If you’ve been a Jeep owner for any length of time, I’m sure you will have heard or even shared your own complaints about the newest incarnation, the Jeep Wrangler JK. I am an avid Wrangler enthusiast, and I have owned every base model, including a 1947 CJ2 that is almost at rock crawler status. Yes, I’ve owned the CJ5, CJ7, YJ, TJ, and the new JK. I speak from experience when I say that I was reluctant to buy the newest model. It was just too… clean. It had 4 doors. My Jeep friends said it was the equivalent of a school bus or a fake minivan.
After rescuing one of those friends on the Rubicon Trail, the complaints, and my doubts, vanished. If you hate the JK it's likely that you have spent a lot of money on your TJ and perhaps just a tad bit too much time listening to opinionated members of Jeep forums.
Get behind the wheel before you judge, and I’m not talking about a spin around the mall. The capability of the new Jeep Wrangler is astounding. It is more capable off-road, more comfortable in general, and is actually a bit cheaper than the previous models. After having driven my JK over the Rubicon Trail, I know exactly what these things are capable of. Plus, if you compare a JK with a 3.5” lift to a 3.5” lifted YJ or TJ, you will see the JK has a higher break-over angle and clearance with the same amount of lift.
Still not convinced? I will now debunk some of the common misconceptions of the JK.
I often hear from fellow Jeepers is that it’s too large. The reality is that the JK is 5 inches wider than the TJ, but that only adds 2 1/2 inches on each side. I’ve not been to a trail where this increase would stop you. If it gets tight, just fold in the mirrors and let the flexible breakaway fenders absorb some of the trail. If tight trails are in your future, get the two-door, but if you want to comfortably bring your friends and family on difficult trails, get the four-door. On that note, people don’t like the cheapness of the new plastic front fenders. For those running a mall crawler, I see the argument, but when you do some serious wheeling, you will be glad they are there. They are MUCH cheaper to fix than the TJ's painted steel fenders, plus allowing the breakaway causes little or no collateral damage to the grille, tub, and internal structure like the TJs fenders caused during heavy wheeling. Interestingly, the JK is the first Jeep introduced where they took the aftermarket into consideration. To bring the price of the vehicle down, less expensive components were used in nonessential areas that they knew would be upgraded anyway. The bumpers are a perfect example of this. My friend complained that the plastic bumpers are stupid and weak, but so are the TJ's. How many TJs are still out there with the factory bumpers? That’s the joy of the Jeep: aftermarket bumpers are the norm.
I was told that using the minivan 3.8L V6 was a bad choice, and I fell prey to this misconception. My recent research has shown some statistics that might surprise you: The new V6 makes its power at a slightly higher rpm than the retired 4.0L inline. Typically, you'll find that you will drive the V6 about 700 rpm higher than the inline when on the highway. The 4.0L is a great engine, but even it has problems, such as cracked exhaust manifolds, plus it runs lean at wide-open throttle. The V6 will still start in low-range first gear and idle up a hill, whereas the inline will not. Plus, the 4:1 gearing in the Rubicon transfer case works better with the 3.8 V6 than it does with the 4.0 inline. In the sand and mud, the higher-revving V6 seems to have the advantage as well. These argument are moot however with the addition of the 2012 3.6 Penstar which brings an extra 85 HP, better MPG, and higher torque. Enough said.
Some people feel the new electric lockers are garbage. In my personal and highly tested opinion, I’ve never had a problem with them, and according to official specs, the JK axle housings, shafts, and gears are all stronger than the TJ's. When disengaged the rear JK Rubicon locker is open, whereas the TJ has is a limited slip locker, but given the choice, I’d prefer strength and durability to the limited slip.
In conclusion, the Jeep Wrangler and Wrangler Unlimited JK have added some features that make it overall a better buy then previous models. The push-button sway-bar disconnect on the Rubicon model is amazing. It helps provide more suspension articulation and a smoother ride off-road. Jeep should have thought of this sooner. The fact that front and rear lockers, plus a sway bar disconnect come standard on some models makes wheeling that much more pleasurable. Plus, the new rocker guards are hands down the best Jeep has ever built (Rubicon only). I didn’t even switch mine out. I added an aftermarket weld on kit to extend the protection.
Please don’t get me wrong. I love my older Jeeps, especially the way they look. They just look tough. But don’t think for a second the JK is anything less than a serious off road beast, because there may be a day when a JK rescues you on the trail.
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