The Jeep Wrangler is an iconic vehicle. From a quarter mile away this modern dinosaur stands out like a sore thumb with its close-set round headlamps, seven-slot grill and goofy fender flares that stick out on either side like Dumbo’s ears.
Over the last two decades, Jeeps have certainly evolved. Solid axles gave way to independent suspensions which offered improved ride quality, complex traction controls, and all-wheel drive systems were introduced, and cabin comfort has been improved dramatically.
The Jeeps of today bear little more than a passing resemblance to those of old, say for one: the venerable Wrangler.
The original YJ Wrangler, released in 1985, was the next evolution of the original Civilian Jeep. The Wrangler was born from the original Willy’s MB template but was further refined and more civilized.
First introduced in early 1985 under the American Motors Corporation, the first Wrangler, dubbed the YJ in Canada, bore a close resemblance to the CJ-7 it replaced.
The first generation Wrangler was made famous in 1993 when the vehicle appeared in “Jurassic Park.”
Despite popular belief, the Wrangler was not a direct descendent of the original Willy’s MB. The original Wrangler was, instead, the amalgamation of the Jeep Cherokee XJ and the Jeep CJ. The core principles of the vehicle remained unchanged, but the Wrangler inherited the XJ’s niceties, including its interior accents, transmission, and powertrain. The end result was a more civilized Jeep that was just as capable as before.
Over the last three generations, the Wrangler has continued this trend. The latest generation offers premium features such as heated seats and premium sound systems, but it has retained the classic styling and every bit of the original’s capability.
Compared to modern vehicles with their aluminum unibodies, independent suspension, and fuel-efficient transmissions the Wrangler certainly, doesn’t fit the mold. With its solid front and rear axles, a traditional transfer case and a body on frame design, the Wrangler is practically prehistoric.
This makes explaining why I love this vehicle to my friends and family a little tricky because it’s easy to come off sounding a little crazy.
Driving a Wrangler is an experience in itself. Off-road, the Wrangler is an absolute pleasure to drive. It’s confidence inspiring on the rough stuff. Unfortunately, everything that makes this vehicle so good off road, makes it painful to drive on the pavement.
It’s slow, loud and harsh. It could go on and on and list everything that makes this a terrible car, but none of the matters, because I can’t help but smile when I drive it.
But, people don’t understand it. They see these quirky retro SUVs at the dealership and think it’s like any other car.
I’ll often tell people the Wrangler is an amazing vehicle, but if you never leave the pavement there are far better vehicles out there.
A rare breed
The Wrangler’s suspension makes it unique today. Solid front axles are no longer found on any other American made SUV. – Alex Bertha Photo
Today, the Wrangler’s solid front axle makes it a rare breed.
This Jeep’s suspension actually hasn’t changed a whole lot since the very very first military Jeep rolled off the assembly line.
In fact, if I’m not mistaken, the Wrangler is the only American made SUV on the market today that has retained a solid front axle.
This is for good reason, solid axles aren’t well known for comfort and control. Independent suspensions have long since replaced solid axles entirely in just about every vehicle on the market today except for full-size SUVs and trucks.
So if solid front axles are so bad, you’d think that after 75-years, Jeep would have made the Wrangler a little more civilized, but they didn’t. The answer why comes down to articulation.
Solid axles are unparalleled when it comes to articulation. Better articulation means your tires will spend more time on the ground moving you forward and less time spinning in the air.
Making the move to IFS in the Wrangler would have meant compromising the vehicle’s legendary off-road prowess, and risked alienating the vehicle’s core audience.
The Wrangler in its essence is a refusal to compromise. No modern vehicle has stayed truer to its origins than the Wrangler, making it a true American Icon.
- What do you think of the Jeep Wrangler?
- Do you think it’s an American icon?
- What other vehicles do you think deserve this distinction?
Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
Alex Bertha Photo via Unsplash
Tobias Mann is a community journalist and author of the Adventure Bent blog. Each week, he writes about hiking, camping, overland travel and other off-road adventures including one Misadventure in the Iron Range where he nearly lost his Jeep.