The Mechanical and Design Evolution of the Jeep Wrangler

June 5th, 2015 by


You never forget your first set of wheels.

Especially if that first set was attached to your dream car. In my case, it was a Jeep Wrangler, specifically a 1999 model, brand new at the time and painted chili pepper red.

Without necessarily realizing it, I think one of the things I loved so much about that new Jeep was its long history.

Even though, I didn’t appreciate the exact details of that history, I knew that Jeep Wranglers were simply everywhere and it seemed like they always had been. Instantly recognizable, driven by some of my relatives, many of my classmates, and routinely featured in war movies on the big screen.

Jeep Wranglers were, for my generation, what muscle cars were for my parents’ generation. Undeniably iconic.

The storied legacy of the Jeep Wrangler line is most certainly an exciting one and something you can be a part of by exploring either the preowned or just-arrived inventories at a Jeep dealership in Miami .

Distant Relatives: Willy and CJ


Jeeps are well-recognized as part of the American military tradition, celebrated for their utility-under-fire durability and boxy, rugged stance.

Some people believe the Wrangler model the latest version of the CJ or Civilian Jeep Series, represented by the CJ-5 and CJ-7.

By that logic, the Wrangler is actually a revamped 1940s Willy Quad.

Actually, neither assumption is entirely correct, though it’s easy to see where the confusion comes from.

The 1940s Willy Quad was a four-wheel drive utility vehicle, the official Jeep of the United States Army during World War II.


After the war ended, the transitional four-wheel drive CJ Series was made available to civilians, but was designed with agricultural purposes in mind, envisioned for utility, not typical transportation.

So, the Willy and CJ series are better thought of as relatives, separate in DNA, but similar in familial spirit, when it comes to the creation of the Wrangler.

The first actual, honest-to-goodness Wrangler was officially introduced in 1986 and went on to evolve considerably up to the current model year.

What did that evolution entail?

Here, a brief look at the evolutionary design and mechanics of the Jeep Wrangler.

The First Generation


Considered the first generation of Wranglers, the YJ models were manufactured between 1987-1995, and characterized by the seven vertically-aligned slotted grille and square-shaped headlights.

Similar features to the earlier Jeep incarnations like the Willy and CJ series included the signature removable top and removable doors, along with the instantly recognizable utilitarian, box-like shape and overall design.

The first generation was a popular one, with Jeep selling approximately 60,000 units annually.

Despite complaints of a harsh ride, characterized by a bouncy, loud, uncomfortable cabin, whose roof often leaked in inclement weather or windy conditions, over the course of those first eight years, Jeep made no major improvements on its YJ models.

This fact didn’t seem to hurt them much though as total units sold during that production run topped 557,412.

But, consumer grumblings soon brought about some much needed updates with the second generation.

One Lost Year Between Two Generations

Between 1997-2006, Jeep produced the second generation of Wranglers, known as the TJ models.

Note the missing year between the first and second generation; no Jeep Wranglers were produced during 1996.

But, in the quiet of that lost year, Jeep designed serious innovations and improvements in response to consumer pleas for enhanced comfort, and a quieter, smoother ride than was offered by the YJ.

So, Jeep added coil spring suspensions, a more rigid frame, and a sturdier hardtop to the Wrangler model and bolstered the seats for a more comfortable ride.

Design-wise, this was the first run of Wranglers to feature round headlights, with turn signals repositioned to the fenders from the grille.

Even the gauges, which stood separately on the YJ models, were now unified into one convenient gauge cluster.

These years can be seen as the first to start considering comfort as much of a priority as utility.

A Short, but Sweet Run

Starting in 2003, Jeep produced what it considered “the most capable vehicle in its storied history,” the TJ Rubicon.

Named after the Rubicon Trail a 22-mile long offroading paradise in the Sierra Nevada region of California, these Wranglers were, not surprisingly, off-road aficionados.

Equipped with a fixed yoke 4:1 Rock-Trac transfer case, Dana 44 axles, and standard Goodyear MTR P245/75-R16 tires on 16-inch aluminum alloy wheels, this Wrangler was ready to power over just about any terrain it encountered. The rockier, the better.

With increased fender flares on all corners by one inch, a boosted suspension ride height, and axles outfitted with 4.10:1 ring and pinion, the Rubicon Wrangler was ideal for what we kids down south called, “mudding,” which is no more sophisticated than it sounds and involved taking your Wrangler off-road with the ultimate goal of covering every inch of it’s exterior with mud.

As fun as this Wrangler was (and it was!), the production only lasted until 2006, as it got some serious competition from its sibling, the TJ Unlimited.

Sibling Rivalry

The TJ Unlimited was manufactured almost in tandem with the Rubicon and was produced from 2004 to 2006.

While the Rubicon offered outstanding off-road adventures, the TJ Unlimited provided more in the way of the comforts that had been missing from the Wrangler line thus far.

The interior space of the TJ Unlimited was redefined, in part due to the ten-inch wheelbase extension from 93.4 to 103.4 inches.

With a longer wheelbase, the TJ Unlimited boasted more legroom and the trunk, up till now a rather useless space, was now roomy enough for gear and groceries, a practical storage solution.

In defense of enhanced driver and passenger comfort, this model offered improved handling for a smoother ride.

The towing capacity was slightly improved, and the TJ Unlimited, like all siblings who borrow clothes without asking, was available in the popular Rubicon trim.

A Winning Streak

The current third generation JK/JKU Wrangler models first debuted back in 2007, and are considered by many to be the best Wrangler yet.

Though, doesn’t every generation think they’ve got the best of this or that?

One thing, or really four things, that this Wrangler has that the others certainly did not are the doors…four to be exact.

Starting in 2007, the Wranglers were introduced as four-door models, a more practical design for families.

More than the presence of four doors, these Wrangler models offer far more when it comes to modern features and available amenities, sporting innovations across the comfort, connectivity, and navigation categories, including GPS, satellite, heated seats and a 40 gig hard drive.

It seems Jeep has consistently been able to maintain its rugged reputation, while also providing consumer-driven creature comforts, widening its base of loyal drivers.

So, what’s next for the Wrangler?

A Reserved Send-Off

Bringing the third generation to an official close, the anticipated 2016 Jeep Wrangler will not offer much in the way of significant mechanical or cosmetic changes.

Consumers can expect the same 3.6-liter V6 engine, generating 285 horsepower by either a six-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission.

Fuel economy is EPA estimated at 17/21 miles per gallon, which also represents consistency with the current model year.

However, the calm before the storm is a very real phenomenon, one that industry-experts speculate is the driving force building behind the next generation of Wranglers, which are expected to be unleashed for the 2017 model year.

But, why wait until then?

Visit your Jeep dealership in Miami to see all of the current leasing and financing offers on the new, used, or certified pre-owned Jeep Wranglers.

Embrace the “Go Anywhere, Do Anything” spirit that is the pulse of the Jeep legacy.

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