The Jeep Wrangler is a four-wheel-drive off-road SUV made in the spirit of the Second World War military Jeep, the company’s most iconic vehicle. It has been in production since 1986, with the current fourth-generation on sale since late 2017. Wrangler’s exceptional off-road capabilities are in part attributed to body-on-frame construction, rigid live axles, trackbars, and anti-roll bars. Jeep also made the Wrangler safe and more comfortable to drive on paved roads.
Jeep has initially offered the Wrangler Unlimited as a long-wheelbase alternative, first as an extended 2-door version (2004 to 2006) and a four-door (since 2007). Due to its size and practicality, Wrangler Unlimited became the more desirable model, and by 2017, 75% of all Wranglers on the market were Unlimited.
The First Generation (1987-1995)
Codenamed YJ, Wrangler started as a small-sized, all-wheel-drive SUV, made to serve as the successor to the long-running CJ series. As such, it featured the same wheelbase, an updated body that still resembled its predecessor but with upgraded interior, safety, handling, and revised chassis.
Three engine options powered the YJ, namely, 2.5L AMC inline-four, 4.0L, and 4.2L AMC inline-six petrol engine, with either three-speed automatic transmission or a five-speed manual gearbox. Wide spring suspension, trackbar links, and anti-roll bars improved handling and made the Wrangler less likely to roll over.
Trim levels available were: Base, Laredo, Islander, Sport, Sahara, Renegade, and Rio Grande.
The Second Generation (1997-2006)
The TJ Wrangler reintroduced the iconic round headlamps, while the leaf-spring suspension changed for the coil-spring both in the front and rear, similar to the one used on the Grand Cherokee. Engine options include PowerTech engines, in 2.4L and 2.5L inline-four, and 4.0L inline-six petrol engine, paired with a 3-speed/4-speed automatic transmission or a 5-speed/6-speed manual gearbox.
The Wrangler Unlimited version premiered in April 2004, with a 10-inch longer wheelbase, and 15-inch longer overall length than the standard. It spread this extra length between rear-seat leg space (two inches) and cargo bay (thirteen inches). Towing weight was much improved, now being 1600kg versus the standard’s 900kg.
The second-generation Jeep Wrangler was available in SE, X, Sport, Sahara, Unlimited Sport Edition, 60th Anniversary Edition, 65th Anniversary Edition, Apex Edition, Columbia Edition, Golden Eagle, Rocky Mountain Edition, Rubicon, Sahara Edition Unlimited Rubicon, Tomb Raider Edition, and Willys Edition.
The Third Generation (2006-2018)
Codenamed JK, the standard-wheelbase Wrangler was revealed at the North American International Auto Show in 2006, while the Wrangler Unlimited debuted at the New York Auto Show in the same year. Continuing the body-on-frame design with live axles, and 4WD system, the new Wrangler was significantly changed compared to its predecessor, and now had a fold-flat windshield and body rigidity that allowed the car to be driven without doors. Wrangler Unlimited evolved as a four-door variant, with a 20-inch longer wheelbase compared to the standard. It became a success, with more Unlimited models selling than the standard.
The Wrangler was available in Sport, Sahara, Ultimate, Rubicon, Rubicon Recon, Night Eagle, Overland, Black Edition, Polar, X Edition, 70th Anniversary Edition, and Ultimate equipment package. Options between hard-top and soft-top were available, as well as full doors or half-doors.
The Sport trim level served as the base equipment package and included ABS, alarm, CD, driver’s airbag, folding rear seats, front fog lights, full-size spare wheel, height-adjustable driver’s seat, PAS, passenger’s airbag, traction control, cloth seat trim, Isofix child seat anchor points, steel wheels, and steering wheel rake adjustment.
The Sahara trim level added air conditioning, alloy wheels, front electric windows, remote locking, cloth seat trim, and cruise control.
