75 Years of Jeep Part 7: The Most Recent, But Certainly Not The Last, Chapter In Jeep HistoryPosted in Features on June 23, 2016
Six corporations have owned the Jeep brand in 75 years, including the founding company, Willys Overland. In the early part of that long history, Jeep's role within those sometimes-struggling larger firms was as a reliable foundation stone. As the SUV market expanded, Jeep grew to be less of a foundation stone and more of a cornerstone. It is now one of the strongest and best-known trademarks on the planet. People the world over know it, whether they speak Albanian or Zulu.
The corporate part of this last chapter starts in 1998. That's when Chrysler Corporation merged with Daimler-Benz AG of Germany to form Daimler Chrysler. It started off being called a "merger of equals" or a "marriage made in heaven" but ended up just about the polar opposite for both parties. The Daimler Chrysler sheets were torn in 2007 when a consortium of investors purchased all but about 19 percent of Daimler's shares and formed Chrysler LLC. Almost immediately, a worldwide financial crisis hit the fragile new company and the ensuing problems required a bailout from the U.S. government. It wasn't pretty, but the recovery was swift. In 2011, Fiat began purchasing more shares of Chrysler and, by 2014, had the majority interest. Now under the banner of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Jeep continues to prosper.
1999-2006: Wrangler TJ—Technical Superiority
The TJ was a renaissance for the short-wheelbase Jeep and was born at the top of the stock wheeling-capability pecking order. The ’99 lineup was the same as the ’98: base SE, mid-level Sport, and top-shelf Sahara. This lineup remained until 2002 when the Wrangler X was added to split the price and features gap between the SE and the Sport. A noteworthy technical change came for 2000, when the excellent Aisin AX-15 was replaced by the even-better NV-3550.
For 2003, the Rubicon model was added but other momentous changes also came. The old AMC-era 2.5L four was replaced by a modern and powerful 2.4L Power-Tech 16-valve four that was backed up by a more beefy NV-1500 that replaced the aging AX-5. In a 2003 "it's about time" moment, the old three-speed automatics were finally replaced by the four-speed 42RLE, which was offered on both the 2.4L four (with 4.56:1 ratios) and the 4.0L six (with 3.73 or 4.11 ratios).
The Unlimited TJ is another significant Jeep. The two-door version was a step in the right direction but also a step away from optimal. The extra room was welcome but only a 10-inch stretch didn't really make it the family fun rig the Jeep crowd wanted. The stretch allowed an increase in tow capacity, and the Rubicon version was noted for being a bit more capable in certain types of terrain than the short version, much like the CJ-8 was known to be.
Midway through ’04, the stretched Unlimited TJ-L appeared, and for ’05, the long-running Sahara was discontinued, contracting the line to the SE, X, Sport, Rubicon, Unlimited, and a little later, the Unlimited Rubicon. The big technical news that year was the NSG-370 six-speed manual transmission for both the fours and sixes. The final year (’06) of the TJ was the same as ’05, which was no surprise given the widely announced major upgrade coming in ’07 called the JK. The TJ should be remembered as a major step up for the traditional Jeep, one that delivered few compromises and hit mostly high spots. Nearly a million TJs were built during 10 years of production, coming two-thirds of the way to matching the number built during the CJ’s 41 production years.
The TJ had more special models than a Victoria's Secret fashion show. For ’01 came the 60th Anniversary Edition; the Apex Edition for ’02; the Tomb Raider Rubicon and Freedom Edition in ’03; the Columbia and Willys Editions for ’04; the Rocky Mountain Edition for ’05; and the Golden Eagle Edition for ’06.
2003-2006: Wrangler TJ Rubicon- Super Badass
The Rubicon was the most trail-capable stock Jeep of all time and deserves its own spot in Jeep history. That the Rubicon happened at all borders on the miraculous because the automotive industry is very risk-averse. The Rubicon concept began in 1998 when two Jeep engineers, Dave Yegge and Jim Repp, who were also hardcore off-road enthusiasts, dreamed up a concept but didn't dare talk about it openly at work. They knew that sending a proposal for a high-performance TJ up the risk-averse food chain in those days was a sure path to rejection. Nonetheless, they kept bugging their boss, Jeep engineer Mike Gabriel, who finally said, “Fine, send me a proposal.”
