The Jeep Wrangler (TJ) is the second generation of the Jeep Wrangler off-road and sport utility vehicle. Introduced in 1996 as a 1997 model, the TJ reintroduced the circular headlights the classic Jeep models had been known for. For the 2004 model year, the long-wheelbase Unlimited model was introduced.
In 1990, development of a successor to the YJ began in Chrysler's "Jeep-Truck Engineering Pre-Program" department under Bob Sheaves and TJ program director, Craig Winn. Mules based on the YJ were built from 1990 to 1993, when formal approval was given for the TJ development program at a $260 million budget. From 1991 to 1992, designers worked at the new Chrysler Technical Center, building on various design proposals. In late 1992, Michael Santoro's TJ proposal was chosen by Tom Gale, Lee Iacocca, and executive management. In May 1993, now with engineering and supplier input, Santoro's final Wrangler production design was frozen at 32 months ahead of initial assembly. Verification prototypes using production bodies were built from early 1994 and tested through late 1995. As YJ production ceased in December 1995, the last pre-production TJ examples were assembled, with start of series of production in January 1996.
Unveiled on January 2, 1996, at the 1996 Detroit Auto Show as an early 1997 model year introduction (1996 model year skipped), the TJ was an evolutionary update. It later arrived in Jeep showrooms in April 1996, after 6 years of overall investment and 36 month production development phase.
Instead of leaf springs, this updated Wrangler featured a modern coil-spring suspension, front and rear, based on that of the Jeep Grand Cherokee, for better ride and handling, and a return to the classic CJ's round headlamps. The engine is the same 4.0 L AMC 242 Straight-6 used in the Cherokee and Grand Cherokee. A 2.5 L AMC 150 Inline-4 engine was available on entry-level models until 2002. The 2.4 L DOHC 4-cylinder engine previously used on the Chrysler PT Cruiser replaced it for 2003.
In 1998 (MY1999), the fuel tank became standard at 19 U.S. gallons (72 L; 16 imp gal) capacity. There were some changes between the 2002 and 2003 years. From 1996 to 2002, the side door mirrors were black metal framed mirrors; and from 2003 to 2006 they were plastic molded mirrors. The fit of hard and soft tops is slightly different, and the fabric and colors available changed from 2001 to 2003. In 2002 (MY2003), the 3-speed automatic transmission was replaced with a 4-speed automatic with overdrive. The overdrive can be turned off with a dash switch. The radio bezels went from a rectangle in 2002 to a rounded-edged rectangle for 2003. The sound bar inside was changed to sound pods. The interior seats also changed design, going from a rounder model to one with a distinct separation between back and headrest areas. The standard skid plate was also revised for 2003 to make room for the Rubicon's bigger NV241OR transfer case. The change from the 30/32RH to the 42RLE also gained an additional skid plate.
This version of the Wrangler is also notable for being the last production vehicle to use AMC-related parts. The AMC Straight-4 engine was retired after the 2002 model year, and both the AMC Straight-6 engine and the door handles (the latter of which first appeared on AMC vehicles in the 1968 model year) were retired along with this generation in 2006. Like the YJ Wrangler, the TJ Wrangler used both the AMC passenger car door handles as well as the larger door handles off the AMC-built Jeep CJ for higher-end models.
A right hand drive version of the TJ was available for export markets, and was also offered for sale to U.S. rural route postal carriers. The version offered to U.S. postal carriers was only available with an automatic transmission.
In April 2004 – after a hiatus of 18 years – Jeep reintroduced a 10-inch (250 mm) longer wheelbase (LWB) version, virtually identical to the 103.5 in wheelbase of its Jeep CJ-6 and CJ-8 Scrambler predecessors, and called it the Wrangler Unlimited.
The 2004½ Wrangler Unlimited (or LJ) was the first introduction of the Jeep Unlimited nameplate. The longer frame has one extra crossmember and overall, the Unlimited is some 15 inches longer than a standard TJ, offering 2 inches more rear-seat legroom, and 13 inches more cargo space length. The TJ Unlimited has nearly double the towing capacity of its shorter wheelbase sibling, partly due to the increased wheelbase (3500 lbs LJ vs 2000 lbs TJ).
