2006 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited 4X4 Review

01
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Meet the 2006 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited

2006 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited
2006 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 4X4. ©Jason Fogelson

If you're a serious off-roader and your budget doesn't allow for a dedicated off-road vehicle, you have to find a single vehicular compromise between off-road performance and daily driver manners. I drove a 2006 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 4X4 for a week to find out if it would be possible to live with on a day-to-day basis as my only vehicle. With a list price of $28,465 ($31,150 as tested) and a 3 year/36,000 warranty, the 2006 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 4X4 put me to the test.

02
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First Glance at the 2006 Jeep Wrangler

2006 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited
2006 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 4X4. ©Jason Fogelson

First Glance at the 2006 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 4X4

The Wrangler is an iconic vehicle. Jeep has wisely preserved the Wrangler's looks over the years so that it retains the flavor, the lines and the presence of the

original military vehicle

that rolled off the line during World War II. The Unlimited model of the Wrangler has been around since 2004, and features a 103.4" wheelbase (10" longer than the standard model) and an overall length of 167" (12" longer than the standard model) -- the greater length makes the Unlimited look more balanced and slightly less aggressive. Fit and finish on my tester was quite good.

I know that tradition is important to the Jeep faithful, but for crying out loud! That soft top is absolutely awful! With the owner's manual in hand, I spent a good half hour taking down the top, and I know I didn't get it right. I enlisted our Cars Guide, Aaron Gold, to help me try and get the top sorted, and we spent another half hour wrestling the canvas beast into submission, much to the amusement of my neighbors. If I wanted to drive the Wrangler on a daily basis, I would opt for the removable hard top (a $795 option) and rig a hoist in my garage for quick storage and replacement. I never even tried to put the soft top back up -- luckily we had great weather this week.

03
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In the Jeep Wrangler's Driver's Seat

2006 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited
2006 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 4X4. ©Jason Fogelson

In the Driver's Seat of the 2006 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 4X4

You've got to be a little bit spry to get into the Wrangler -- the bottom of the door sill is 26" off of the ground, at least a foot higher than your average car's entry. Once you get yourself into the driver's seat, the driving position takes a little getting used to, unless you spend a lot of time behind the wheel of a John Deere. The tilt steering column helps, but the driver's seat is decidedly low tech, a little overstuffed and bouncy. The dashboard and surrounding materials seem pretty rugged, though plasticy. If your Jeep is going to live out in the elements, you'll want to protect the interior and keep it clean to keep it from deteriorating. My test Wrangler had full doors with roll-up glass windows in front -- the first time I've seen manual window cranks in a while. The lightweight doors are easily removable for off-road excursions.

The Unlimited's wheelbase allows for a pretty roomy back seat, and a nice sized open cargo area behind the rear seat, accessible via a right-swinging rear gate that also holds the full-sized spare tire. With the soft top down, there's no secure storage area in the Wrangler beside a small locking glove compartment and console bin. I'd add an aftermarket lock box in the cargo hold first thing.

04
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On the Road in the 2006 Jeep Wrangler

2006 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited
2006 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 4X4. ©Jason Fogelson

The Wrangler has a real advantage over every other car on the road -- it's impossible not to look cool driving one, especially with the top down in nice weather. Don't jump out of a luxury car and into the Wrangler and expect to be impressed with its road manners, though -- the Wrangler is rough and rugged, and best for short trips. Once you accept the Wrangler for what it is, old technology employed for a specific purpose, you can appreciate the drive. The longer-wheelbased Unlimited smoothes out the ride on pavement and lowers the risk of rollover during emergency maneuvers. Don't get overconfident, and you can keep up a nice pace on a twisty road. The 4.0 liter inline-6 under the hood delivers nearly 85% of its 235 lb-ft of peak torque at idle, which means that take offs from a stop are assertive. My tester was equipped with the optional ($825) 4-speed automatic transmission, which was well-mated to the engine's personality. I would still opt for the standard 6-speed manual transmission for more flexibility off-road.

The Unlimited Wrangler arrives with 4-wheel disc brakes, but no ABS is available. You may have to relearn your emergency braking technique -- remember threshold braking and pumping the brakes on slick surfaces?

05
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Journey's End

2006 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited
2006 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 4X4. ©Jason Fogelson

End of the Road in the 2006 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 4X4

So, how did the Wrangler fare in my little experiment? Could I live with a Wrangler as my sole means of transportation? For me, the simple answer has to be no. Your answer will depend on how much time you spend off of the pavement. The Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon is a great starting point for an off-roader, with great bones and some fantastic features built right in. Serious off-roaders will want to modify, improve, accessorize and personalize their Wranglers to achieve the dirt performance of their dreams. But if you spend most of your time on the pavement and in traffic, the Wrangler is just a step above a motorcycle in terms of comfort and convenience. I haven't even mentioned the deafening road and wind noise you have to endure in the Wrangler, top up or top down, or the mediocre gas mileage (14 mpg city/18 mpg highway).

So, which vehicles offer a better compromise between off- and on-road performance? Close in price to the Wrangler, Jeep's own Grand Cherokee is a great all-around SUV. Nissan's Xterra, Toyota's 4Runner and HUMMER's H3 all manage the road well, and have good off-road chops.

For pure off-roading, the 2006 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 4X4 is the king. For all-around everyday driving, I'd settle for the prince.