From CJ to JL: A Timeline of Jeep Wrangler Generations
The Jeep Wrangler has hung around for nearly four decades – and its origins go back another 40 years before that. Here’s a timeline of the Wrangler generations, from wartime vehicle to modern off-roader.
How has the Jeep Wrangler changed over the years?
The Jeep Wrangler changed and evolved steadily over many decades and multiple vehicle generations. Since its inception as a civilian version of a World War II military vehicle in the 1940s to its current form as a bestselling lifestyle vehicle, the Wrangler’s DNA reaches back more than eight decades. It’s a vehicle that has evolved from a general purpose armed forces vehicle to the top-selling off-road SUV in the U.S.
1945-1986: Jeep CJ is a Wrangler Prelude
The roots of the Jeep Wrangler go all the way back to the 1940s. General purpose “Jeep” military vehicles were ubiquitous throughout the second World War. Those original vehicles were produced by several different manufacturers as part of the broader war effort. In the 1950s, a civilian version became available. It eventually became the Jeep CJ – the true ancestor of the modern Wrangler. The CJ and its derivatives persisted and evolved for the next three decades until Jeep officially introduced the Wrangler nameplate.
1987-1995: Jeep Wrangler YJ is the first generation
The Wrangler name became official in 1987 when Jeep ditched the old CJ nameplate and redesigned its two-door convertible off-roader completely. Dubbed the “YJ” generation, the new Wrangler had square headlights and a sleeker look overall than the CJ. According to Autolist, the Wrangler YJ had less ground clearance but was safer and more comfortable to drive on roads. It was a hit that lasted until the mid-90s, and it even featured prominently in the blockbuster movie, Jurassic Park.
1997-2006: Wrangler TJ gets round headlights, Chrysler equipment
The Wrangler’s first redesign arrived in 1997. Chrysler had taken over the Jeep brand at this point, and the Wrangler TJ received plenty of new corporate interior equipment as a result. According to Autolist, notable updates to the TJ generation included a switch from leaf springs to coils, a return to round headlights, and more. The Wrangler TJ stuck around through Y2K until 2007.
2007-2017: Wrangler JK goes four-door
The Wrangler JK was a significant redesign for the Wrangler, introducing a four-door option that would help its popularity skyrocket. An all-new V6 engine, new chassis architecture, and other updates made the JK generation much different from the outgoing TJs. After the Fiat-Chrysler merger, the Wrangler received a mid-cycle refresh with a new interior design and a more powerful 3.6-liter V6 engine.
2018-Present: Wrangler JL adds refinement, electric power
The JL Wrangler arrived in 2018 and brought subtle style changes and significant performance updates with it. A turbocharged engine became available for the first time alongside the familiar V6. Later, Jeep introduced both the first V8-powered Wrangler and the first hybrid-electric Wrangler.
Which generation of the Jeep Wrangler is best?
The best Jeep Wrangler generation depends on whether you prefer old-school simplicity or modern convenience. The old Wrangler YJ and Wrangler TJ models are revered for their bare-bones off-road performance and their ability to accept modifications with ease. Meanwhile, the Wrangler JK and Wrangler JL offer many more creature comforts while still providing some of the best all-terrain capability on the market. Each generation has its strengths and weaknesses – but they all share the same spirit.