Standard were a Dana 44 rear axle with a 3.73 gear ratio and the Command-Trac NV231 transfer case.
For the 2005 model year, Jeep released the Rubicon Unlimited, combining the same wheelbase of the standard Unlimited, but sharing the drivetrain of its shorter Rubicon sibling including such features as front and rear Dana 44 axles with the Rock-Trac NV241 four-wheel-drive system, diamond plate rocker guards, 245/75R16 Goodyear MT/R tires, a six-speed manual or the optional 4 speed automatic transmission, as well as some minor comfort and convenience features not available on other Wrangler models.
Starting in 2006, Automotive Industries Ltd. (AIL), an Israeli automaker and major supplier of the Israeli Security Forces, began delivery of their 2nd generation of "Storm" military jeeps, manufactured under licence from Chrysler, to the Israel Defense Forces. The M-242 Storm Mark II, known in the field as the "Storm Commander" was now based on the Jeep Wrangler (TJ). The new model incorporated a number of significant changes – both in regard to its predecessor, as well as compared to its Wrangler basis. Perhaps the most obvious change is the addition of dual passenger doors, making the Storm II the first five-door Jeep Wrangler derivative.
The AIL Storm II had a vehicle length of 4,463 mm (175.7 in), and an extended wheelbase of 2,931 mm (115.4 in) — almost the same as that of the JK Wrangler Unlimited: 116 in (2,946 mm).
North American TJ/Wranglers were available in the following standard trims.
Jeep Wrangler TJ uses a recirculating ball-type steering gear.
For the 2003 model year, the Jeep Wrangler TJ received a mid-cycle restyling. On the exterior, there were new wheel designs to choose from, as well as new exterior decals. Under the hood, a new 2.4L "Power-Tech" Inline Four-Cylinder (I4) gas engine from the Jeep Liberty KJ producing 147 horsepower and 165 lb. ft. of torque replaced the 2.5L Inline Four-Cylinder (I4) gas engine that was shared with the Jeep Cherokee (XJ). A new off-road focused Rubicon model was introduced, The Ultradrive 42RLE automatic transmission became the sole automatic transmission regardless of engine choice. On the interior, a new steering wheel derived from the Jeep Grand Cherokee (WJ) was added, and interior switch gear was also revised. All audio systems were redesigned, and the standard audio system was now an A/M-F/M stereo radio with a cassette player (a single-disc CD player was also available, and a six-disc, in-dash CD changer replaced the previous remotely-mounted unit). A standard four-speaker audio system and optional seven-speaker premium audio system with a front center console-mounted subwoofer and amplifier were both available. Sirius Satellite Radio became available for the first time on the Wrangler. The seats were redesigned with new fabrics and improved comfort. The key was also redesigned with a new round head.
2006 was the final model year for the Jeep Wrangler TJ and Jeep Wrangler TJ Unlimited before being replaced by the all-new, third-generation Jeep Wrangler (JK) and Jeep Wrangler (JK) Unlimited. For 2006, two new special edition models were offered for the regular-wheelbase Wrangler TJ: a 65TH Anniversary Edition and the Golden Eagle Edition, both paying tribute to Jeep's heritage (the Golden Eagle was an option package for the Jeep CJ-7, and the 65TH Anniversary Edition celebrated 65 years of production for the Jeep brand). The 4.0L "Power-Tech" Inline Six-Cylinder (I6) engine became standard equipment on all Wrangler TJ models, as the 2.4L "Power-Tech" Inline Four-Cylinder (I4) gas engine was dropped, and all Wrangler TJ models now featured the Chrysler NSG370 transmission (manual transmission) as standard equipment, as the five-speed manual transmission was dropped in 2005. The all-new 2007 Jeep Wrangler (JK) and first-ever Jeep Wrangler (JK) Unlimited were introduced at the 2006 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit, Michigan in January 2006.
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