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Perhaps the quintessential niche vehicle, the Jeep Wrangler has held the crown of ultimate off-roader ever since it was offered to the general public. This SUV's lineage goes back more than 60 years to the original military "Jeep," the now-legendary 4x4 that transported World War II soldiers and supplies over very rough terrain. Throughout the years the Wrangler's off-road prowess and tough-guy image have never wavered, but nor has it been the most civilized vehicle on the planet.
For the most recent generation of the Wrangler, Jeep has attempted to make it more livable, introducing a new four-door body style, a more contemporary interior and new safety and convenience features. But die-hard Jeep enthusiasts shouldn't be too worried about this softening: The latest Wrangler stays true to its original purpose of providing rugged off-road capability and distinctive style.
Used Jeep Wrangler Models
The current, third-generation Jeep Wrangler dates back to its introduction for 2007. It's larger and more refined than the previous generation. Key changes included a stiffer structure and more insulation for a quieter ride; a more powerful engine; more modern transmissions; and the first-time availability of a four-door variant (known as the Wrangler Unlimited). Styling is familiar, and although the standard Wrangler retains roughly the same short length as before, its increased width helps to improve passenger comfort.
Until 2012, the only engine available was a 3.8-liter V6 that produced a rather anemic 202 hp and 237 lb-ft of torque. As with today, a six-speed manual was standard, but the optional automatic had only four speeds. A rear-drive version of the Unlimited was also available. Prior to 2011, the Wrangler's cabin featured lower-quality materials and less visually appealing design. There were fewer luxury and convenience items available, while stability control was not standard.
Other key changes to note are that the standard vinyl soft top was harder to remove prior to a design change instituted for 2010. The Unlimited's roof was improved further for 2013, along with the seats in all Wranglers.
The previous, second generation of the Wrangler bowed in 1997 after a one-year hiatus, and marked a return to the classic Jeep face with its round headlights. It was sold through the 2006 model year. A new dash modernized the cabin upon its debut, while a coil-spring suspension improved on-road comfort. Dual front airbags and the option of antilock brakes made it safer, too. Of course, all the ingredients (such as generous ground clearance, skid plates and a crawl gear for the transfer case) that made the original CJ so capable off-road remained.
Base SE (2.5-liter, 120-hp inline-4), Sport (4.0-liter, 190-hp inline-6, fancy wheels and graphics) and Sahara (4.0-liter six, air-conditioning, upgraded upholstery, CD player) trims were offered initially. By 2003, the Wrangler "X" (slotted above the SE and featuring the inline-6) and "Rubicon" (featuring hard-core off-road equipment such as a super-low range in the transfer case, 31-inch tires and locking Dana axles front and rear) trims debuted. Transmission choices included a five-speed manual and three-speed automatic, the latter upgraded to a four-speed unit for 2003.
In 2004, Jeep introduced the Wrangler Unlimited model; it still had only two doors, but a 10-inch wheelbase stretch provided a significant increase in rear legroom and cargo capacity. A Rubicon version of the Unlimited arrived the following year, and a six-speed manual gearbox replaced the five-speed.
In reviews, we praised this Jeep Wrangler for its off-road agility and personality but scorned the plastic side windows and fussy soft top. We deemed it fair at best for commuter duty, considering the vehicle's loud and busy ride at freeway speeds. After logging some miles in a Rubicon version, we decided its immense off-road capacity was beyond compare, but braking distances (even with ABS) were long, gas mileage was mediocre and as a daily driver it was simply too harsh and bouncy on the blacktop. The standard, non-Rubicon version of the Wrangler Unlimited had slightly better road manners, thanks to its longer wheelbase and revised suspension tuning.
Consumer feedback is generally favorable, with most folks enjoying the fun factor and echoing our sentiments about the annoying soft top and fuel mileage. Reliability is a mixed bag, with a few respondents citing many troubles where others had none.
The first Jeep Wrangler (1986-'95) had square headlights and, on some trims, monochromatic fender flares and rocker panel extensions, the latter an odd "of the times" styling touch on such a retro vehicle. Initially, a choice of a 2.5-liter four or a 4.2-liter six-cylinder engine was offered, and buyers could get a five-speed manual or three-speed automatic. One of the biggest improvements during this generation came for 1991, when a new, 4.0-liter inline-6 with 180 hp replaced the ancient 4.2-liter unit that had just 112 hp. Trim levels during this time ranged from base S through Islander, Sahara and top-of-the-line Laredo and, after 1990, Renegade.
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