The 5 Jeep Wrangler Generations Explained

Have you ever wondered about the different Jeep Wrangler generations? Haven’t you heard a Jeeper say something about a TJ, JK, JL, or any other letters? There are five generations of the Jeep Wrangler, and we can help clear some of the differences up. 

The five Jeep Wrangler generations 

The five Jeep Wrangler generations can thank the Willys MB model that was developed for use in World War II. Some credit Eugene for the title of ‘Jeep’ because it was a mysterious pet and friend to Popeye and Olive Oyl. Eugene is a dog-like creature known as the Jeep that could travel anywhere. 

A red 4-door 2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon drives on a forest mountain road
2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon | Jeep

The Willys MB Jeep could go anywhere, too, so soldiers called it the Jeep. But according to Miami Lakes Automall, the Willys MB was the U.S. Army Truck, ¼ ton, 4×4, Command Reconnaissance. Soldiers shortened the ‘general purpose’ moniker to Jeep. The SUVs weren’t manufactured for civilians until after the war and didn’t adopt the Wrangler name until 1986. 

1. The Civilian Jeep (CJ) 

The first Jeep Generation began in 1944 when Willys introduced the CJ or Civilian Jeep. The CJ was a little repurposed for civilian use with the addition of the canvas top, tailgate, and gear lowering.

It also has a spare tire mounted to the side. The military version had a windshield that you could fold down. This feature is still available today, even on the Jeep Gladiator, so that’s pretty neat. 

The CJ Jeep driving through the woods
The CJ Jeep | Jeep

According to Hemmings, there was a 60 Minutes episode that tarnished the CJ for being unsafe. The episode claimed that the CJ had a high rollover risk. The older Ford Bronco models would roll pretty easily too.

However, after about 400 trials during testing over the years, the CJ only experienced eight rollovers, and the accidents were attributed to bad tires. But the CJ still needed a name change, and the Jeep Wrangler was born. 

2. The Jeep Wrangler YJ 

The Jeep Wrangler YJ ruled the scene from 1986 to 1995. It made its debut at the 1986 Chicago Auto Show with a few upgrades from the Jeep Cherokee. For example, the Jeep Wrangler generation gained anti-roll bars and suspension upgrades.

This was when the Jeep became a bit safer and more comfortable. It was finally considered to be a daily driver and an off-roader! This was also when the square headlights came out, which made Jeep fans a little angry. According to It Still Runs, the first Jeep Wrangler Sahara model came out in 1988. So, the first Sahara was a YJ.

3. The Jeep Wrangler TJ 

You probably recognize this Jeep Wrangler generation a little more. The Jeep Wrangler TJ was in production from 1996 to 2006. Also, the familiar round headlights came back in 1995. Also, the frame and body were reinforced to become more durable. 

The TJ generation gained a coil spring suspension along with safety upgrades such as airbags. The Jeep Wrangler TJ Rubicon trim was introduced too. It was the first Rubicon and included a lift and suspension enhancements.

4. The Jeep Wrangler JK 

The texting generation may think JK is for just kidding, but it actually marks the Wrangler generation that gained four-doors. Of course, two-door models have remained popular, but they lack room for your family and cargo! 

A Jeep Wrangler JK on display
Jeep Wrangler JK | Getty Images

This generation was in production from 2006 to 2018 and gained stability control. It also was widened by five inches and new plastic fenders in the front. The JK was built with fewer non-critical parts, allowing Jeeple to have a lot more flexibility for upgrades and custom mods. 

5. The Jeep Wrangler JL 

Last but not least, the Jeep Wrangler JL entered production. The Jeep Wrangler Generation made its debut in 2018 and is still in production today. This Wrangler generation got a lot more convenient because the soft top, hardtop, doors, and windshield got a lot easier to remove. 

An orange 2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon parked on rocky terrain next to a river
The 2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon at home in nature | Stellantis

The Perfect Jeep Wrangler Is 20 Years Old

The Wrangler JL is also the smartest Jeep generation, thanks to tech upgrades. The electronic sway bar disconnect enhances capability, and it has Apple CarPlay, the Rubicon 392 has a V8, the 4xe is electric, and more. We aren’t done advancing this generation yet!