Inside & Out

Adventurous drivers will appreciate the Wrangler's purposeful interior, with straightforward controls and an open, upright design. Cabin materials look ready to withstand dirt and mud, and Jeep says the floor is washable, with removable carpeting and footwell drain plugs. Sahara and Rubicon models have stain-resistant fabric, with two-tone leather optional.

That aside, a lot of things need work. The front seats provide virtually no lateral support, and the driver's seat has limited rearward adjustment. I slid it all the way back, and my 5-foot, 11-inch frame could have used a couple more inches of legroom. The standard manual height adjustment jacks the seat up on an incline, so eking out the most legroom means keeping the seat low. A telescoping adjustment for the steering wheel might help more drivers orient themselves, but the Wrangler's wheel only tilts.

Backseat legroom in the Unlimited is tight, and the two-door Wrangler loses another 1.6 inches. Headroom is adequate, and the backseat sits high enough off the ground that adults' knees won't be in the air, but most will find the seat cushions are a few inches too short for adequate thigh support. Though you have to flip the seat cushions forward before putting the seatbacks down — a more involved process than most SUVs require — the Unlimited's resulting cargo area is tall, and its 86.8 cubic feet of maximum cargo volume is some 20 cubic feet more than that of an FJ or Xterra.

Like the FJ, the Wrangler has a rear swing-gate that extends several feet rearward, rather than the traditional upward-extending liftgate. Some may find it easier to open than a tailgate, but it requires more clearance, particularly when parallel parked. The rear window opens independent of the door, but only after moving the tailgate — and its spare tire — out of the way. Equally annoying: With their detachable hinges, the doors lack any detents to stay in place. Leave an open one unattended, and it drifts freely — and can wander into an adjacent car while you're attending to groceries or a child. I came inches from experiencing this while unloading a few bags. Expletives ensued, of course.

The removable doors augment the Wrangler's convertible nature, though we don't recommend driving one that way regularly, as the doors will help protect you in a side impact. Standard equipment includes Jeep's Sunrider soft-top, which is easier to use this year thanks to a new cable system that eliminates the need to futz with the side rails. A fold-down windshield is also standard, and the CD stereo's speakers sit up in the roof bars — a location good for blaring tunes at the beach. Jeep's optional Freedom Top, which our test car had, includes three hard panels that can open up various sections of the roof.

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