The modern Jeep Wrangler Unlimited has become an extremely popular choice for off-road fans who need their rig to function as a daily driver. With four-door practical features embedded in the same tough, go anywhere platform as the standard Wrangler, Unlimited has expanded Jeep’s customer base enormously and helped cement the 4×4’s iconic status further.
What most current Wrangler fans may not be aware of is that for a short period of time, the Unlimited brand was not at all associated with four-door fun. From 2004 to 2006, Jeep TJ Unlimited – also known as “LJ” – gave buyers the opportunity for a design with long wheelbase, stretched over the same two-door canvas as the base Wrangler. Despite only a two-year reign, the Jeep Wrangler LJ has become a highly sought-after member of the brand’s off-road family, and one that offers a number of important advantages over its short TJ siblings.
Scroll back through time
The idea of a jeep with a long wheelbase was not new. The most famous ancestor of the Wrangler Unlimited LJ was the CJ-8 Scrambler, a model that in the early 80’s added another 12 inches or so to the wheelbase of the regular CJ-7. Instead of increasing the passenger space, however, the extra length was used for cargo, which created a mini-pickup from Scrambler’s rear parts.
Even buyers who did not need a pickup version of the CJ appreciated the smoother handling provided by the stretched platform, which was more stable and less bouncing over rough pavement.
The Jeep TJ Unlimited was welded in a 10-inch space between the front and rear axles, while at the same time extending the overall length of the vehicle by 15 full inches. Thanks to smart packaging, it translated into a little more than a foot of storage space behind the back seat (about twice as much as the base Wrangler had to offer), as well as a two-inch bonus for anyone who went on the second row.
Although the LJ (short for ‘Long Jeep’) retained its two-door body style, like the Scrambler, the extra space made it considerably easier to access the rear of the SUV, further enhancing its usability.
Finally, there was a version of the Wrangler that could realistically receive a family – or at least help a potential buyer to justify the purchase despite the presence of young children in their lives. Filling the rear with passengers no longer meant sacrificing useful cargo space, and the children could grow into LJ’s cabin as long as they did not mind climbing behind a sloping front seat. It was not a perfect commuter, but it was light years before TJ’s relatively small two-door footprint.
Softer sailing, same trace toughness
Like the CJ-8, the longer step on the LJ Unlimited dampened some of the shaking that the Jeep TJ was known for when it was driven quickly over broken sidewalks. It also provided extra stability while cornering at high speeds and improved the towing capacity of the sports tool, checking in at 3,500 lbs (a £ 1,500 increase over the standard Wrangler).
LJ maintained the same 4.0L inline six-cylinder engine and a choice between a 4-speed automatic or 6-speed manual transmission.
Most importantly, LJ’s longer stance was not a responsibility compared to standard TJ terrain, where it remained competitive everywhere except the departure angle (and also weighed in at just £ 200 extra). Extending that scope to include the JK generation Unlimited that replaced it in 2007, and its four-door successor is huge in comparison: 350 pounds heavier, with 13 inches of extra wheelbase and significantly wider. LJ was also significantly shorter than contemporaries like the Toyota FJ Cruiser, which boasted more than a foot of extra length compared to the Jeep.
Equipped with a lift and larger tires, the Jeep Wrangler TJ Unlimited offered a more balanced center of gravity appreciated by serious quad bikes. Climbing the hill is also improved by the longer wheelbase compared to the regular TJ, but the extra bump of the four-door JK Unlimited makes it difficult to squeeze down narrow paths. Throw in the fact that the long jeep was available with a standard Dana 44 axle at the rear, as well as a Rubicon trim with a pair of locking Dana 44s and 4: 1 low-range gear for maximum rock crawling, and the LJ was a formidable overall package.
A hidden gem
Today, LJ is a jewel among Jeep lovers. Praised by those looking for a Wrangler that they can drive every day with an extra degree of comfort that the short-shoulder base TJ can not provide, as well as by hardcore fans looking for a solid foundation for a terrain construction, the first Unlimited has seen its values even surpasses the usually robust standards of the Wrangler.
The Jeep Wrangler TJ Unlimited is available with either a soft top or a hard top, and is a year-round capable, family-friendly modern classic that can more than hold itself when put to the test on the track.