The Car Connection Jeep Wrangler Overview
The Jeep Wrangler is an iconic SUV that's soldiered on relatively unchanged since its World War II days as a military Jeep.
Competitors for the Wrangler are few, recently the Nissan Xterra, Toyota FJ Cruiser, and Hummer H3 have challenged the Wrangler. Current rivals include the Toyota Tacoma, Chevy Colorado, and upcoming Ford Bronco. A Wrangler pickup—reportedly called Scrambler—is on the way soon to take on the former two.
A new two- and four-door Wrangler arrived for the 2018 model year, although Jeep produced new Wranglers and old Wranglers together and sold both simultaneously. The new model, codenamed Wrangler JL, is worth seeking out. It's slightly larger, but more maneuverable, than the outgoing model, and it boasts two vastly improved powertrains with new transmissions.
MORE: Read our 2019 Jeep Wrangler review
The new Jeep Wrangler (JL)
The new Wrangler shares little more than a silhouette with its predecessor. It's about an inch longer in two-door form and two inches longer in four-door Wrangler Unlimited guise. Its exterior is evolutionary, but not really a throwback since this basic shape has been around since 1941 without any breaks.
Standard on all Wranglers is a 3.6-liter V-6 with stop/start technology that can be paired to either an 8-speed automatic or a 6-speed manual. A 2.0-liter turbo-4 sourced from Italy is optional, and while it's not much more powerful, it does offer more low-end torque and its mild-hybrid 48-volt system allows the Wrangler to coast with its engine off. The turbo-4 is paired exclusively to the 8-speed automatic.
Four-wheel drive is standard. A new automatic system is available on the Wrangler Sahara. The off-road Wrangler Rubicon has a beefier transfer case that goes with its heavy-duty Dana 44 axles. All Wranglers retain coil springs and solid axles for off-road use, but they're markedly more comfortable on pavement than their predecessors. Even a base Wrangler Sport is a veritable mountain goat, but the Rubicon's 33-inch all-terrain tires, front and rear locking differentials, and disconnecting swaybars make it the king of the mountain. Moreover, the Rubicon's special fender flares can accommodate 35-inch tires without a lift kit.
The Wrangler also saw big upgrades inside, with a dash that's better organized and pushed away from the passenger compartment for more space and an airier feel overall. The Wrangler comes standard with a 5.0-inch display for audio, but 7.0- and 8.4-inch touchscreens with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are on the options list.
Two-doors are rough riders but mountain goats off-road. The Wrangler Unlimited's 20-inch longer wheelbase is an asset in certain off-pavement situations and it provides for far more cargo and passenger space inside. Its rear seat is still tough to access but is roomier and has a more comfortable, sculpted bench than before.
Wranglers are available with a host of roof configurations, including a soft top that's easy to put down and can be configured in several different modes, and hardtops painted black or body color with removable panels. A big fabric sunroof can also be paired with the hardtop for a semi-open air feel.
Jeep Wrangler history
The Wrangler emerged from its ancient roots into the modern era in the late 1980s. There have been three generations of Jeep Wranglers built since 1987, each one an evolution of the last. The model can be considered a successor to the CJ line of Jeeps, which also featured open tops, fold-down windshields, and solid off-road chops.
The first Wrangler, known as the YJ, is unique in that it's the only one to have used rectangular headlights. It was offered from 1987 to 1996 and came with a choice of 4- or 6-cylinder power and manual or automatic transmissions. Several appearance packages were offered over the production run, including the Islander and very popular Renegade models.
Beginning in 1997, the utility vehicle received an upgraded suspension design to improve on-road comfort and roadholding, plus new engines to boost power and fuel economy. The so-called "TJ" was built from 1997 to 2006 and carried on the original two-door soft-top design, with instantly recognizable classic Jeep lines.
Numerous upgrades arrived for the 1997-2006 Wrangler, including a return to the round headlights found on CJ models. It added a new 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine in 2003, the same year the automatic transmission was upgraded from three speeds to four. The 2003 model year also saw the addition of the most capable production model yet, the Rubicon, named for the famous trail where Jeep tests its creations. The Rubicon was beefed up with stronger front and rear differentials, a 4:1 low-ratio transfer case, and other off-road improvements. In mid 2004, Jeep added the Wrangler Unlimited body style that extended the wheelbase by 10 inches, offering more cargo room but still just two doors. A limited-production Sahara Edition debuted in 2005, offering a range of desert-themed appearance upgrades inside and out.
In 2007, Jeep began offering two- and four-door versions of the Wrangler. The four-door model carries the Wrangler Unlimited name. The old AMC in-line 6-cylinder engine (which dated all the way back to Rambler days) was replaced with a 205-horsepower, 3.8-liter Chrysler V-6 that year.
The Wrangler received a heavily revised interior in 2011, with an all-new instrument panel and upgraded materials throughout the cabin, plus better noise insulation. For 2012, Jeep added its new 285-horsepower Pentastar 3.6-liter V-6. Hooked to a stout 5-speed automatic or 6-speed manual, the new engine is quicker and more responsive compared to the 3.8-liter pushrod V-6 it replaced.
Both body styles are offered with hard and soft tops. The doors on all models are still removable, half doors are available, and the windshield still folds over.
Given its extreme off-road abilities, the Wrangler has never been known for on-road manners, but with this generation the street-ability has greatly improved. The long-wheelbase Unlimited provides the best ride of any Wrangler yet, and a series of powertrain and suspension changes have further enhanced things for both models. The Wrangler is larger than before, with greater comfort for passengers and their stuff, and it now offers such niceties as power windows and locks with a remote, items only dreamed of before.
Overall, with its classic looks, superior off-road capability and unique packaging, the Jeep Wrangler manages to stay relevant despite continuing as a throwback vehicle. Ride quality, comfort, steering, and even occupant safety might not be up to the standards of today's daily commuters, but if you head to the trails on the weekends the Wrangler is king.
You might even be happy with a used Wrangler if you're a serious trail hound and expect some dents, scrapes, and gouges. Meanwhile, new Jeep Wranglers come priced from around $25,000 to more than $45,000, with the latter being a loaded, top-of-the-line Rubicon.
For 2013, the Wrangler received changes, limited to comfort and convenience additions like new LED map lighting, interior lighting, and available Alpine speakers. A new easy-lift top mechanism was also introduced for 2013. Jeep also offered a Moab special edition that borrowed much of the Rubicon's look, but without its front locker and super-low 4:1 "creeper" transfer case—which gave it a more affordable price, too.
Changes for 2015 included the usual new paint colors and trim packages, as well as a new standard 8-speaker audio system, a new 9-speaker system with a subwoofer, a standard Torx tool set, and a package that bundled steel wheels with 31-inch tires for Sport models. The tool set allows owners to remove the windshield or doors wherever they are. For 2016, the Wrangler gained a new Black Bear Edition with off-road rock rails, five-spoke black wheels, Silent Armor tires, and some other blacked-out details.
Changes for 2017 consist of available LED headlights and fog lights and a new Sport S model. A Cold Weather group is now offered for the Sport S and Rubicon models.