Fortunately, back in 1996, David Freiburger and Rick Péwé of Petersen’s 4-Wheel & Off-Road had already built a project TJ dubbed “Instant Superhero” (Dec. ’96). Using available aftermarket 4:1 transfer case gears, slip-yoke eliminator, lower gears, lockers, 33-inch Super Swampers, and a 4-inch lift with sway bar disconnects, the Jeep (nicknamed Elvis due to a “Best of Elvis” disc stuck in the CD player) caught the attention of the wheeling world, as well as the guys at Jeep. Eventually, it was returned to Chrysler since it was a loaner vehicle. Former Editor David Freiburger recalled, “I presented the Elvis Jeep to a whole theater full of top Chrysler brass, as well as to the Jeep brand team and engineers, during the 1997 Petersen’s 4x4 of the Year award ceremony, since the TJ had won that award. Afterward, a small group of engineers asked me all about our build. When our project was over, we got a request from Chrysler for Elvis to be returned to the Chelsea Proving Grounds because they wanted to test it some more. I saw it there at least a year later, and one of the guys told me it was the favorite Jeep with test drivers and that they still called it Elvis." With this high-profile build exciting the 4x4 community, as well as Jeep, the stage was set for the Jeep engineers to do their magic.
The ’03 Wrangler TJ Rubicon is in that Top 10 list of the most significant Jeeps of all time. The TJ by itself was a masterful evolutionary upgrade of the short-wheelbase Jeep, but the Rubicon version was the stuff of legend. Everyone involved it its creation should get a star on the Toledo Walk of Fame—if there was a Toledo Walk of Fame, that is.
The crafty duo of Repp and Yegge started by sneaking built up-TJ ringers into the mix at corporate ride and drive trail events. Not surprisingly, these Jeeps were always the one the execs wanted to drive the most, and that soon alleviated the corporate fear of a built-up TJ. After a couple of years, enough of the key execs were convinced to sign off on an exploratory project and the engineering work started. There were fights, setbacks, and hand wringing along the way, but the Rubicon happened for 2003 and the public response was overwhelming.
The Rubicon was announced on January 7, 2002, and slated to go on sale late in that summer as a ’03 model. It did, but there were almost constant delivery delays, as well as buyers with "delayed satisfaction syndrome" well into 2003. The Rubicon had beefed-up Dana 44s front and rear with selectable lockers and 4.11:1 ratios, a new NV-241OR "Rock-Trac" transfer case with a 4:1 low-range, LT245/75R16 Goodyear MT/R mudders on 16x8 alloy rims, and four-wheel disc brakes. The package also included the 4.0L and NV-3550 (the new four-speed automatic was optional), skidplates, and a nice assortment of other options. Jeep sold so many the first year (more than 10,000) that aftermarket-parts vendors were scrambling to keep up. Sales increased each year after that, and the company sold every one it made with customers clamoring for more.
From ’03 to ’06, few changes came to the Rubicon, but it got a big brother in 2005 when the long-wheelbase Unlimited was "Rubicon-ized." The Rubicon model was handed off to the JK line for ’07. and the concept has been equally successful.
2004.5-2006: Wrangler TJ-L Unlimited—The Whole 10 Inches
In every era of Jeep history, owners have asked for a more spacious utility variant. The TJ era was no different and Jeep's answer was the Unlimited, announced in January 2004 as a 2004.5 model. By stretching the wheelbase from 93.4 to 103.4 inches, there was a good deal more rear space for passengers or cargo. Standard with the package was the Dana 44 rear axle, 30-inch tires on alloy rims, the four-speed automatic, and an extra crossmember. The tow capacity was upped from the standard Wrangler 2,000 pounds to 3,500 pounds. The Unlimited would become a moderately popular part of the TJ lineup right to the end, and a Rubicon version would also appear, but the two-door configuration would always hold it back.
1999-2001: Cherokee XJ—Into the Sunset
You know you are long in the tooth when they call you a “Classic,” but the mid-level ’01 Classic shown here was looking good at the end of it's production life. From the Jeep corporate point of view, there were many reasons to replace the XJ, but it was a sad day nonetheless.
