The Jeep Wrangler continues to be one of the most capable SUVs off-road and is available in two- or four-door body styles. You can also pick between a removable soft top or hardtop in both the standard two-door and in the larger four-door Wrangler Unlimited. Special-edition models of the Wrangler are introduced every year and they usually come in unique colors.
Essentially a descendant of the Willys MB used by the U.S. military starting in the 1940s, and its later civilian derivative the Jeep CJ, the first-generation Jeep Wrangler (YJ) debuted in 1986 at the Chicago auto show. A 2.5-liter four-cylinder was standard while two I-6 engines, a 4.0-liter and a 4.2-liter, were offered as options. Transmission choices included a five-speed manual or a three-speed automatic. Production of the first-generation Wrangler ended in 1995 after almost 10 years of production.
Introduced in 1996 for the 1997 model year, the second-generation Wrangler (TJ) made its debut at the 1996 Detroit auto show. Much to the delight of Jeep fans, the TJ model heralded the return of round headlights. A 2.5-liter I-4 was standard for the the first half of production but a 2.4-liter unit replaced it for the last five years. A 4.0-liter I-6 was the range-topping engine. The old three-speed automatic and five-speed manual carry over but a new four-speed automatic replaced the former while a six-speed manual was added as a third gearbox option for 2005 and 2006. A longer-wheelbase Unlimited model was first introduced midway through 2004 but it remained a two-door. It was available in an off-road-ready Rubicon trim, which comes with an upgraded suspension and skid plates.
The current-generation Jeep Wrangler (JK) has been in production since 2007 and was originally available with a 3.8-liter V-6 making 202 hp and 236 lb-ft paired to a choice of a four-speed automatic or six-speed manual. In 2012, the 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 rated at 285 hp and 260 lb-ft replaced the old 3.8-liter unit while a five-speed automatic replaced the four-speed. Compared to the SUV it replaced, the current-generation Wrangler is wider and rides on a longer wheelbase despite being shorter in length. A long-wheelbase four-door variant called the Wrangler Unlimited first appeared in the current-generation model, making it the largest Wrangler model available. Originally, the rear- and four-wheel-drive configurations were offered but from 2011 and onward, Jeep made four-wheel drive standard across the Wrangler lineup.
If you’re after the most off-road-capable SUV, then the Wrangler is the rig you’re looking for. With four-wheel drive standard and a suspension setup tuned for maximum performance off the beaten path, the Wrangler will be able to conquer the toughest trails with ease. Additionally, the Wrangler is packed with easter eggs and homages to its history, giving it extra “cool factor.”
While the Wrangler is highly capable, all that off-road performance comes at the cost of fuel economy and interior space in the case of the standard two-door model. If you’re looking for an off-road-capable SUV with modern tech features, the Wrangler may not be the one since FCA’s excellent UConnect interface will likely not find its way into the Wrangler until the next-generation model arrives for the 2018 model year.