The Jeep Wrangler Unlimited LJ is the stretched two-door TJ you forgot existed

The modern Jeep Wrangler Unlimited has become an extremely popular choice for off-road fans who need their rig to double as a daily driver. With four-door practicality embedded in the same tough, go-anywhere platform as the standard Wrangler, the Unlimited has vastly expanded Jeep’s customer base and helped further cement the 4×4’s iconic status.

What most current Wrangler fans may not be aware of is that for a brief period the Unlimited brand wasn’t associated with four-door fun at all. From 2004 to 2006, the Jeep TJ Unlimited—also known as the “LJ”—offered buyers the option of a long-wheelbase design, stretched across the same two-door canvas as the base Wrangler. Despite just 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 key advantages over its short TJ sibling.

Scroll back through time

The idea of ​​a long wheelbase Jeep was not new. The most famous ancestor of the Wrangler Unlimited LJ was the CJ-8 Scrambler, a model that in the early ’80s added another 12 inches or so to the wheelbase of the regular CJ-7. Instead of increasing passenger space, however, the extra length was used for cargo, creating a mini-pickup out of the Scrambler’s rear.

Jeep Unlimited LJ in red with open roof

Even buyers who didn’t need a pickup version of the CJ appreciated the smoother handling provided by the stretched platform, which was more stable and less bouncy over rough pavement.

Jeep Unlimited LJ on Nitto's rock climb

The Jeep TJ Unlimited welded in 10 inches of space between the front and rear axles, while extending the vehicle’s overall length by 15 full inches. Thanks to clever packaging, that translated to a little more than a foot of storage space behind the backseat (roughly double what the base Wrangler had to offer), as well as a two-inch bonus for anyone riding in the second row.

Jeep Unlimited LJ extra cargo space

Although the LJ (short for “Long Jeep”) retained its two-door body style, like the Scrambler, the extra space made it significantly easier to access the rear of the SUV, further improving its utility.

Jeep Unlimited LJ silver against mountain background

Finally, there was a version of the Wrangler that could realistically accommodate a family—or at least help a potential buyer justify the purchase despite the presence of small children in their lives. Filling the back with passengers no longer meant sacrificing usable cargo space, and kids could grow into the LJ’s cabin as long as they didn’t mind climbing in behind a reclining front seat. It wasn’t a perfect commuter, but it was light years ahead of the TJ’s relatively small two-door footprint.

Smoother sailing, same track toughness

Like the CJ-8, the longer step on the LJ Unlimited dampened some of the shakes the Jeep TJ was known for when driven fast over broken pavement. It also provided added stability during high-speed cornering and improved the towing capacity of the sport utility, checking in at 3,500 lbs (a 1,500-pound increase over the regular Wrangler).

Jeep Unlimited LJ 4.0L engine

The LJ retained the same 4.0L inline six-cylinder engine and choice of a 4-speed automatic or 6-speed manual transmission.

Jeep Unlimited LJ close-up rock climbing

Most importantly, the LJ’s longer stance wasn’t a liability compared to the standard TJ Terrain, where it remained competitive everywhere except the departure angle (and also weighed in at only 200 extra pounds). Expand that scope to include the JK-generation Unlimited that replaced it in 2007, and its four-door successor is huge by comparison: 350 pounds heavier, with 13 inches of extra wheelbase and significantly wider. The 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.

Jeep Unlimited LJ close-up on Nitto's front axle photo

When the Jeep Wrangler TJ Unlimited was equipped with a lift and larger tires, it offered a more balanced center of gravity appreciated by serious four-wheelers. Hill-climbing grip is also improved by the longer wheelbase compared to the regular TJ, but the extra bulk of the four-door JK Unlimited makes it difficult to squeeze down tight trails. Throw in the fact that the long Jeep was available with a standard Dana 44 rear axle, as well as a Rubicon trim with a pair of locking Dana 44s and 4:1 low-range shifting for maximum rock crawling, and the LJ was a formidable total package.

A hidden gem

Today, the LJ is a jewel among Jeep lovers. Prized by those looking for a Wrangler they can drive every day with an extra degree of comfort that the short wheelbase TJ can’t provide, as well as die-hard fans looking for a solid foundation for an off-road build, the first Unlimited has seen its value pushing past even the usually rugged standards of the Wrangler.

Jeep Unlimited LJ in the forest in red

Available with either a soft top or hard top, the Jeep Wrangler TJ Unlimited is a year-round capable, family-friendly modern classic that more than holds its own when put to the test on the track.

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