Refreshed in 1997, the Cherokee XJ still had decent sales numbers at the dawn of the new millennium. In the 1997-2000 post-refresh years, it came in SE, Sport, Classic, and Limited models. By the ’00 model year, the 4.0L had received intake tuning and fuel injection upgrades. In the final year of production (2001), the lineup contracted to just two levels—Sport and Limited—and production ended early in the year to clear the line for new models. The two-door carried on right to the end but only as a six-cylinder Sport. The Cherokee had been one of Jeep's more popular models with more than 2,108,000 of all types built since ’84. Combined with its role in saving the Jeep brand and setting many SUV benchmarks, the XJ gets to live forever in the 4x4 Hall of Fame.
1999--2004: Grand Cherokee WJ- A Grander Grand
When equipped with the Quadra-Drive system, the WJ, even a top-line ’99 Limited like this, was a force to be reckoned within its class. The Vari-Loc Gerotor hydraulic limited-slips could get really close to a 100 percent lockup, especially the earlier ones. Later versions of the system were toned down a little due to occasional drivability issues on the street. Give a WJ the right tires and within the limits of its clearances, it could work a trail.
The ZJ's five-link rear suspension was replaced by this 3-link setup that was eerily reminiscent of the Range Rover. It articulated and rode very well, though the ball joint on the upper link was known for some long-term durability issues.
The sale of more than 2 1/2 million Grand Cherokee ZJs in nearly seven years of production made a strong followup imperative. The ’99-up Grand Cherokee WJ was a major styling, technical, and feature refresh with only 127 direct carryover parts from the ZJ. The 4.0L carried over as the standard engine but the 5.2L V-8 was replaced by a less thirsty 235hp OHC 4.7L V-8 from Chrysler. Behind the 4.7L was a new 45RFE four-speed automatic with a new full-time four-wheel drive system, Quadra-Trac-II (NV-247). Differing from the NV-249 it replaced, the NV-247 had a Gerotor pump instead of a viscous coupling and was designed to shuttle torque more smoothly. If you ordered the Quadra-Drive system, both axles contained the new Gerotor-operated, variable-bias Vari-Lok differentials. The rear suspension was redesigned and featured a three-link system that delivered a very good ride and better stock articulation on the trail. Refinements to the front suspension and steering completed the new suspension package.
The WJ evolved in 2002 with an optional high-output 267hp 4.7L engine, as well as a new automatic trans. The new 545RFE added what amounted to a second overdrive ratio in addition to the dual-ratio second gear. The Gerotor Vari-Lok replaced the clutch type Trac-Lok as the optional rear limited-slip. In the last year of the WJ, a simple Quadra-Trac I all-wheel-drive system was added that consisted of a single-speed transfer case with the seamless Gerotor torque-sensing center coupling.
The new WJ was offered in two trim levels, Laredo and Limited, with a couple of variations within those levels, and continued through 2001. In 2002, a full-boat Overland model was added. Specials included Freedom and Special Editions for ’04. With nearly 1 1/2 million WJs built in just five years, you could call it a rousing success.
2002-2012: Liberty KJ and KK- The First Independent
The Liberty was definitely Jeepy and a worthy successor to the XJ, even if XJ purists could never forgive it for having IFS or a V-6 engine. More than 1,270,000 KJs were built between ’02 and ’07, so it couldn't be considered a flop by any standard. The most exciting part of KJ history was the availability of the CRD diesel in ’05 and ’06.
It's been said that the ’05-’06 2.8L CRD (common rail diesel) was more a marketing experiment than anything. That theory may have merit, though nobody at Jeep will confirm it. We were not able to confirm a production number, but when Daimler Chrysler announced the end of sale in June 2006 (production stopped in May), they mentioned more than 11,000 had been sold. The 2.8L CRD came from VM Motori in Italy and displaced 171 cubic inches. It was direct injected with a common rail system that popped the injectors at 23,000 psi. With a 17.5:1 compression ratio, it delivered 160 hp at 3,800 rpm and 295 lb-ft of torque at 1,800 rpm. In the ’05 Liberty, it was EPA-rated for 21/26 mpg.
In the mid ’90s, the project to replace the XJ began under the codename XJR. Clues to the new rig could be seen in the 1997 Dakar and 1998 Jeepster concept vehicles. The new KJ Liberty debuted in January 2001 and went on sale that summer as a ’02 model. It was a very credible replacement for the XJ but one thing made the off-road–oriented Jeepers grit their teeth: IFS or independent front suspension. It was Jeep's first IFS 4x4 since the short-lived IFS option for ’63-’65 Wagoneers. The improvements in ride, handling, and safety were welcomed by most and the Liberty was Jeep's first surge in an in industry-wide tidal wave towards IFS.
