Jeep JK Wrangler vs. JK Wrangler Unlimited


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Ever since the introduction of the Wrangler, the tough little Jeep has been exceedingly popular with owners all over the world, for its off-road ability, practicality and its wholesome All-American vibe. The introduction of the 4-door (4dr) Unlimited in 2007 only added to the versatility already offered by the standard short-wheel-base, 2-door (2dr) Wrangler.

Given the architecture is very clearly shared, the Wrangler Unlimited offers a number of visible and invisible differences over the standard JK Wrangler. We will go through these, and weigh up the pros and cons, to help you decide which Wrangler is the right Wrangler for you.

The JK Wrangler Unlimited History

A long-wheel-base (LWB) Jeep Wrangler isn’t without precedence; the JK’s predecessor (TJ) had a stretched wheelbase option in 2004 which used the Unlimited nomenclature for the first time. However, it was still only a two-door and the added length only amounted to 10 inches.

With the clean-sheet design of the 2006 JK Wrangler, a 20.6-inch longer 116-inch wheelbase four-door model was planned alongside the standard two-door right from the outset, and released a year later in 2007. The Unlimited had the unique distinction of being the only four-door convertible on sale, but its market introduction was a long time coming; the JK Wrangler was the last two-door SUV to gain a four-door option.

Its popularity surprised even Jeep; nowadays the 4dr Unlimited accounts for 75% of all Wrangler sales, highlighting how the more practical car offers greater appeal to customers all over the world. While there will always be a place for the sportier 2dr, especially in off-road performance and for the die-hard Jeep fan, the disadvantages of the longer and heavier Unlimited are quickly forgiven when its numerous advantages are considered.

The JK Wrangler vs. Wrangler Unlimited: Powertrain

By and large, the JK and JKU share the same engine and transmission options around the world; gasoline 6 cylinders or a 2.8L turbo-diesel, with either a 6sp manual or 5sp automatic. The single-biggest difference was in the early years of the JK model cycle when the 4dr Unlimited was also offered as a 4×2. This saved a lot of weight and complexity, along with price. Unsurprisingly, it wasn’t a hugely popular option and was discontinued after 2010.

It is worth mentioning that flat-towing, popular for those who travel in an RV and involves towing a vehicle on all four wheels, isn’t a simple process with the 4×2. It requires disconnecting the tailshaft and is much more complicated and laborious than the process to follow for towing with the 4×4.

The JK Wrangler vs. Wrangler Unlimited: The Exterior

Aesthetically the JK and JKU are more or less the same, such that most of the body panels are interchangeable, save for the rear doors and trim pieces relating to the longer wheelbase. Some prefer the more traditional, sporty look of the 2dr but the longer Unlimited certainly carries with it greater road presence, especially with all the panels in place and the hardtop.

The Unlimited isn’t really a big car in any case, with an overall length 8 inches shorter than a Camry. The 2dr Wrangler is a similar length and width to a hatchback like a Golf, by comparison. The benefits of a small footprint are obvious off-road.

The major exterior changes (apart from the rear doors) are under the skin, with unique floor pressings and different designs to accommodate the various changes for the Unlimited.

The longer JKU carries a reasonable weight penalty, generally about 200lbs more than the corresponding 2dr model.

The JK Wrangler vs. Wrangler Unlimited: Pick-up Conversions

Before the release of the Jeep Gladiator, both MOPAR and American Expedition Vehicles (AEV) offered pick-up versions of the LWB Wrangler Unlimited. The 2dr was never considered due to its shorter wheelbase. MOPAR’s JK-8 Independence conversion turned the Unlimited into a two-seater, whereas the AEV pick-up conversion is a dual-cab and still retains seating for 5. It has a stretched wheelbase of 139 inches, increasing overall length to 216 inches.

The JK Wrangler vs. Wrangler Unlimited: The Interior

The few advantages the 2dr JK Wrangler has over the Unlimited stop more or less at the fully-removable rear seat. In almost every other way, the longer 4dr is the more practical vehicle. Offering seating for 5 instead of 4, the rear passengers will be thankful for not needing to be contortionists just to get in the back. Once there, the increase in legroom will be appreciated, as well as the slightly wider seat.

There are a number of companies supplying kits to add a third row seating option for the JKU. Either forward or reverse-facing, they add even more versatility to the LWB Wrangler.

The cargo capacity of the JKU is much more than double that of the 2dr with the seats up, though with the seats down the difference isn’t so great. Unfortunately the rear seats in the Unlimited aren’t as easily removable as they are in the 2dr (they are bolted in place), but most owners will be happy with the available space regardless.

Up front the experience is virtually identical regardless of the wheelbase. Drivers say the 2dr is easier to reverse and offers better rear vision, but out in front everything is the same.

The JK Wrangler vs. Wrangler Unlimited: Driving

Jeep wrangler JKU

Most articles written about the JK 2dr and the 4dr Unlimited counterpart focus on the raw numbers and, while these are important to potential buyers, ultimately you have to drive these cars frequently and how they feel is more important. Where and how you drive them makes a difference to the overall ownership experience and if it is enjoyable or not.

