There's always been a Jeep Wrangler on my Bucket List. Right alongside that Ferrari. But somehow the rugged Wrangler has always been just too, er, rugged to justify a bank loan.
The last one I drove, I sliced my finger on a scalpel-sharp piece of exposed metal, loosened dental work after hitting a downtown Tampa pothole, and wanted to commit hari-kari after trying – for two hours – to re-fit the canvas roof.
So why is it that after spending a week with the newest Wrangler Sahara Unlimited I'm looking at bank rates and pondering an eBay sale of my Hot Wheels collection? In a word, progress.
Finally, the Jeep guys have been thrown a few dollars to spend on upgrading the Wrangler's interior, getting rid of the brittle plastics and adding real soft-touch trim.
Now when you climb aboard you're greeted with a well-designed cabin that looks and feels upscale and modern – and less like an early '70s Yugo.
Style-wise, I've always loved the mini-Hummer look of the four-door Unlimited Wrangler Sahara. And for 2011 you can get the optional hardtop painted in body color.
Go for the terrific Sahara Tan paint and you'll feel like an extra in Operation Desert Storm and be wearing camouflage fatigues and sand boots before you know it.
Sadly, the makeover didn't include a switch to Chrysler's brilliant new Pentastar 3.6-liter V6.
So the Wrangler sticks with the Jurassic-era 202-hp 3.8-liter V6 and geriatric four-speed auto (a six-speed manual is standard). I tell you, Antarctic glaciers move faster.
But somehow, even with 0-to-60 mph in 11.5 second performance, the Wrangler is a joy to drive. It's fun in a way few, if any, other vehicles come close to delivering.
Alas, Wranglers don't come cheap. While the basic Unlimited Sport stickers at $26,345, the fancier Sahara starts at $31,245 and with a few options gets up to $35,000.
But when you're talking Bucket Lists, price is never a consideration.
Tampa-based auto writer Howard Walker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.