DETROIT -- When the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited was launched in 2007, it brought a new breed of customer into Jeep showrooms: people who expected a comfortable interior on a vehicle traditionally known for its rugged, outdoor persona.
Chrysler reached new customers with the four-door Wrangler Unlimited, which offered all the capabilities that made the Wrangler famous -- but with the interior space and good road manners needed to attract customers who had admired the Wrangler but found it too impractical for everyday use.
The new customers forced the automaker to rethink the Wrangler interior, which was historically rather spartan.
The result of that rethinking is the extensive redesign for the 2011 model. Jeep hopes the changes will bring in yet more new customers who were put off by the previous interior.
"People let us know the old interior didn't work," said Matt Liddane, Chrysler Group vehicle line executive for SUVs. "The armrests were useless."
After the launch in 2007, aftermarket suppliers began making their own solutions, including add-on accessories that made the existing armrests softer, Liddane said.
The armrest "was not only too short; it was inboard. There was no place to put your elbow," he said.
The center console, previously made of hard plastic, drew similar criticism and triggered similar aftermarket responses.
The Wrangler interior was never meant to rival that of a Rolls-Royce in cosseting occupants. After all, the whole point of a Wrangler is to take off the top and go where no other vehicles can go.
Jeep CEO Michael Manley said the remodeled interior will help increase sales.
"This will extend the reach of what is the icon of the Jeep brand," he said.
Wrangler prices for 2011 start at $22,795, including shipping.
Jeep does not share the breakdown between sales of two- and four-door Wranglers, but four-doors represent roughly 60 percent of sales, insiders say.
To cater to upscale customers, Jeep is adding another option: removable hard tops painted the same color as the exterior. The hard tops, manufactured by Continental Structured Plastics in Carey, Ohio, are available as a $980 option on the Sahara model only.
Several small touches have been added to the interior. Jeep has inscribed "Since 1941" on the glove-box trim -- a reference to Jeep's birth as a brand.
And there is a little flourish in the Frit line, which is the black ink applied at the edges of the front and rear windshield so the glass can be glued into place. At the top center of the windshield, stenciled into the Frit line, is the clear outline of the Wrangler's grille and headlights. When the sun is shining, the grill is silhouetted on the seat.
Said Klaus Busse, Chrysler's head of interior design: "This vehicle is all about fun."