LAKE TAHOE, Calif. - Jeep Wrangler buyers have had a Henry Ford-style simple choice: They could buy their favorite off-road utility vehicle in any configuration, as long as it had two doors er, at least two places where doors could be hung.
No more. The arrival of a real four-door Wrangler in dealerships next month will give owners an option, one many of them had been requesting for years. Jeep hopes the four-door model, known as the Unlimited, will keep many Wrangler owners from defecting when they get a little older, have families and need extra space.
Jeep says 80 percent of Wrangler owners do not even consider buying another vehicle. But with new competitors such as the Hummer H3 and Toyota FJ Cruiser nibbling away, Jeep has a big stake in luring more buyers.
The basics: Jeep has redesigned the Wrangler from top to bottom, something that doesn't happen often. The last major redesign was in 1997.
Jeep plans to introduce the four-door Unlimited first, a month before the two-door arrives. The reason is simple: The first four-door Wrangler ever marks a major departure and clearly trumpets that an all-new Wrangler has hit the trail, Daniel Tardella, senior manager of Jeep marketing, said during an interview at a press event launch here.
"The four-door will bring new people into Jeep," said Tardella. "We knew we were losing out on some Wrangler opportunities."
The Unlimited seats five. Jeep says it has more cargo space than rivals such as the FJ Cruiser, H3 and Nissan Xterra. The Unlimited has a 116-inch wheelbase, compared with 95.4 inches for the two-door. Both versions will be offered in three models: Wrangler X, Sahara and Rubicon.
Compared to the current Wrangler, the 2007 version offers more capability off-road and more refinement on the pavement.
For those who want to take their Wranglers where other vehicles can't go, Jeep offers next-generation versions of its Command-Trac and Rock-Trac transfer cases, new electrical axle lockers and an electronic disconnecting front stabilizer bar.
The last feature is a first for the Wrangler and allows for added wheel travel on the most rugged trails.
All models are to be offered in multiple top, door and windshield combinations.
On road, the Wrangler benefits from having a stiffer frame and body, which results in a higher quality ride as well as less noise.
Jeep says it has reduced cabin noise by 20 percent. New seals around the doors and windows reduce wind noise, always an issue with Wranglers past.
All this has gone a long way toward civilizing the Wrangler. Jeep has not released pricing yet but Jeep is making much of the fact that it has added loads of new equipment.