The 2.4L Power Tech four made its first Jeep appearance as the KJ's base engine, backed up by either the NV-1500 or the 45RFE automatic transmissions. The part-time NV-231 Command-Trac was standard and the full/part-time Selec-Trac was optional. Another major change was the Liberty's 3.7L V-6 (essentially a 4.7L V-8, less two pistons). Mounted behind it was either the NV-3550 five-speed or the 45RFE four-speed automatic. In ’05 the 160hp 295–lb-ft 2.8L common-rail turbodiesel debuted and made hearts beat faster. That same year, the NSG-370 six-speed replaced the NV1500 and NV3550 six-speed manual.
What does it say that the KK Liberty looked more like the XJ than the earlier KJ? Although the platform was largely the same, the sheet metal had changed significantly. In production for nearly the same amount of time as the KJ, it sold significantly fewer units—just less than 400,000. That's probably not a reflection on the KK itself, just a reflection of the market.
Initially, the Liberty was offered in Sport and Limited trim, but the Renegade was added later in the debut year. The lineup remained static through ’04, although a premium version of the Renegade was added, four-wheel disc brakes were made standard, and the Renegade got a mild facelift. A Rocky Mountain Edition of the Renegade would come for ‘05. For the final 2007 year, the KJ lineup would shrink to two: the Sport and Limited.
The ’08 Liberty KK was a floor-up refresh of the KJ, with angular lines reminiscent of the new XK Commander. Under the skin, KK was largely the same as KJ, but in ’09. the six-speed was deleted. Sport and Limited packages started the KK, but midway in 2010, the Renegade was resurrected. In 2011, a sporty Limited Jet was added. KK specials included the 70th Anniversary in ’11 and the Arctic in ’12. The KK had one very unique and memorable optional feature, the "Sky Slider" full-length opening canvas roof.
2005-2010: Grand Cherokee WK I—More Grandness
Despite the IFS, the third generation of the Grand Cherokee was no less capable than the second or first generation. The IFS required a different style of driving than a live axle rig, but the end result was largely the same. Every generation had advanced the day-to-day comfort and utility through the application of the latest technology.
The new millennium brought the development of a much-modernized Grand Cherokee model. The first prototypes were built in 2003, and introduction of what became known as the ’05 WK Grand Cherokee took place at the New York Auto Show in April 2004. Production started in July of that year and sales in September. Two levels were offered: Laredo and Limited. For ’06, the high-zoot Overland was added, along with a couple of special models. This basic lineup stayed in place through ’09, with the Overland leaving for 2010—the final year of the first WK.
The new Grand featured IFS and a live rear axle with a five-link rear suspension. The 3.7L V-6 from the Liberty was the base engine, with the 4.7L V-8 in the middle, and a potent 330hp 5.7L Hemi V-8 on top delivering sub-7-second 0-60 mph times. No manual transmissions were offered—only five-speed automatics. Three Jeep four-wheel-drive systems were available: Quadra-Drive 1 (NV-140), Quadra-Trac II (NV-245), and the Quadra-Drive II, which used the NV-245 but was combined with new electrically controlled version of the previous Vari-Lok diffs. The system was very similar to the previous WJ Quadra-Drive system, but electronic controls were added to the Gerotor-driven clutch packs in the transfer case and axle differentials.
Changes and upgrades started in 2007 with the 305hp 4.7L Flex Fuel engine. That same year, the 3.0L CRD V-6 turbodiesel became an option. Cranking out 215 hp and 376 lb-ft of torque, the CRD offered EPA numbers of 19 mpg city and 23 mpg highway and was offered through 2009. In ’09, the 5.7L Hemi saw a major upgrade and was boosted to 357 hp. For the final ’10 model year, the 4.7L engines were not listed, nor the 3.0L CRD.
The option of a 5.7L 330 hp Hemi V-8 must have sent shivers down the spines of many in 2005. The big V-8 could pin you back in the seat or tow like a pickup and still deliver decent fuel economy in a trail-capable package that was supremely comfortable. This era WK Hemi displaced 345 cubes and produced 330 hp at 5,100 rpm and 370 lb-ft of torque at 3,500 rpm on a long, broad curve. The EPA estimate was 14/21 mpg.
