Perhaps the quintessential niche vehicle, the Jeep Wrangler has held the crown of ultimate affordable off-roader ever since it was first offered to the general public. This SUV's lineage goes back more than 60 years to the original military Jeep, the legendary 4x4 that transported World War II soldiers and supplies over very rough terrain. Since then, the Wrangler's off-road prowess and tough-guy image have never wavered.
The Wrangler has never been the most civilized vehicle on the planet. But Jeep has attempted to make the last two Wrangler generations more livable. They boast an available four-door body style, a more contemporary interior, strong V6 power, and added safety and convenience features. But die-hard Jeep enthusiasts shouldn't be too worried. The latest Wrangler stays true to its original purpose of providing rugged off-road capability and distinctive style, with creature comforts a distant third. Love it or hate it, the Wrangler just keeps on marching to its own beat.
Current Jeep Wrangler
The current fourth-generation Jeep Wrangler (known as the JL) debuted in the 2018 model year. It maintains the heritage of off-road supremacy while rounding off some of the proverbial sharp edges that may have driven some potential shoppers away in the past. It's larger than the preceding JK Wrangler, but the big differences relate to everyday livability. The new JL makes big improvements in comfort of the seats and the ride quality. Interior materials are also noticeably better, and overall it just drives better on the road.
It's available as a two-door or a four-door Unlimited, with either offered as a soft-top convertible or a hardtop. Both are available in Sport, Sport S and Rubicon trims, while the four-door is also eligible for the Sahara trim.
The standard engine is a 285-horsepower 3.6-liter V6 that is paired with a six-speed manual transmission. An eight-speed automatic is available at additional cost. An optional mild hybrid eTorque 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder is also offered and has a combined output of 270 hp.
The base Sport trim level has more features than previous Wranglers but is still pretty sparse. Standard equipment highlights include 17-inch steel wheels, a full-size spare tire, skid plates and tow hooks, foglights, keyless entry, removable doors with crank windows, a fold-down windshield, cruise control, a height-adjustable driver's seat, cloth upholstery, and a one-piece folding rear seat, a 5-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth, a rearview camera, an eight-speaker sound system with a CD player and USB/auxiliary audio port. The Unlimited version adds a bigger gas tank, air conditioning and a 60/40-split folding rear seat.
The Sport S adds 17-inch alloy wheels, air conditioning for the two-door, automatic headlights, keyless entry, heated mirrors, power windows and locks, an alarm and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.
The midlevel Sahara is only available in the four-door Wrangler and adds 18-inch wheels, painted exterior elements, LED headlights and foglights, automatic climate control, a 115-volt household outlet, a bigger driver information display, an additional USB port, and an upgraded Uconnect system with a 7-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and satellite radio.
The off-road-focused Rubicon upgrades the Sport trim's equipment with 17-inch alloy wheels, all-terrain tires, heavy-duty front and rear axles with shorter gear ratios, 4.0-to-1 low-range gearing, electronic locking differentials, an electronically disconnecting front roll bar, rock rails and an additional USB port.
Many features are available on supporting trims as options. Other add-ons include a higher-quality soft top, remote ignition, heated seats, a heated steering wheel, leather upholstery, an 8.4-inch touchscreen with navigation, blind-spot monitoring, and a premium Alpine sound system.
With all of the changes for this latest generation, the Wrangler retains all of the rough-and-tumble brawn that keeps loyalists happy and adds a considerable amount of refinement to make it easier and more pleasant to drive on pavement.
Used Jeep Wrangler Models
The third-generation Jeep Wrangler (the JK) debuted for the 2007 model year, and production ran until 2018. It was larger and more refined than the previous generation. Key changes included a stiffer structure and more insulation for a quieter, though still raucous, ride; the introduction of a four-door long-wheelbase variant (known as the Wrangler Unlimited); and added power under the hood, with the big bump in 2012. Styling was familiar, and although the standard Wrangler retained about the same short length as before, its increased width helped to improve passenger comfort.
Both the standard Wrangler and the larger Unlimited models came in bare-bones Sport, midlevel Sahara or hard-core Rubicon trim. Many luxury and convenience items were available, including heated leather seats, automatic climate control, Bluetooth, navigation and an Infinity sound system.
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. The arrival of the Pentastar 3.6-liter V6 with 285 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque put unprecedented pep in the Wrangler's step, and it brought a new five-speed automatic that replaced the four-speed unit offered with the 3.8-liter engine. A rear-wheel-drive version of the Unlimited was also available until 2012. Before 2011, the Wrangler's cabin featured lower-quality materials and a less visually appealing design. Fewer luxury and convenience items were available, while stability control was not standard.
Another notable change is that the standard vinyl soft top was harder to remove prior to a design tweak implemented for 2010. The Unlimited's roof was improved further for 2013, along with the seats in all Wranglers.
In 2015 the Wrangler's standard sound system was upgraded to eight speakers, while the optional Alpine stereo bumped the count to nine. That year, Jeep also added a standard Torx tool kit for pulling down the doors and the roof.
In reviews, we've noted that the third-generation Wrangler was the go-to choice among serious off-roaders thanks to its compact dimensions (provided you choose the two-door version), high ground clearance, steep approach and departure angles, and no-nonsense four-wheel-drive system with an aggressive low-range function. Even the most basic Wrangler could venture places that most mass-market vehicles could never dream of. The Rubicon furthered those capabilities with extra features such as a special transfer case, knobbier tires and electronic locking differentials.
The ride was often jarring, interior noise on the highway could be deafening, and handling was poor. With its removable doors, zip-up plastic windows and hose-out interior, the Wrangler was too rough for many consumers. But the trade-off was worth it for true fans because nothing else could match the Wrangler's capabilities and iconic image.
The second generation of the Wrangler bowed in 1997 after a year hiatus, marking 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 the Wrangler safer, too. Of course, all the ingredients — such as generous ground clearance, skid plates and a crawl gear for the transfer case &madsh; that made the original CJ so capable off-road remained.
The base SE (120-hp 2.5-liter inline-four), the Sport (181-hp 4.0-liter inline-six, fancy wheels and graphics) and the Sahara (the 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-six) and the Rubicon (featuring hardcore 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 a 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 the second-generation Jeep Wrangler for its off-road agility and personality but scorned the plastic side windows, fussy soft top and poor fuel economy. 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 on this Wrangler is generally favorable, with most folks enjoying the fun factor despite 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-cylinder or a 4.2-liter six-cylinder engine was offered, and buyers could get a five-speed manual or a three-speed automatic. One of the biggest improvements during this generation came for 1991, when a new, 4.0-liter inline-six with 180 hp replaced the ancient 4.2-liter unit that had just 112 hp. Trim levels during this time ranged from the base S through the Islander, the Sahara and the top-of-the-line Laredo and, after 1990, the Renegade.
Read the most recent 2019 Jeep Wrangler review.
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