So, you like Jeeps and you`ve recently taken a shine to the capable Jeep Wrangler. It turns out, you have two options to choose from the short-wheelbase Wrangler and its larger four-door sibling, the Wrangler Unlimited. So what sets these two extraordinarily similar vehicles apart from one another and which one should you go for?
Building on an Idea
The idea of a four-door Wrangler wasn`t a new one. In 1997, Jeep created the Dakar concept by adding two rear doors and an extra 15 inches to the TJ Wrangler`s wheelbase. While the concept was well-received on the auto show circuit, the idea of a four-door Wrangler wouldn`t be a reality until the introduction of the JK Wrangler in 2007. Before that the LJ Unlimited in model years ’04, ’05 and ’06 was a 10″ extended two-door version of the Wrangler.
Both vehicles offer the same 285-horsepower 3.6-liter Pentastar DOHC V6 engine and the same transmission choices (five-speed automatic or six-speed manual.) Both get similar gas mileage; the Unlimited is only 1 mpg behind the short-wheelbase version, at an EPA-estimated 16 mpg city and 20 mpg highway. The trim levels are identical for both Jeeps and the options list matches up for both as well, aside from standard air conditioning on all Unlimited trims and the availability of pure rear-wheel drive on the Unlimited X and Sahara. The only other genuine difference between the two is the overall size.
Whereas the standard Wrangler is available only as a short wheelbase two-door model, the current Wrangler Unlimited offers four doors and, consequently, a longer wheelbase. The Unlimited stretches out the standard Wrangler`s 95.4-inch wheelbase an additional 20.6 inches to a total of 116 inches. As you can imagine, having over 20 extra inches pays off in plenty of ways.
For starters, the Unlimited offers an extra 15 cubic feet in cargo space over the standard Wrangler, as well as a 1.6-inch increase in rear legroom. In addition to the extra cargo room and rear legroom, the longer wheelbase also gives the Unlimited a softer, more settled ride than the Wrangler. For commuters who enjoy the Wrangler`s looks but value more room and a smoother ride, the Wrangler Unlimited delivers on both fronts.
Getting Down and Dirty
While the Wrangler Unlimited excels at offering a roomy and civilized experience in a Wrangler wrapper, the short-wheelbase Wrangler remains the prime choice of serious off-roaders. Thanks to its relatively compact dimensions, high ground clearance and steep approach and departure angles, the short-wheelbase Wrangler is capable of making short work of most trails and obstacles. Choosing the Rubicon trim gives you upgrades in off-roading equipment, including an upgraded transfer case and electronic locking differentials.
It`s not to say that the Wrangler Unlimited can`t hold its own under the same circumstances, but some off-roaders may find fault with the extended wheelbase when passing over certain obstacles. Nevertheless, the Unlimited is the way to go if you want the versatility of an ordinary SUV/CUV along with the Wrangler`s legendary ruggedness. If you just want a capable and supremely maneuverable off-roader and can live with the space and ride trade-offs, go for the short-wheelbase Wrangler.
No matter whether you choose the Wrangler or the Unlimited, both are ripe candidates for a slew of aftermarket off-roading and cosmetic parts. After all, the JK Wrangler happens to be among the most popular when it comes to modified cars.