On-road

The driving characteristics of the JK and JKU are really differentiated by the wheelbase length, and to a lesser extent the weight difference. The longer Unlimited is a more stable vehicle on the road thanks to that longer wheelbase; it is less upset by crosswinds and surface irregularities, especially at faster highway speeds. Its heavier weight keeps it better planted on the road, and overall helps make Unlimited the more comfortable commuter.

It isn’t all bad for the shorter 2dr; it is more agile around corners by comparison, but many will not appreciate the benefit in this type of vehicle. With less weight to lug around, it also out-accelerates and out-brakes the Unlimited, which is clear when you realise they share the same powertrain and braking components.

That shorter wheelbase does however make the center of gravity higher which means at higher speeds the 2dr can sway about noticeably more. Commuting around town and parking in the 2dr is a little bit easier thanks to its smaller size but it’s worth remembering the longer Unlimited still isn’t a massive vehicle either.

Off-road

The shorter wheelbase of the JK 2dr has many benefits best seen off-road; the tighter turning diameter makes trail accessibility easier and, while ramp angles front and rear are largely the same regardless of wheelbase, the 2dr has a much better breakover angle so it is less likely to drag its belly going over ridges. This is an important consideration but to overcome this deficiency most owners will simply modify their Unlimited’s suspension or add a lift kit.

The Unlimited offers more stability when traversing steep slopes along with a slightly lower center-of-gravity than the shorter 2dr. It makes extreme off-roading a slightly calmer experience, even if the JKU can’t quite as easily go wheeling as the shorter JK 2dr.

The JK Wrangler vs. Wrangler Unlimited: Touring

It is fair to say that the JKU is the superior touring vehicle; it offers a 4 gallon larger fuel tank and better towing ability. While the SWB has the same 3500lbs gross towing weight as the Unlimited (depending on the powertrain), the longer wheelbase makes heavy towing safer and more stable (in some overseas markets the 2dr is limited to just 2000lbs, so the Unlimited can legally tow nearly double in some countries).

Interior space is essential for road tripping which makes the 4dr, combined with the points mentioned, the clear must-have. The practicality of a removable rear seat as standard with the 2dr isn’t necessary or needed for most Unlimited owners.

The JK Wrangler vs. Wrangler Unlimited: Spare parts

Most of the parts between the Wrangler and Wrangler Unlimited are interchangeable. The Unlimited’s parts differ due to the stretched wheelbase, so as mentioned the floor pressings and some chassis components are changed, along with stiffer rear springs to better handle the extra weight of the JKU’s rear, a longer tailshaft, exhaust pipe, and brake lines.

The seats are different as well; the front seat covers are the same but the seat frames and seat mounts are different. The JK 2dr front seats tilt and fold forward to allow passengers to climb into the rear, while the Unlimited’s front seats simply slide conventionally. The foldable and removable rear seat in the 2dr is a completely different design from the Unlimited’s 60:40 split-fold larger item.

There are numerous aftermarket roofing options these days for the JK Wrangler and, while they are similar, the longer roofing area of the Unlimited is different from the 2dr.

ModelJK Wrangler 2drJK Wrangler Unlimited 4dr
Drive type4×44×2 or 4×4
Exterior Dimensions (in “)
Length164.3184.9
Width73.773.9
Height70.9 (72.4 Rubicon)70.9 (72.2 Rubicon)
Wheelbase95.4116
Curb Weight (lbs)3760-41323864-4521
Interior (in “)
Seating Capacity45
Front seat styleSlide and tiltSlide
Front head room42.642.6
Front shoulder room55.755.7
Front hip room53.953.9
Front leg room41.241.2
Rear seat styleSingle-piece removable60:40 split fold
Rear head room41.741.7
Rear shoulder room4556
Rear hip room4556
Rear leg room35.637.2
Interior Volume (cu.ft)
Luggage Capacity (seats up)12.831.5
Luggage Capacity (seats down)5570.6
Additional Weights and Capacities
Fuel Capacity (US gal./L)18.6/7022.5/85
Max. Towing Capacity (lbs)2000-35002000-3500
Max. Towing Tongue Download (lbs)200-350200-350
Driving
Turning Diameter (curb to curb)35ft42ft
Approach Angle (deg.)3535
Break-over Angle2218
Departure Angle2828
Wading Depth (mm)760760
Ground clearance (in)8.8-10.2 (242)8.7-10.1 (238-242)

The JK Wrangler vs. Wrangler Unlimited: Conclusion

Almost invariably, potential owners will have decided early on whether or not they want the SWB Wrangler 2dr or 4dr Unlimited. If being used as an off-road toy or a second car, the 2dr Wrangler will make a fine purchase, and its greater off-road ability may well make up for its practicality flaws.

For most people, the longer Wrangler Unlimited will be the better purchase, especially for families. More luggage space, more comfortable rear seating, and better touring potential all add up to make the Unlimited arguably the more rational choice for potential owners. It’s not a putdown on the 2dr, but its small size has shortcomings that impact ownership more often on a daily basis. The Wrangler Unlimited really does offer almost unlimited flexibility.

See Also:
3 Best 2.5-Inch Lift Kits for the JK Unlimited
Does a Jeep Wrangler Need Snow Chains?
9 Best Tow Bars for Jeep Wranglers
4 Best Snow Chains for Jeep Wranglers

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