The Jeep Wrangler is an American icon, and buying one opens you up to a world of top-down, doors-off adventure. This isn’t news to anyone, though, and as a result, Wranglers hold their value quite well, as they’re always in demand. Luckily, you can get a lot of Wrangler for $40,000, and there are two specific routes buyers can take with this budget. Below we’ll explore both avenues.
An all-new Wrangler, known by the model code "JL," was introduced for 2018, and it’s quite good. Prior to the JL though was the "JK," which was sold from the 2007 to the 2018 model year (the JK was built alongside the JL for 2018). While older and somewhat primitive, a used JK can provide buyers with some great features at the $40,000 price point. As a result of this, we recommend buyers go one of two routes. If you’re looking for the nicest Wrangler you can find, but you don’t require hardcore off-road features, opt for a brand-new 2018 Wrangler JL Unlimited Sport S, which has a base price of $36,140 and can be optioned with some great features while still coming in right around the $40,000 mark.
If you’re buying your Wrangler for heavy-duty off-road use, look for a previous-generation Wrangler JK Rubicon, which will offer all the best off-road features available on the market, like locking front and rear differentials, off-road suspension, disconnecting sway bars, rock sliders and an off-road-oriented 4×4 system. Note, though, that a JK model lacks the refinement of the new JL and that Jeep-y things like removing the doors, putting the top down and even lowering the windshield are far more complex and time consuming in a JK than they are in a JL.
As the Wrangler’s engine offerings were modernized in 2012 with the introduction of the standard 3.6-liter V6 still offered on JL models today, we recommend limiting your search to 2012 and newer models, but as Jeep updated the Wrangler JK a few more times after 2012, looking for the newest JK Rubicon model you can afford is a safe bet.
The JL Wrangler Sport S comes standard with a 3.6-liter V6 engine making 285 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. This can be combined with either a 6-speed manual or, for a $2,000 premium, an 8-speed automatic transmission. Optional on the JL is a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder making 270 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. This more modern powerplant offers marginally better power and fuel economy and comes at a $1,000 premium. Ultimately, we recommend opting for the more practical automatic but sticking with the standard V6, as this leaves room to add options while still staying under the $40,000 mark.
As far as a used JK Rubicon goes, all examples starting with the 2012 model year will be fitted with the 3.6-liter V6 and either a 5-speed automatic or a 6-speed manual transmission.
While playing with the online configurator for the 2018 Wrangler JL will show you all of the different options you have for staying under the $40,000 mark, we can’t help but recommend the more practical 4-door Unlimited model in the Sport S trim level and equipped with the 3.6-liter V6 and 8-speed automatic. From here, buyers can opt for the Technology Package that adds the 7.0-in touchscreen infotainment system running Chrysler’s excellent UConnect system and complete with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, along with the Cold Weather package, which adds heated front seats and a heated steering wheel. These two packages put the Wrangler right at the magic $40,000 mark and make for a very compelling overall package.
As far as a used Wrangler Rubicon goes, an Unlimited model equipped with the automatic transmission will still offer the most practicality, but in the case of an off-road vehicle like the Rubicon, some may prefer a 2-door model with a manual transmission for better maneuverability off-road. Nonetheless, the price disparities here won’t be quite as large as they are on a new model, so it shouldn’t be hard to find a loaded JK Rubicon model in any of these configurations for under $40,000. At this price point, buyers can expect to find a JK Rubicon with fewer than 15,000 miles on the odometer, and there are currently close to 900 such examples listed on Autotrader.
Another note — taking the used route allows buyers to look for a Wrangler that is already modified to their liking, which presents considerable savings with regard to time and money.
When looking for a Jeep Wrangler for $40,000, buyers should first ask themselves whether they prefer newness or optimal off-road ability, while remembering that the all-new Wrangler JL is a great vehicle and is far more livable day-to-day than the outgoing JK model. Ultimately, though, your answer to this question will tell you which route is right for you. Opt for new and you can still get a very comfortably optioned 4-door automatic-transmission-equipped Wrangler with Chrysler’s top-of-the-line infotainment system along with heated seats and a heated steering wheel. On the other hand, taking the used route brings the off-road behemoth that is the Rubicon into the picture, although at the cost of having to settle for the rough-around-the-edges outgoing JK model
Given the innate off-road readiness of any Wrangler JL, we can’t help but feel that an all-new 2018 Wrangler JL is the better way to spend $40,000.