple hill climbs will be the extent of off-road driving for most owners. Lead Senior Editor Ed Hellwig had this in mind when he wrote, "On the rocky roads this Wrangler is much less of a pogo stick than its predecessor. A longer wheelbase helps, but the feel through the wheel is less jittery as well. It's sturdier, too, with fewer rattles from the soft top. That said, it doesn't soak up bumps nearly as well as the Toyota FJ Cruiser or Nissan Xterra. Low-speed climbs were a piece of cake with limited tire slippage thanks largely to the optional 4.10:1 axle ratio and limited-slip diff. One feature it has over the competition is a navigation system that keeps track of progress on unmarked roads. It makes getting lost nearly impossible."

Of course, once you pull the Jeep back onto the highway after a weekend of four-wheeling, its distinctive lineage is unavoidable. It bucks and bounces like every Wrangler before it. Four doors and a long wheelbase might mellow the ride somewhat, but not to the extent of a traditional SUV.

News Editor Kelly Toepke and her daughter drove to the airport one weekend to catch a plane for the Detroit auto show. Toepke noted on the long-term blog pages, "After 20 miles my daughter had enough. The constant freeway noise coupled with the rough ride pushed her into a serious state of 7-year-old crabbiness which lasted until she saw our local Chrysler PR rep at the airport gate. Poor guy is about to be ambushed by a pint-sized automotive journalist." Her daughter started right in, "I don't like the Jeep. It's too loud and too bumpy." Always calm under pressure, Toepke apologized and bought her daughter off with some Burger King fries. "Apparently that didn't take," Toepke added. "When we returned to the airport several days later, she opted to ride home with my husband in his Volvo S60 instead of the Jeep."

Inside the cabin our Unlimited Sahara has evolved somewhat from the basic Wrangler of previous generations. The soft top comes accessorized with plenty of clips, clamps, catches, straps, rods, zippers and Velcro. There's plenty of wind noise, of course, and it's complicated to take down and put up. Meanwhile the heater is awesome and the A/C adequate. So some things haven't changed. But the optional MyGIG Multimedia Infotainment system with navigation is a step toward redemption. For $1,500 it is the best interior feature the Wrangler has to offer.

We experienced a one-time Electronic Throttle Control (ETC) system fault. From highway speeds there was a sudden drop in power, the stability control light began flashing and the ETC light illuminated. After pulling over we read the owner's manual to learn, "If this problem is detected while the engine is running, the light will either stay on or flash depending on the nature of the problem." The manual directed us to cycle the key in the ignition and the lights completely stopped. It never happened again.

Two recalls, neither of which affected our vehicle, were announced during our test of the Wrangler. One was for an electrical issue that could cause the engine to stall. The second recall was ABS related and involved a possibility of the rear brakes locking up without warning. Reprogramming of the car's computer was recommended to solve both problems.

Dealer service was simple in the case of the Wrangler. Our first scheduled interval arrived around 6,000 miles. We took the car to Moothart Jeep in Cerritos, California. It cost us $19.66 after redeeming a $20 dealer-supplied coupon. For no charge, the dealership also handled our issue with intermittently squeaky brakes by roughing up the pads and applying some anti-squeak compound.

Total Body Repair Costs: None
Total Routine Maintenance Costs (over 12 months): $19.66
Additional Maintenance Costs: None
Warranty Repairs: None
Non-Warranty Repairs: None
Scheduled Dealer Visits: 1
Unscheduled Dealer Visits: None
Days Out of Service: None
Breakdowns Stranding Driver: None

Performance and Fuel Economy
One thing was clear following our tests of the Wrangler at 1,000 and 15,000 miles. Paved road driving is secondary in its nature. All performance tests supported this philosophy.

Our 4,300-pound Wrangler requires 17.6 seconds to complete the quarter-mile with a trap speed of 77.3 mph. It needs 10.4 seconds (with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip) to reach 60 mph from a stop. We've watched guys on YouTube chug a six-pack in less time than that.

Tires and a low threshold of stability-control intervention limit the Wrangler to 0.66g of lateral force around the skid pad. And at a mere 55.7 mph, the Wrangler looks uncomfortable through the slalom.

When we recorded a stopping distance from 60 mph of 137 feet during its 1,000-mile test, one editor wrote, "This is abysmal braking performance for any modern vehicle." At the 15,000-mile test, after several thousand miles of break-in, its brakes and tires redeemed themselves as the distance shrunk to 125 feet. Stops were consistent, progressive and without fade.

We didn't expect the combination of a four-speed automatic transmission and an unimpressive V6 to be remarkably fuel-efficient. But we were wrong. On multiple occasions we topped EPA estimations, recording our best single tank of nearly 22 mpg. On the whole we averaged 16 mpg.

Best Fuel Economy: 21.6 mpg
Worst Fuel Economy: 11.4 mpg
Average Fuel Economy: 15.9 mpg

Retained Value
Our Wrangler had a starting MSRP of $30,615. According to Edmunds' TMV® calculator, it depreciated 27 percent from this price in one year of service. This is higher than what we predicted. By comparison, our long-term Toyota FJ Cruiser lost 26 percent of its value after 12 months and 28,000 miles. Of course, the market for used SUVs weakened noticeably in the interval between these two sales.

True Market Value at service end: $22,222
Depreciation: $8,393 or 27% of original MSRP
Final Odometer Reading: 15,254

Summing Up
The 2007 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara is as capable off-road as we've come to expect from its trail-rated heritage. Some low-speed maneuvers are understandably limited by the extended wheelbase. High-speed driving benefits from the extra space between axles by smoothing out the ride. The MyGIG system adds an off-road navigation element unmatched by the competition. On the whole, Jeep enthusiasts will not be disappointed by the Unlimited's performance.

But once you compare this Jeep to competitive SUVs, it falters. We see four doors and we want a more civilized experience. The Unlimited just does not offer the level of isolation and highway demeanor we would get from a Toyota FJ Cruiser or Nissan Xterra. So while it is certainly all-Jeep, the new Wrangler Unlimited is not all-SUV.

The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.

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