Problem Solved - Pros and cons of the new JK Wrangler
If you hate the JK it's probably because you've spent a good chunk of change on your TJ and a little too much time on opinionated and uninformed message boards. However, the real issue with this is the fact that you haven't been behind the wheel. The new Wrangler is more capable off-road, more comfortable on- and off-road, and it's less expensive than the previous model. After having driven the new Wrangler over a good portion of the Rubicon Trail, as well as through some mountain roads, we have a pretty good idea of what it can and can't do. Here are some of the common complaints of the JK and the reality of each gripe.
Complaint: It's too big.
Reality: Overall, the JK is just over 5 inches wider than the TJ. That's only 2 1/2 inches (or about the thickness of your hand) on each side. We have yet to see a trail where this increase would stop you. If so, fold in the mirrors and let the flexible flares absorb some trail. If tight trails are in your future, get the two-door. Wanna comfortably bring your friends and family on reasonably difficult trails, get the four-door
Complaint: The plastic bumpers are stupid and weak.
Reality: So are the TJ's. How many TJs are still hitting the trails or even the streets with the factory bumpers? Swap 'em out.
Complaint: The minivan 3.8L V-6 sucks.
Reality: The new V-6 makes its power at a slightly higher rpm than the retired 4.0L inline. Typically, you'll find that you'll drive the new engine about 750 rpm higher than the old one when on the highway. The 4.0L was a great engine, but even it has its downfalls with problems, such as cracked exhaust manifolds and a lean condition at wide-open throttle. The V-6 will still start in low-range First gear and idle up a hill. In our opinion, the 4:1 gearing in the Rubicon transfer case suits the V-6 better than the torquey inline. In the sand and mud, the higher-revving V-6 also seems to have an advantage.
Complaint: The new electric lockers suck.
Reality: The JK axlehousings, shafts, and gears are all stronger than the TJ's. It's true, when disengaged the rear JK Rubicon locker is open whereas the TJ's is a limited slip. But we'll take the strength and durability over the limited slip any day.
Complaint: The plastic front fenders suck.
Reality: When you bang 'em up they will be cheaper to replace than the TJ's painted steel parts. Also, the JK fender is more likely to tear off than to cause collateral damage to the grille, tub, and internal structure like the TJs fenders. Interestingly, the JK is the first Jeep introduced where we were told by the marketing and design team that 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. The JK could be a natural for tube fenders anyway.
Complaint: The JK CV driveshafts are garbage.
Reality: With any amount of lift it is likely that the front and rear JK driveshafts will need to be replaced with U-jointed units, even on the Rubicon models. However, all 4x4 JKs will have fixed yokes front and rear. Changing out the driveshafts on the JK will cost about as much as the slip-yoke eliminator kit (not including labor) and a rear CV driveshaft needed to properly lift some TJs.
Complaint: The mid-ship-mounted fuel tank won't allow a long-arm lift kit.
Reality: You won't need an aftermarket long-arm lift kit. The JK comes with up to 32-inch tires from the factory (Sahara and Rubicon models). Fitting 35s should only require 2-3 inches of lift. This will keep the suspension geometry in check without the complexity or expense of a long-arm lift kit.
Complaint: The anti-skid Electronic Stability Program (ESP) will interfere with my driving habits.
Reality: It can be disabled with the push of a button. With the ESP activated the JK will handle light years better than the TJ on snow, ice, and slick road surfaces, even if the TJ in question has the Rubicon's limited-slip rear differential.
Complaint: I'm stupid. My TJ is stillbetter.
Reality: The '07 Wrangler and Wrangler Unlimited feature reduced prices throughout the lineup by an average of $1,200 while adding an average of $1,800 in content when compared to the outgoing '06 models. You get more of a better Jeep for less money. If you prefer the appearance of your '06-and-earlier Wrangler that's one thing, but better a TJ is not.
14 Notes From Behind the Wheel
1. The slightly larger overall size of the two-door was hardly noticeable on the trail.
2. The JKs electronically controlled throttle works perfect without hesitation or scary throttle tip-in launches like in the Hemi Grand.
3. The push-button sway-bar disconnect on the Rubicon model is brilliant. It helps provide more suspension articulation and a smoother ride off-road. Why didn't we get this option sooner?
4. Simple heavy-duty versions of the existing skidplates would be welcomed for rougher wheeling. Aftermarket, get to work!
5. We love the stiffer chassis, and the suspension on the new JK is awesome. Don't ruin it by installing a slap-together lift kit. Aftermarket, get to work!
6. The new Jeep-only (for now) version of the BFG mud terrain on the JK Rubicon grips better than the old BFG muds and better than the Goodyear MT/Rs on the '06-and-earlier Rubicons. We really like these tires and can only hope BFG will offer them in more sizes.
7. There is less gear clash and slop than previous models with 4:1 transfer cases. The JK drivetrain is tighter than the TJ overall.
8. The locker and sway-bar disconnect buttons are somewhat awkwardly placed in the dash. They are a little low and hard to see and reach while maneuvering in the boulder patch. It would be nice if these controls were on the steering wheel.
9. We love the gauge cluster.
10. The transfer case has a real shifter and shifts much more smoothly and easier than previous models.
11. These are the best factory rocker guards Jeep has ever built (Rubicon only). Still wish they had some sort of hoop for even more protection.
12. The three-piece modular hardtop is a way-cool option.
13. The six-speed manual tranny shifter feels a little loose and sloppy. A short-throw shifter might be nice.
14. We'd like to see an aftermarket exhaust (after-cat system) to add some rumble to the 3.8L V-6. It's a little too quiet.