When the delightfully demented minds at Chrysler's SRT division were set loose on the new Grand Cherokee, a class-leading super-SUV was created that became the fastest Jeep ever built. The massaged 6.1L Hemi cranked out 420 hp and 420 lb-ft, and the rest of the vehicle was built to turn that into a bucketload of zoom. Various magazines tested them at between 4.5 and 4.8 seconds from 0-60 mph and at around a 13.5-second 1/4-mile at 102 mph. On the skidpad, most testers recorded .88g or better with a 60 mph stopping distance around 120 feet. Top speed was listed as anywhere from "150-plus" to 170 mph.
Special models included the ’05 Rocky Mountain Edition and 65th Anniversary for ’06. Another Rocky Mountain Edition appeared for ’09. The WK Grand Cherokee gave way to a new model in 2011, cleverly called WK II, so the ’05-’10 models became WK 1 by default.
And then there's the SRT8, one of several hot rods developed at Chrysler's Street and Racing Technology (SRT) Center. The previously developed 420hp 6.1L Hemi was the first addition and everything else was developed around it. A beefed-up W5A580 automatic backed up the Hemi and was coupled to a high-torque capacity NV-146SRT full-time transfer case with an electronically controlled center diff tuned for street performance. The WK SRT8 used 3.73:1 axle ratios to deliver 5-second 0-60 mph times and a top speed more than 150 mph. With Brembo brakes and a performance-tuned lowered suspension, the SRT8 stopped and cornered with supercar-like aplomb. Nope, this wasn't your Granddad’s Jeep, even if he drove that previous “fastest Jeep alive,” the ’98 Grand Cherokee 5.9 Limited. The SRT8 evolved very little from ’06 to ’10, when it gave way to the WK II version. There may have been faster SUVs than the SRT8, but they could be counted on the thumbs of one hand.
2006-2010: Commander XK—Was Bigger Better?
The XK Commander shared the WK Grand Cherokee's platform but was a more upright, roomy and Jeepy iteration that boasted an optional seven-seat configuration. That sounded great on paper but looking at the interior shots, you wonder about back-row comfort. The Commander looked a lot like a XJ Cherokee on steroids. It had lots of room, so even if you didn't order the seven-seat setup, you got a five-seat rig with plenty of room left over for gear and up to a 1,420 pounds of payload. The optional 5.7L Hemi gave you a 7,200-pound trailer capacity and not-to-shabby 14/19 EPA mpg ratings
Based on the new WK platform, the Commander XK debuted March 23, 2005 and was Jeep's first seven-passenger SUV. Although the underpinnings and powertrain options were shared with the WK, it featured a tall, roomy, angular body that was capable of three-row, seven-passenger seating. It was sold as both as a 4x2 or 4x4 in base Commander or Limited trim. From ’07 to ’09, Sport was the base model, with the Limited being the middle level and Overland the top drawer. In ’10, the last-year lineup condensed to just the Sport and Limited. The XK only got a couple of specials in its short life: the 65th Anniversary in ’06 and the Rocky Mountain Edition from ’07 through ’09. It had no particular flaws and a tad more than 200,000 were built, but the Commander seems to have landed in the off-the-mark category of Jeep history.
2007-2016+: MK Compass and Patriot—Jeep Light
Which do you like better? The Patriot seems to have sold better than the Compass and most think it's a little more Jeepy. They were virtually the same under the skin, though the Patriot got Trail Rated sooner than the Compass. Die-hard four-wheelers are no doubt sneering right now, but realize these AWD rigs are a very large and viable part of the market, even if you aren't likely to see one on the Pritchett Canyon Trail in Moab.
And by "light" we don't mean "bad." In 2007, Jeep entered the hot-as-nuclear-fission compact SUV market. In this realm, off-road prowess takes a back seat to economy, utility, and a low buy-in, but that didn't stop Jeep from adding some trail mojo. Compass and Patriot shared a platform, but each wore a different skin—the Compass: hip, curvy, and contemporary; the Patriot: traditional, upright, and buttoned-down. The platform was announced in August 2005 with two concept renderings shown. Development was already far along by then and production began midyear 2006.
