Standard carryover transmissions prevail here with the NSG370 manual six-speed and the 42RLE four-speed auto. The auto gets 4.10 axle gears, while the stick can be had with 4.10 or 3.21 gears. These trannies worked fine before, so there wasn't much sense changing them. But the "next generation Command-Trac" is better and, yes, bigger. The NVG241 with 2.72:1 low range and the Rubicon counterpart the NVG241OR Rock-Trac with 4.0:1 low range both get upgraded with a cable shifter instead of linkage, and 18 bolts holding the case halves together instead of 9. The increased stiffness makes for better sealing and durability, and they also feature fixed yokes instead of the slip-shaft stuff. But on the ends of the yokes are big, beefy CV joints ( the real Rzeppa style, not a double cardan), for increased strength, smoother operation, and more angularity. We aren't sure of the durability of boots and such, but again the aftermarket will have a heyday.
The suspension remains basically the same as the TJ with the five-link coil suspension, but all of the arms are longer and, yes, bigger and better. Box construction instead of U-channel arms helps the big bushings to move, yet stay stable. Massive track bars are nearly parallel, and the brackets are highly upgraded as well. The coil rate is said to be softer than before, but matched to the low-pressure twin-tubed shocked X, and high-pressure monotube shocks for the Sahara and Rubicon. Better yet, the Rubicon gets the electronic disconnecting front stabilizing bar as used on the Dodge Power Wagon. Known as the Active Sway Bar System (ASBS), this goodie unhooks in low range under 15 mph to increase articulation by about 28 percent in the rough. The frame is as big as some truck frames, and is 100 percent stiffer in bending, and 50 percent stiffer torsionally. Hydroformed crush rails in the front add occupant and target safety and ease of repair, should it be needed. Steering geometry is far better now as the floppy center steering design is gone, replaced with a conventional cross-over system to eliminate bumpsteer, head toss, and sloppy feelings. A special high-steer right knuckle, bigger and better tie rods and steering arm, and a refined recirculating-ball power-steering box all help fight old-fashioned steering systems for a precise feel, sort of like what we would build ourselves. The scrub radius is also vastly improved from 50 to 14 mm, which can make a big difference in steering feel. Brakes gain improvements too, with four-wheel disc only (drums are gone) with bigger and better rotors and calipers, and of course the obligatory alphabet soup of traction and safety controls.
And speaking about alphabet soup safety, here's the list. What's really good is that the functions are modified when in low range, for the better. Starting with the traditional ABS (antilock braking system), the calibration is changed in low range for less sensitivity and more actual lockup. TCS (traction control system) uses brakes to limit spin while pulling power and BA (brake assist) simply senses a full panic stop and gives added pressure to the brakes-more than your foot ever could. But the big news is the ESP (electronic stability program) and the ERM (electronic roll mitigation) system. The cool thing is that ESP has three modes: full on, partial off, and full off. The ESP senses the amount and speed of yaw, pitch, and roll, then pulls engine power or selectively applies individual brakes to keep you on the road, and affects the ERM, ABS, and TCS. In partial off mode, the TCS is off, and less ESP is used. In full off, TCS, ESP, and ERM are off completely. But in low range, ESP on gives you ABS lessened, TCS engine management off, and brake traction off, but BLD (brake lock differentials) gets a different calibration, and ERM remains on. With the ESP off in low range, the same scenarios are in effect, but the ERM is off. Any questions?
Inside the new cockpit there's a generous increase in space, with 4-5 inches more hip and shoulder room and a couple inches down by the feet as well. The cargo area has hidden storage and room unmatched in the previous Wrangler. The dash features only speed, tach, temperature, and fuel gauges, while the centerstack houses all the regular HVAC controls, plus a nav screen and MP3 capability with Sirius radio. New seats and fabric designs with special Yes repellent fabric might be cool, and they complement the carpet which is still removable for hosing out the innards. Even though the floor is layered with a special closed-cell sound-deadening foam-the floor drain holes remain. When designers and marketing people describe interiors as athletic, you know they have little grasp of the English language. But lo and behold they got it right this time, as the driver seat actually moves up and down manually for an unparalleled view of the road, sort of like a gymnast. We'll give 'em that one.
The new hardtop is a big deal for Jeep, which is a three-piece modular style. The removable left and right panels can be taken off and stored in the back, and the whole top is light enough for two people to remove. The standard Sunrider soft top, which can be left half open for an airy feel, is still available, and doors are either full or half and completely removable.