How the Jeep Wrangler Has Changed Over Five Generations

March 6th, 2020 by

A quick overview of Jeep history tells us that it all starts with a Willys MB prototype that was developed for use in World War II. Although the official military name of the Willys MB was “US Army Truck, ¼-ton, 4×4, Command Reconnaissance,” the vehicle quickly became known as a Jeep by the soldiers. They’d opted to affectionately shorten the “general purpose” moniker. By the time the war was over, Jeep had begun manufacturing vehicles for everyday civilian use, but the Wrangler nameplate wasn’t a reality until 1986.

Civilian Jeep (CJ)  1944-1986

Introduced as the war was winding down, the CJ arrived in 1944. It was designed to be different from the military version as it offered buyers a canvas top, a tailgate, and lower gearing. The CJ model also had its spare tire mounted on its side and was offered in patriotic colors. The one feature that carried over from the military variant was the fold-down windshield — a feature that remains to this day. By 1980, the CJ found itself in dire straits thanks to a 60 Minutes episode. A serious need for an image overhaul rose thanks to a fabricated report in the episode that claimed the CJ was at high risk of rolling over. In reality, the automaker had put the CJ through more than 400 trials throughout the years and experienced only eight rollovers — all attributed to a test CJ with bad tires. Regardless, the CJ name was tarnished and it was time for a new beginning — enter the Wrangler.

Jeep Wrangler YJ 1986-1995

The YJ generation introduced consumers to what we now call the modern Wrangler. It made its debut at the 1986 Chicago Auto Show, shaking up the automotive market. The YJ Wrangler borrowed a bit of technology and design from the existing Jeep Cherokee model, including anti-roll bars, the same suspension and similar levels of comfort. As a result, the YJ Wrangler made for a more composed and safer vehicle, both on and off the beaten path. With the introduction of the YJ generation, the Wrangler was no longer seen as just an off-road vehicle, it became an accomplished daily driver as well. The one controversy about the YJ Wrangler? Its square headlights that hardcore fans were rabid about. By 1995 the classic round headlights were back, although finding a Wrangler with rectangular headlights is not seen with as much hostility today.

Jeep Wrangler TJ 1996-2006

Taking everything they’d learned so far, Jeep worked hard to revamp the Wrangler TJ generation. The suspension was upgraded to a coil spring one, while the frame and body were both reinforced to reduce flex and improve strength when off-roading. Like we mentioned earlier, the classic round headlights returned and engine options remained the same. On the inside, the Wrangler TJ saw safety improvements including the addition of driver and passenger airbags. Fold-down windshields and removable doors were retained as Jeep refused to part with its past. This generation also marked the introduction of the Rubicon trim to the Wrangler lineup. Inspired by the famed Rubicon Trail, the Wrangler TJ Rubicon was designed with heavy-duty suspension components, improved approach and departure angles, and a lifted suspension. Other introductions included  the Sahara trim as the top-tier luxury trim, amongst others.

Jeep Wrangler JK 2006-2018

The Wrangler JK generation introduced the first four-door variant of the vehicle in addition to the traditional two-door model. Although two-door Wranglers are still popular, the majority of Wrangler vehicles on the road today have four doors. Safe to say Jeep definitely hit it out of the park with that move. Jeep introduced stability control on the Wrangler JK and made the vehicle safer and more capable by adding 5 more inches of width than the TJ generation. Jeep also introduced new plastic front fenders on the Wrangler JK and divided its hardcore fans once again. This JK generation was the first time Jeep built a Wrangler with the aftermarket in mind. The brand used less expensive non-critical components when manufacturing the Wrangler knowing that many owners would later enjoy upgrading them how they saw fit.

Jeep Wrangler JL 2018-Present

The latest generation Wrangler focused largely on adding practical touches, making the Wrangler more straightforward. In fact, both the windshield and soft top and hardtop became much easier to remove as Jeep reduced the number of bolts needed for removal and upgraded the old soft top from zippers to locking channels instead. Jeep also added a few inches to the two- and four-door models, making them longer and wider. Technological updates include a push-to-start button and an 8.4-inch touchscreen display. 

The JL generation is the most  advanced Wrangler to date, both on- and off-road. The Rubicon trims remain the top-tier trim and features an electronic sway-bar disconnect, 30 inches of water fording capability, 33-inch BF Goodrich all-terrain tires, and 10.9-inches of ground clearance. Jeep also expanded the range of available engines, with the 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 as the standard. A 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine and an all-new 3.0-liter EcoDiesel round out the rest of the engine options available on the Wrangler JL. Buyers can also choose between a six-speed manual or a new eight-speed automatic transmission. 

The Jeep Wrangler has managed to do something quite difficult throughout its history — it’s remained true to itself. Visit The Jeep Experts at Hollywood Chrysler Jeep and experience what the latest-generation Jeep Wrangler has to offer. Once you’ve checked out our 2020 Jeep Wrangler inventory, pass by Hollywood Chrysler Jeep and take one out for a test drive! Follow Hollywood Chrysler Jeep on social media for more fun posts about one of America’s most beloved vehicles. 

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