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Autotrader’s 20th Anniversary: Jeep Wrangler

To commemorate’s 20th Anniversary, we’ve compiled a list of the top 10 most-searched new cars on the site and compared the current versions to their 20-year-old former selves. While sedans used to be the go-to car for most of the buying public, the most popular vehicles of 2017 include only two high-performance coupes, with not a single sedan or hatchback making the cut. Times have changed.

Number 3: Jeep Wrangler

The Jeep Wrangler has been an American automotive icon from almost the day it was conceived. This simple yet rugged design offers legendary Jeep off-road ability with unique features such as a removable top, full or half doors and a folding windshield. The Jeep’s off-road abilities come standard on even the most basic model, as does a powerful 3.6-liter V6 engine, yet the Wrangler’s starting price isn’t much more than those of most compact crossover SUVs. With the power to tow more weight than a Subaru Outback, Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4, the Wrangler holds strong appeal to outdoor adventurers looking to pull a boat or trailer. Yet in 4-door form (known as the Wrangler Unlimited), the midsize Jeep is surprisingly accommodating. And yes, we said a 4-door Wrangler. The SUV craze has had an impact on even the most iconic of vehicles. Every other 2-door SUV has since been killed off.

Because Jeep believes there’s a Wrangler for every type of person on the road, the company offers an insane number of trims and options. The full range includes the base Sport, Sport S, Willys Wheeler, Big Bear, Freedom, Willys Wheeler W, Sahara, Rubicon, Smokey Mountain, Chief, Winter, Rubicon Hard Rock, Rubicon Recon and 75th Anniversary. In truth, these are really just trim levels, but it does show just how much variety Jeep shoppers are looking for. Buyers can choose a 3-piece hard top with removable roof panels, or a full soft top with a sliding feature above the front seats. Although the Wrangler’s interior and audio choices are not designed for luxury, they still offer most features people want in a Jeep. Seat comfort is good, the ride acceptable (the best it’s ever been) and fuel-economy is on par with most midsize trucks and SUVs.

Beyond all the cool features and numerous aftermarket add-ons, the Wrangler comes with something no other brand offers: the unique sense of community shared between Wrangler owners. Once you experience life in a Wrangler, you may never go back to an ordinary car.

The 1997 Jeep Wrangler

1997 saw a number of firsts. Scientists in Scotland successfully cloned a sheep they named Dolly, the Simpsons officially became the longest-running prime time animated series, and the film “Titanic” shattered box-office records. Also new in 1997 was the Jeep Wrangler TJ. Although it shared the same basic dimensions as the previous YJ model, the TJ was significantly better in every way. Its styling featured a return to the traditional round headlights, and its suspension moved from front leaf springs to a coil spring setup borrowed from the Grand Cherokee. Interior upgrades included a more modern dash design, improved seat comfort and front airbags. The engine lineup remained a choice between a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder or 4.0-liter inline 6-cylinder. Because the TJ isn’t as wide or long as the current Wrangler, it remains one of the most sought after models among used Wrangler shoppers.

Other Notable Accomplishments at Jeep/Chrysler in 1997

1997 saw the Jeep Cherokee receive a major overhaul, with updated styling inside and out, but some fans complained the rugged good looks of the original had been watered down. The Cherokee gained a more comfortable set of front seats and front airbags, but it retained its 4.0-liter inline 6-cylinder engine, as well as 2- and 4-door body styles. Parent company Chrysler launched the midsize Dodge Durango, its first foray into the 7-passenger SUV market. The Durango was smaller than a Chevy Tahoe but larger than a Toyota 4Runner. Its styling was based on the popular Dodge Dakota pickup of the day, and it offered an optional V8, something no other midsize rival could match.

Read more about the 10 most-searched new cars on Autotrader:

#1: Ford F-Series
#2: Chevrolet Silverado/GMC Sierra
#3: Jeep Wrangler
#4: RAM 1500/2500
#5: Chevrolet Camaro
#6: Toyota Tacoma
#7: Ford Mustang
#8: Jeep Grand Cherokee
#9: Chevrolet Tahoe
#10: Toyota Tundra


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Joe Tralongo
Joe Tralongo
Joe Tralongo is a longtime contributor who started in the industry writing competitive comparison books for a number of manufacturers, before moving on in 2002 to become a freelance automotive journalist. He’s well regarded for his keen eye for detail, as well as his ability to translate complex mechanical terminology into user-friendly explanations. Joe has worked for a number of outlets as... Read More about Joe Tralongo

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