The Jeep Wrangler debuted in 1986, and was easily identified by its rectangular headlamps. For over three decades, Wrangler has been taking its owners to the beach, mountains, deserts, and anywhere in- between. In its history, there are some major milestones and some things to avoid.
What to Avoid:
- The three-speed automatic transmission
- The last of the 202-hp 3.8-liter V-6/old interior JK years
- Newer models – you may as well buy one.
What to Look for:
- An original 2004-2006 Unlimited (long-wheelbase, two-door)
- Post 2012 JK-generation Jeeps with 285-hp, 3.6-liter V-6 engine, a five-speed automatic transmission
- A 2018 or new JL with the 270-hp 2.0-liter turbo, if the price is right
This generation is referred to as the YJ, and it had solid front and rear axles; with a leaf spring suspension. Buyers could choose between a hard or soft top and half-doors or full steel doors, with manual windows. Models included base S and SE, Sport, and top-of-the-line, Laredo and Sahara. rectangular headlamps. The Islander (1966-93) and Renegade (1990-94) were specialty trims offered in this generation. You could choose between two engines: a standard 2.5-liter 4-cylinder with 117 hp, or an optional 4.2-liter inline-6 that eventually was replaced by a 4.0-liter 6-cylinder model. A 5-speed manual transmission came with both engines, though a 3-speed automatic was offered on the 4-cylinder models in 1994.
Wrangler went directly from selling the 1995 YJ to selling the TJ model in 1996 for the 1997 model year. The Rubicon model debuted in 2003, with heavy-duty axles, locking front and rear differentials and bigger tires. Round headlights made it look more contemporary, and in 2004, they stretched out the wheelbase version and called it the Unlimited. It gained 15 inches of length, 10 of which went to the wheelbase. Passengers got more legroom and the cargo space doubled. The 4.0-liter inline-six gained one horsepower, for a total of 181 hp, and tow ratings went up to 3,500 pounds.
The third generation Wrangler is the model most seen on the road today and referred to as the JK series. It was taller, wider, and longer, but lost some off-road ability of the narrower TJ. It also added new plastic fenders in the front. The best bargain in this generation can be found in the 2007-2010 JKs, which had different powertrains and interiors. The 4.0-liter inline-six was replaced with a 3.8-liter V6, making it just adequate with 202 hp and 237 lb-ft of torque; and the interior had just the essentials. In 2011, JK got a new modern interior, but still had the 3.8-liter engine. The 2012 model year replaced the 3.8-liter with a DOCHC 24-valve 3.6-liter V6, with 285 hp and a five-speed automatic transmission. It made a lot more power and cruised easily, plus being more reliable.
The Jeep Wrangler JL made its debut in 2018 and is still in production today. A lot more conveniences were made including the soft top, hardtop, doors, and windshield that were a lot easier to remove. Tech upgrades included the electronic sway bar disconnect that enhanced capability, as well as Apple CarPlay connectivity. The automatic transmission gained three more gears, for a total of eight, and a new 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder with 270-hp and a 3.0-liter diesel joined the lineup. There are two new powertrains – the plug-in hybrid 4xe and the 470-hp V8 in the new Rubicon 392. The electric set-up pairs a turbocharged four-cylinder with an electric motor for a combined 375-hp. The 4xe will deliver up to 25 miles of electric-only driving. The base Sport model has a two-speed transfer case, the Rubicon trim receives an optional Rock-Track four-wheel drive system, and a TrailCam exterior camera system is now available on models equipped with the larger 8.4-inch infotainment display. If you’re looking at a used JL, make sure its price makes sense compared to the new one. The two-door is available in three trim levels - Sport, Sport S and Rubicon, while the four-door Wrangler is also available in the Sahara trim. For 2021, it has a starting base price of $28,475 and ranges to $53,570 for the 4xe High Altitude.