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Everything About the JK Wrangler – Overview & Model Guide

The Jeep Wrangler JK, the third official Wrangler from Jeep, is a capable monster that comes in many different submodels from the factory. Here we explain both of the main JK types, Rubicon models, and other sub-models as well as a general overview of the JK as a whole.

Extreme Terrain

Wrangler JK Overview – Don’t Knock It Before You Try It

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 third 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 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 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 JK 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.

JK Wrangler 2-Door with a 2.5in Lift
JK with a 2.5in Lift

Common Misconceptions

I often hear from fellow Jeepers is it’s too large. The reality is 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 they knew would be upgraded anyway. The bumpers are a perfect example of this. My friend complained 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.

2007-2017 JK Wrangler with a Full Width Aftermarket Bumper
JK with a Full Width Aftermarket Bumper

The Wrangler JK’s Motor

I was told 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 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. 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 arguments 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.

2012-2017 JK Wrangler 3.6L with a Cold Air Intake
3.6L Engine Bay

The Advantages of the JK's Drivetrain

Some people feel the new electric lockers are garbage. In my personal and highly tested opinion, I’ve never had a problem with them. 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. Given the choice, I’d prefer strength and durability to the limited slip.

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. Front and rear lockers, plus a sway bar disconnect, come standard on some models and 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. 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.

2007-2017 JK Wrangler with Sway Bar Disconnects

Onto the Submodels – an Overview

  • Find out what does LWB and SWB mean
  • How does wheelbase affect handling
  • Classic 2 door look or 4 door space
  • What are Rubicon models
  • Should I get the 3.8L or 3.6L

Basic Wrangler JK Pros & Cons

The 2 door JK has a few key advantages for off-roading when compared to the Unlimited model: less weight and short wheel base. With its lighter weight, the JK’s engine won’t work as hard as it would in the JKU which gives a feeling of increased performance. The short wheel base or SWB allows for a lower turn radius and a better break over angle. The lower turn radius gives you more agility in tight trails and rocky corridors while the break over angle will allow your Wrangler to tackle sharper, more rugged terrain.

Like with anything, there’s always a bad side. The JK is no exception. The JK isn’t a bad rig but at highway speeds the JK Unlimited is noticeably more stable with its longer wheelbase. The JK is also less stable when crawling up a hill. The shorter wheelbase increases your chances of flipping over. The JK is not able to tow as much as the Unlimited model which can make or break your decision. Do you want to tow all your toys or just some?

2007-2017 JK Wrangler with a 3,500lb Receiver Hitch
3,500lb Receiver Hitch

Jeep Wrangler JKU: Pros & Cons

The JKU is the 4 door version of the Wrangler; it is also the only 4 door Wrangler as of now. The Unlimited, or U version, is a great alternative to the typical two door Wrangler. 

Some people don’t enjoy change. Some Wrangler enthusiasts may not enjoy the JK ‘sedan’ but don’t let this stop you. The JKU is just as capable if not more so than the JK, and it has a better tow rating. The JKU has a much longer wheel base (LWB) to accommodate for the 2 extra full sized doors. The JKU also has the ability to tow 1,500 lbs more than the JK due to its LWB stability.

Since the JKU has a longer wheelbase, it also has a wider turning radius. The radius is increased from the JKs 34.9 feet to 41.2 feet. This makes the JKU a bit less nimble than the smaller JK. The JKU also has a few pounds extra which makes the engine work that much harder than the lighter 2 door. The Unlimited’s break-over angle is subpar to the JK which may not work out well on very sharp terrain.

JK Wrangler Unlimited Tearing Up Snow and Dirt

JK Wrangler Rubicon

Rubicon models are the ultimate version of the factory JK. They are equipped with Mopar accessories, off-road suspension, and many other mods that make the already great Wrangler an off-road beast. This model JK or JKU is also roughly 2.5 inches taller than the stock version with the help of off-road accessories like springs, shocks, sway bars, links, wheels, tires, and armor. A section of the Rubicon trail was used to perfect, test Wrangler models, and add on components. If you’re in the market for a Rubicon there’s no way to go wrong.

JK Wrangler with Rubicon 10th Anniversary Hood
Rubicon 10th Anniversary Hood

The Wrangler 3.8 EGH V6 vs. 3.6L Pentastar V6

The 2007-2010 Jeep Wranglers came equipped with the EGH 3.8L pushrod V6. This engine is a bored and stroked version of the 3.3 V6 from the Chrysler group vehicles of the past. The 3.8L was designed in the 80s, but it has been updated throughout the years. The 3.8L in the early Wrangler models came with roughly 202 hp with a nice 237 ft/lbs of torque. The 3.8L engines were mated with the optional automatic 42RLE Chrysler group transmission which includes electronic shift control, adaptive memory, and an electronically modulated converter clutch.

The newer, smaller, yet more powerful, 3.6L Pentastar V6 is what comes in the 2012-current Jeeps. It has 285 horsepower and 260 pound feet of torque. The Pentastar engine was made to replace the aging EGH. Now the 3.8L is no slouch, but the Pentastar makes more power, includes variable valve timing, and is designed with new age technology. The 2012 and up model 3.6L equipped Wranglers have a Mercedes Benz sourced transmission, the 5G-Tronic automatic transmission. All JKs share the standard Chrysler/Mercedes made NSG370 stick shift.

2007-2011 JK Wrangler 3.8L with a Cold Air Intake
3.8L Engine Bay

Quick Review of the Special Editions

Chrysler offered the Islander, Mountain, Call of Duty, and Sahara as just a few of the many different sub-models of the JK. Each sub model features a different combination of suspension, drivetrain parts (lockers etc), accessories, and exterior paint and graphics to make each a bit unique and perfect for the buyer. All JKs do share the internal engine and main drivetrain components.

The Wrangler JK and U

JKs are a great rig for anything. JKs are made to tackle trails and be a daily driver. JKs are very capable off-roaders and have awesome features. When deciding JK vs JKU, go with what you want, but either rig is great. Both Jeeps have almost identical approach and departure angles, but the JKs have a 4 degree advantage. The JKU does excel at towing with 3,500 maximum. 1,500 more than the 2 door. The JKU has more space and fold down seats, but the JK maintains the classic look.

Fitment includes: JK, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017