The MK platform was a transition for Jeep and, following the compact SUV trend, used a front-drive transaxle as the primary drive system with an optional single-speed "Freedom-Drive 1" single-speed AWD system. The first Compass and Patriot were both powered by a 2.4L OHC four called the "World Engine," a joint venture between Daimler Chrysler, Hyundai, and Mitsubishi. The MK had a standard five-speed manual transaxle, with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) transaxle optional. In 2014, both models got the option of a six-speed automatic transaxle. For ’08, the Patriot got the Freedom-Drive II 4x4 system with an honest-to-goodness low-range in the PTU (power transfer unit, the term for a front-drive "transfer case") and an off-road equipment group (which included all-terrain tires and 1-inch higher ride height) that was Trail Rated. Compass got the Freedom-Drive II system in 2011 and was also Trail Rated. Both models also got a restyle that year as well.
Following Jeep convention, both MKs were offered in Sport and Limited trim levels. The Compass gained a mid-level Latitude model in 2011 and so did Patriot, which also had a Latitude X for a while. Specials included the ’07 Compass Mopar Rallye Package, ’09 Patriot Rocky Mountain Edition, ’11 Compass and Patriot 70th Anniversary, ’12-’16 Patriot and Compass Altitude, ’13 Patriot Freedom, and ’16 Compass and Patriot 75th Anniversary.
2007-2016+: Wrangler JK and JK Unlimited—Another Flavor of Badass
There is a whole lot of 2007 excitement in this picture. The short-wheelbase JK itself was a big leap ahead for Jeepdom, but for many, the four-door Unlimited was the home-run ball that broke a window in a building a mile from the ballpark. This pic shows the available tops, including the Freedom Rider hardtop that's like a T-top.
There was some controversy about the 3.8L V-6 used for the JK. That had less to do with the 3.8L being bad than the passing of the legendary 4.0L. The 3.8L made 202 hp at 5,000 rpm, which was a bit more than 10 hp over the 4.0L in the TJ and torque was 237 lb-ft at 4,000 rpm, which was virtually the same as the 4.0L, but the inline had better low-end torque characteristics.
Jeep knows the iconic status of the Wrangler and takes upgrades to that sacred shrine of four-wheeling very seriously. The new Wrangler JK was formally announced September 1, 2006, and lived up to the legend. The visual changes were obvious: a 5 1/2-inch increase in overall width (3 1/2-inch wider track) and a 2-inch longer wheelbase on top of a more angular look. The dimensional changes added stability. Interior room was significantly improved, and interior appointments in general reached new heights.
The even bigger news was the four-door Unlimited, something Jeepers had been lusting after for decades. Even with a 20-inch wheelbase stretch, it was still trail-capable. Oddly, though, it was also offered in two-wheel drive, the first time in decades a 4x2 Jeep utility had been offered.
Some perceived the loss of the 4.0L six as a negative. The 3.8L V-6 made a little more power than the 4.0L and a tiny bit more torque, but it was the standard engine. The NSG-370 six-speed carried over, as did the 42RLE four-speed automatic and NV-241 Command-Trac part-time transfer case. The Dana 30 front axle was enhanced, and a Dana 44 rear was made standard. Some sources show a Dana 35 rear in 2007, but Jeep engineers flatly deny it, and there is no JK listing in the Dana Model 35 axle catalog. An optional feature was the electronic anti-sway bar disconnect.
The Rubicon mojo was as strong as ever in the JK variant, and the package was largely the same as the TJ, with a Rock-Trac 4:1 transfer case, D44s front and rear with 4.10:1 axle ratios, and selectable lockers, and LT255/75R17 BFG Mud Terrains.
One of the more exciting accessories available for the JK has been the JK-8 pickup conversion. Take a JK unlimited, add this kit and, voila, JK pickup. One of the few rumors recently confirmed for future Wranglers is a pickup version.
The JK Wrangler and Unlimited were offered in three trims: X, Sahara, and Rubicon. The standard soft top was the best to date, and the Sunrider soft top offered a sunroof. The hardtop was called the Freedom Rider and had three sections for easy removal and T-top-style open-air fun. The model lineup has remained the same through 2016. Special models have included the ’10 Islander and Mountain Editions; ’11 Mojave, 70th Anniversary, and Call of Duty: Black Ops Editions; ’12 Unlimited Altitude and Wrangler Arctic Editions; ’13 Wrangler Moab and Rubicon 10th Anniversary Editions; ’14 Freedom, Dragon, Willys Wheeler and Unlimited Polar Editions and the Wrangler Rubicon X; ’16 75th Anniversary and Black Bear Editions, Rubicon Hard Rock, Willys Wheeler and Freedom Editions.
