Would Wrangler design tweaks rile the Jeep faithful?

The Wrangler’s hood buckles -- the two exterior straps and clips that keep the hood securely in place -- are just as much a part of Jeep history as its seven-slot grille.
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Though I am no Martin Luther, I’d like to nail a note on the door of the Church of the Most Holy Jeep Wrangler.

The design orthodoxy of the Wrangler -- the gospel of Jeep, as it were -- needs a tweak or two before the 71-year-old vehicle’s next makeover.

Now, before the Jeep faithful charge me with heresy and strap me to a solid front axle atop a big pile of kindling, let me explain: The tweaks I’m suggesting are small and wouldn’t affect the Wrangler’s performance but would make it a better vehicle to own. For instance:

1. It’s time to let go of the collapsible windshield. Customers have been able to fold their windshields flat since the only color that Jeeps came in was Army green, but few customers ever do. Yet the design constraint of maintaining the ability to drop the front window means that the Jeep can put almost no rake in the A-pillars, increasing drag and decreasing fuel economy. I know the Wrangler is a rolling brick, but even a little improvement in airflow would help for all those times it’s not on the trail.

2. Keep the buckles, but back them up. The Wrangler’s hood buckles -- the two exterior straps and clips that keep the hood securely in place -- are just as much a part of Jeep history as its seven-slot grille. But in an age when thieves are as likely to steal auto parts as they are entire vehicles, a secondary traditional hood-release system, or keyed locks on the existing clips, could make the Wrangler a less inviting target.

3. Make the doors harder to steal. I can’t think of another vehicle that’s designed to allow consumers to remove the doors, and that’s a Wrangler feature that should stay. But malefactors have figured out that the doors can sell for hundreds of dollars each, and can be easily removed. An exterior locking system, or even requiring a specially keyed tool, could help dissuade criminals and keep Wrangler owners from starting their day off with a very cold drive.

4. Pad the hard-top roof. Jeepers have taken to attaching handmade pillows to their hard tops with hook-and-loop tape in order to keep from banging their heads on the trail. Then they found out that those pillows also quiet the wind noise and increase insulation in an otherwise chilly cabin. Sounds like a winner to me, except for the floral-print pillow fabric.

5. Four clips, a pulley and some rope. The Wrangler’s heritage as a drop-top SUV is crucial to its identity, but it shouldn’t require a team of people to remove the hard top. If the hard top had a grab point at each corner, one person could -- in theory -- remove the top without assistance with little more than a modified bicycle lift in a garage or strapped to a nearby tree branch.

There are endless other design suggestions for the next Wrangler, as evidenced by the thousands and thousands of aftermarket accessories available for the descendent of the original MB, the Army Jeep. And Jeep engineers have the luxury of time, since the Wrangler continues to fly off dealer lots and isn’t due for its next major overhaul for several years.

Some Jeep enthusiasts cling to orthodoxy that a vehicle so shrouded in history shouldn’t evolve with the times -- that certain elements are sacrosanct. They may be right, but I think failing to roll with the times leads to a dangerous abyss that even the Wrangler can’t cross.

You can reach Larry P. Vellequette at lvellequette@crain.com.

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