The Rubicon trim level added air conditioning, alloy wheels, cloth seat trim, and cruise control. It served as an off-road-oriented level, featuring heavy-duty off-road tyres, 17-inch alloy wheels, Dana 44 axles with electric lockers, and Rock-Trac 4WD.
The Overland trim level added air conditioning, alloy wheels, audio remote, cruise control, DVD, electric mirrors, heated mirrors, heated seats, Isofix child seat anchor points, leather seat trim, Sat Nav, and steering wheel rake adjustment.
Powertrain options included one diesel and two petrol engines, all with choices of manual gearbox or automatic transmission. Depending on the model, Tru-Lok rear-axles, electronically locking front axles, Trac-Loc limited-slip differential, as well as other off-road features were also available.
3.8L EGH V6 petrol engine producing 151kW (202hp) and 321Nm of torque, paired with either a 4-speed automatic transmission or 6-speed manual gearbox.
3.6L Pentastar V6 petrol engine producing 209kW (285hp) and 353Nm of torque, paired with either a 5-speed automatic transmission or 6-speed manual gearbox.
2.8L VM Motori inline-four diesel engine producing 120kW (160hp) and 400Nm of torque, paired with either a 5-speed auto transmission or 6-speed manual gearbox.
The Fourth Generation (2018-present)
First introduced at the LA Auto Show in late 2017, the fourth-generation Wrangler and Wrangler Unlimited (JL) resemble the earlier TJ, featuring the prominent front grille and integrated circular headlights, and interestingly not displaying the Jeep logo on the grille. Solid axles and body-on-frame layout remain, with a choice of Command-Trac, Selec-Trac, and Rock-Trac 4WD systems. It manages to be longer than its predecessor, while also weighing 90kg less.
The power supply comes from the Pentastar 3.6L V6 engine, paired with a 5-speed automatic transmission, the only option available in Australia. It has a power output of 213kW (285hp) and 353Nm of torque.
Available trim levels and special editions include: Sport, Sport S, Sport Altitude, Sahara, Sahara Altitude, Rubicon, and MOAB.
The Sport trim level represents the base option and includes ABS, alarm, 17-inch steel wheels, audio remote, cruise control, full set of airbags, folding rear seats, front electric windows, fog lights, full-size spare wheel, heated mirrors, height- adjustable drivers seat, Isofix child seat anchor points, lumbar support, parking sensors, PAS, Sat Nav, sports seats, steering wheel rake adjustment, and traction control.
Sport Altitude is a special edition used on the Unlimited model, with heavy use of the black colour, 18-inch wheels, visual updates, and black interior.
The Sport S trim level adds electric doors and windows, remote locking, keyless entry, air conditioning, and 17-inch alloy wheels.
The Sahara trim level features 18-inch alloy wheels as standard, with optional LED headlights, premium cloth trim, leather trim, as well as many other options.
Sahara Altitude is a special edition in the same spirit as Sports’, with leather seats.
The Rubicon trim level focuses more on the off-road capabilities: higher ground clearance and water fording tolerance, Rock-Trac 4WD system, disconnectable front sway-bar, hydraulic rebound stop, and electronic locking differential. These are added on top of the Sport S package, with optional high-end equipment.
The MOAB special edition serves as a middle ground between the Sahara and the Rubicon trim levels for the Unlimited model, with specially designed emblems and decals, LED headlights and fog lamps, leather seat trim, heated seats, 4C 8.4 Uconnect infotainment with GPS, Alpine sound system, keyless entry, and a 3-piece detachable hardtop.
When it comes to safety, Wrangler performed catastrophically based on the Euro NCAP tests, earning a 1-star rating in Overall safety, with a 50% rating in Adult occupant safety, 69% in Child occupant safety, 49% in Pedestrian safety, and 32% in Safety assist. The test may not be representative of a collision between a regular car and an SUV; still, considering how well other Jeep vehicles performed, this is no doubt a cause for concern.