Few major technical changes came to the Wrangler, but big one was in 2012, when the 3.6L Pentastar V-6 replaced the 3.8L. With 285 hp, it was significantly more powerful than the 202 hp 3.8L, and best of all, the automatic option was upgraded to the W5A580 five-speed automatic. And, yes, the NSG-370 six-speed manual was still on the options list. JK production reached a million in 2013, and the JK continues to garner accolades at every level of the SUV realm.
2011-2016+: Grand Cherokee WK—Four Generations
The fourth generation of the Grand Cherokee, dubbed the WKII, was another major evolution of the species. The technological advancements were staggering but pretty much what it took to stay ahead of the "Joneses" in the competitive high-end SUV market. The technology was designed to make a mild-mannered and inexperienced driver into a trail hero. Not really, but this was one capable rig in its class with driver-controlled features that allowed a novice to excel on the first shot and an experienced driver to play the WK II like a violin.
The fourth generation of Grand Cherokee was conceived in 2008, prototyped in 2009, premiered at the New York Auto Show, in production by May 2010, and in showrooms that fall. The Grand Cherokee WK II was the height of luxury and technological refinement, retaining the title of "Jeep Flagship" with no arguments.
The list of new stuff started with the base 3.6L Pentastar Flex Fuel V-6 rated for 290 hp. No intermediate engine was offered, but the 5.7L MDS Hemi rated for 360 hp was an option. Both engines had five-speed automatics. The type of four-wheel-drive system was a package deal, with V-6 Laredos having the full-time Quadra-Drive 1 single-speed AWD unit, and V-8 Laredos using the Quadra-Trac II two-speed system. The top end Quadra-Drive II, two-speed system (with a rear Gerotor ELSD) came with a V-8 in the Limited or Overland packages only. An enhancement at all levels was the first version of Jeep's Selec-Terrain system, a system that electronically coordinated 12 powertrain, braking, and suspension parameters for five specific terrain types. Added to that was Quadra-Lift, an optional (included in certain packages) air suspension system with five ride heights, one of which raised the vehicle up nearly 3 inches above standard height.
In 2014, a couple of big technical things happened. One was this 3.0L V-6 diesel, which FCA called the "EcoDiesel" to placate tree huggers. It's a potent engine, making 240 hp and 420 lb-ft (as much as the older SRT8 6.1L hot rod) but delivers EPA 21/28 mpg. The other was the new eight-speed ZF automatic it debuted with. It's the same diesel that appeared in the Ram pickups. Built by VM Motori, a WKII so equipped can crank out an 8-second run to 60 mph and a 1/4-mile run at 16.1 seconds and 84 mph, with a top speed of 120 mph.
Four trim levels were offered: Laredo, Limited, Overland, and Overland Summit. The Summit was the rarified height of SUV luxury and performance. These models have remained to the current model year, albeit with some detail changes. A dirt-oriented Trailhawk added to the lineup for 2017. Special models included the ’11 70th Anniversary Edition, ’12-’16 Altitude and High Altitude Editions, ’13 Trailhawk Edition, and ’15 Summit California. Big technical updates and changes came in 2014 and included the 240hp, 420–lb-ft 3.0L V-6 Ecodiesel and a new eight-speed ZF automatic transmission with a 4.71.1 first gear, all of which advanced the WK II on the fuel economy, performance, and trail-rated fronts.
The Grand Cherokee SRT8, which became simply the SRT for 2014, took a little time to get into production after the big WK II upgrades. SRT8 production didn't start until fall 2011, and they rolled off the line as ’12 models. They had many of the same upgrades as the standard WK II, but the Hemi was boosted to 6.4L and delivered 470 hp and 465 pound-feet of torque for a 4.8-second trip to 60 mph, 1/4-mile times in the mid-13-second range, and a listed top speed of 160 mph. It was no slouch on the skidpad either, able to generate .90g and come to a stop from 60 mph in only 116 feet. It didn't have the Selec-Terrain feature, but the engineers substituted a five-position Selec-Track system with five modes: Auto, Sport, Track, Snow and Tow. In 2014, the SRT got the new eight-speed ZF and a few minor styling upgrades. In 2015, the Hemi got a 5 hp and 5 lb-ft boost. In 2016, the Selec-Track system got an extra "Custom" position so the owner could custom-tune some of the performance parameters. SRT specials included the ’13 Vapor, ’15 Red Vapor, and the ’16 SRT Night.
