Of the many questions, those who are new to Jeep ask is…”Which Wrangler should I get?…”A Sahara?”…”A Willys?” (pronounced Willis)…”I don’t plan to do a lot of hardcore off-road/rock crawling, is it really worth it to get the Rubicon?”
YES!!! Get the Rubicon!!! If the Rubicon is within your budget, just buy the Rubicon!!! Don’t fool yourself into the fantasy that you’ll buy a non-Rubicon Wrangler and build it up over time to be “Better than a Rubicon, and more capable for less money!!!” While I do agree with that premise, that you can build up a non-Rubicon Wrangler for less money and have greater capability than a Rubicon, I would bet that you won’t!!!
More on why I highly recommend the purchase of a Wrangler Rubicon later. For now, I would like to dive into the various Jeep Wrangler models to define the differences, that can then inform the answer to the question of which Wrangler model to buy?
For purposes of this post, we’ll focus only on the Wrangler JK (2007 – 2018) and Wrangler JL (2018 – Present) models.
This will be an overview of the basic Wrangler models and not the various trim packages that have been made available over the years. Some of these trim packages have included perks like American Expedition Vehicles (AEV) bumpers, as well as the heat reduction hood that is also available on the Rubicon.
If you are looking at a Wrangler YJ (1987 – 1996) or Wrangler TJ (1997 – 2006) and the frame is not rotted out, JUST BUY IT!!! No need to think a lot about those decisions, you have found a unicorn!!!
The Wrangler JK was launched for the 2007 model year (MY) as the replacement for the aforementioned Wrangler TJ. The Wrangler JK carried over the same basic trim and models from the Wrangler TJ, however, the Wrangler Unlimited was now a 4-door Wrangler in the JK line.
Wrangler Sport/Sport S
The Sport is the most basic of the Jeep JK and JL Wranglers.
The basic, “entry-level” Wrangler JK in 2007 was the Wrangler X, which then became the Sport in the 2009 MY.
The Wrangler Sport comes standard with 16″ steel wheels, crank windows, manual locks, and a soft top with clear plastic windows. The optional hardtop comes without tinted glass. The Wrangler Sport is the most basic of the Wrangler model line-up.
You can read more about my opinion on the silly Trail Rated designation here…
ANY Trail Rated Wrangler can be taken off-road, without modification, and I believe any Trail Rated Wrangler could even complete the Rubicon Trail!!! No, you do not need a Wrangler Rubicon to complete the Rubicon Trail!!!
I could not afford a Rubicon, instead, I purchased a Sport S. The Sport S comes standard with power door locks, power windows, 17″ aluminum wheels, and tinted rear windows – with both the soft top and hardtop.
The Wrangler Sport/Sport S is as basic as the Wrangler gets, save for any “creature-comfort” options, such as side steps, radio/infotainment options that may be available.
The Sport/Sport S Wranglers are equipped with the part-time Command-Trac(R) 4X4 System. The Command-Trac(R) system is equipped with a 2.72:1 low-range transfer case.
The Sport/Sport S Wrangler is VERY capable off-road, and should not be overlooked as an option, depending on your budget.
The Wrangler Sahara is everything that the Sport/Sport S is, simply with upgraded paint and trim.
The Wrangler Sahara is mechanically identical to the Sport/Sport S, except for 18″ aluminum wheels standard. The Sahara comes standard with body colored-pained fender flares, hardtop and front, and rear bumper covers. The Sahara also comes standard with side steps to aid in vehicle ingress/egress.
In my opinion, the Sahara is Jeep’s answer to the “luxury” version of the Wrangler.
With the JL Wrangler, Jeep now offers and even fancier, High Altitude trim.
With the Willys, Jeep starts to step up their game!!!
Beyond the aesthetic features of the Willys Wrangler, the black pained grill, Willys hood and 4-Wheel Drive tailgate decals, there are some mechanical differences over and above the Sport/Sport S and Sahara.
The Willys retains the Command-Trac(R) 4X4 System, however, it comes standard with a limited-slip rear differential (LSD), Mopar Rock Rails, Wrangler Rubicon 17″ wheel/off-road tire package, and Rubicon shock package.
These standard features do make the Willys Wrangler marginally more off-road capable than the Sport/Sport S and Sahara Wranglers.
The Rubicon really is a departure from the other Wrangler models. The Rubicon is basically the sum total of the Sport/Sport S, Sahara and Willys, PLUS!!!
The biggest difference, beyond the Rubicon decals and trim features, is the Rock Trac(R) 4X4 System.
The Rock Trac(R) 4X4 System is equipped with a 4.0:1 low range transfer case, giving it the lowest possible crawl ratio. Arguably this crawl ratio may only be applicable to serious rock crawling, however, it’s a great capability to have at your disposal.
Selectable lockers, front, and rear are the ultimate in traction control when off-road.
Additionally, the Electronic Sway Bar Disconnect system provides maximum front axle articulation while off-road.
The Wrangler Rubicon is truly the most capable, “out-of-the-box”, Jeep!!!
That’s my take on the range of Wranglers, so why do I recommend just buying a Rubicon if it’s within your budget? The Rubicon is the “King of the Hill” Jeep, the most capable, and typically the nicest appointed Wrangler.
Even if hard-core rock crawling may never be your thing, having the capabilities at your disposal is never a bad thing!!! Wrangler Rubicons also command the highest of Wrangler resale value, if you would ever be silly enough to sell your Jeep!!!
If your budget will allow, buy a Wrangler Rubicon, and if not, at least get a Wrangler, and you can, over time, build it up!!!