2014-2016+: Cherokee KL—Back to the Trail
An all-new platform debuted in 2014, and the Cherokee trademark was resurrected for it. Typical of the era, it was an IFS rig primarily driven from a front transaxle. The Trailhawk is the most trailworthy model, with the Active Drive II four-wheel drive system (two-speed PTU) with a locking rear diff, special lower body cladding that increases the approach and departure angle, an inch of extra ride height, fender flares to keep the 245/65R17 Firestone Destination tires under cover, skidplates, and tow hooks.
The Cherokee KL is a stylish mid-sized SUV that more or less fills the hole the KK Liberty left behind. It was announced in February 2013 as being less expensive than the KK Liberty but with more features and technology. Four levels were offered, Sport, Latitude, Limited and Trailhawk. In 2016, the line expanded to include an Overland. Base engine was a 2.4L 16-valve "Tigershark" four backed up by a nine-speed automatic. A 3.2L Pentastar V-6 was the option. The four-wheel-drive systems included Active-Drive 1, a sophisticated all-wheel drive, electronically controlled single-speed PTU; Active-Drive II, a two-speed PTU (2.92:1 low-range) with electronic hill descent control; Active-Drive Lock with all that and an electronically controlled locking rear diff; and the Selec-Terrain system was offered with all systems and had five terrain modes.
The Trailhawk is of special interest because of its standard off-road oriented equipment. Front to back, that started with the optional Active-Drive Lock, Selec-Terrain, bigger tires, modified body cladding to enhance trail angles, and a slight lift. The 2.4L Trailhawk had 4.08:1 axle ratios. Trail performance is at the top of the market class. Special KL models to date include the ’14-’16 Altitude and ’16 75th Anniversary.
2015-2016+: Renegade BU- World Jeep
Debuting as a 2015 model, the BU Renegade was Jeep's first small SUV. Sharing a platform with the Fiat 500, the Trailhawk variant was the only version that was Trail Rated. The standard nine-speed automatic was coupled with Jeep's Active Drive Low and Selec-Terrain that offers a 20:1 crawl ratio with the Selec-Terrain switch in "Rock" and the “Low” button engaged. The system doesn't have a "low range," but the 4.71:1 transmission first gear remains engaged longer, offering the low-end grunt needed for low-speed terrain. The Trailhawk had the 2.4L Tigershark engine but used the same lower 4.33:1 axle ratio of the smaller 1.4L engine versus the standard 3.77:1 ratio. Electronic traction control using the ABS system added some limited-slip traction capability. Skidplates were standard, and the Trailhawk got different cladding to improve approach and departure angles. Front and rear tow hooks were included.
The leadership in all Jeep eras had grand designs on world markets. In the early days, the strength of the U.S. dollar tended to put the kibosh on those plans because of North America-only plants, but when overseas plants were built, it opened the door to more markets. Fiat's position of manufacturing on several continents allows the Jeep Renegade to be very much a world market contender. The U.S. models are currently built in Italy on a platform generally shared with the Fiat 500 X and L, although the Fiats don't have the sophisticated four-wheel-drive systems. The BU is a compact SUV that only a few years earlier would have been called a sub-compact. It's offered in Sport, Latitude, Limited, and Trail Rated Trailhawk configurations. A unique option is the My Sky roof with removable panels. The only special model thus far is the 75th Anniversary in 2016.
The base engine in the Sport and Latitude is a 1.4L turbocharged four and the 2.4L Tigershark is optional. Standard for the 1.4L turbo is a six-speed manual, and the nine-speed automatic comes with the 2.4L engine. Jeep-developed four-wheel-drive systems similar to the KL Cherokee are offered. Active-Drive single speed and Active-Drive Low (with a low-range) and Selec-Terrain are offered. EPA ratings are near 30 mpg for both engines.
Only FCA knows for sure what’s ahead for Jeep, and they’re not talking—yet. We’ll be the first to let you know when they do. The company is taking Jeep down new roads all over the world. A new Wrangler is on tap for the near future and insiders tell us not to worry. A Grand Wagoneer variant and a Wrangler pickup have been officially mentioned for near future presentation, and we are due for the next generation of Grand Cherokee. Jeep has survived 75 years supplying a strong market with class-leading products. Don't look for that to change anytime soon.