1996 Jeep Wrangler TJ: Full Review

Jeep Off-Road 4x4 in the Desert

The 1996 Jeep Wrangler is the go-to vehicle for anyone looking for a competent runabout. This quirky rock-crawler may not be the smoothest ride and may not have all the luxury amenities more picky riders and families want, but it is guaranteed to cruise you out of snowbanks during winter. Heck, it can even run over zombies on doomsday! It’s a fantastic summer ride and one to thrill the adventure seeker. Even Hagerty Media believes that it is “the only model that matters and clearly the cornerstone of the Jeep brand.” But is it? Read on to know more.

The 1996 Jeep Wrangler TJ is considered the blue jeans of vehicles. Everyone loves its toy-like qualities, good motor and driveline, convertible roof, big wheels, and square-jawed iconic looks. Its rugged appeal takes you down memory lane and is reminiscent of a scene from Jurassic Park.

Indeed, this tank is a technological leap with its four-link coil-sprung suspension and other off-road-centric goodies. But that’s not all. In this article, we’ll look at the 1996 Jeep Wrangler’s history, trim packages, and booming ten-year run. Whether you’re a skeptic, an avid fan, or a Jeep savant, you will benefit from learning more about this awesome 4×4.

2nd Generation Wrangler

The 1996 Jeep Wrangler (TJ) is an off-road and sport utility vehicle that followed the Jeep Wrangler (YJ). Introduced in 1996 at the Detroit Auto Show following Michael Santoro’s design approval in late 1992, the TJ sported multilink coil-spring suspension, AMC Straight-4 engine, and trademark circular headlights. A right-hand-drive version was available for export markets and U.S. postal carriers (only available with an automatic transmission). It traded under other nameplates: Jeep TJL (Egypt) and Jeep Sahra (Iran), to name a few. Among all the Wranglers, the TJ probably has the most number of trim packages through the course of its production.

Dark Blue Jeep Wrangler TJ

2006 was the final year for the Jeep Wrangler TJ, where a lot of changes happened. First, two new distinct edition models paid tribute to the Wrangler heritage – a 65th Anniversary Edition and the Golden Eagle Edition. Second, the 4.0-liter Power-Tech Inline Six-Cylinder (I6) engine and NSG370 (manual) transmission became standard equipment on all Wrangler TJ models. Third, the 2006 North American International Auto Show in Detroit introduced the then all-new 2007 Jeep Wrangler (JK) and Jeep Wrangler Unlimited. During the same year, Automotive Industries Ltd. began delivery of the five-door M-242 Storm Mark II or Storm Commander to the Israel Defense Forces, manufactured under license from Chrysler.

1996 Jeep Wrangler TJ Specs & Features

  • Engine – A 2.5-liter AMC 150 Inline-4 engine was available on entry-level models until 2002 then changed to a 2.4-liter DOHC 4-cylinder engine in 2003. For the rest of its trim packages, the power mill is the same 4.0-liter AMC 242 Straight-6 used in both the Cherokee and Grand Cherokee. It contains a Bore x Stroke ratio of 98,4 x 86,7. The displacement is 3960 cubic centimeters, and the compression ratio is 8:7. Fuel capacity is 72 L (15.8 UK gallons or 19 US gallons).
  • Powertrain – It has a three-speed TorqueFlite 30RH/32RH automatic transmission that later changed to a 4-speed Ultradrive 42RLE automatic with overdrive (operated with a dash switch). It spews 177 PS (175 bhp – 130 kW) @ 4600 RPM with max torque at 296 Nm (218 lb. ft.) @ 3500 RPM. Combined city and urban fuel efficiency top out at 18 US mpg (22 UK mpg).
  • Tires – Stock tire sizes are 215/75 on 15-inch rims for both front and rear. Upgraded tire sizes may be similar or slightly larger than stock. Get a RAMPAGE PRODUCTS 76610 Rear Recovery Bumper with Swing Away Tire Mount (view on Amazon) for spare tire safekeeping.
  • Brakes – Braking system includes Vented Discs at the front and Drums at the rear.
  • Suspension – Instead of leaf springs, the 1996 Jeep Wrangler featured a modern front and rear coil-spring suspension, based off the Jeep Grand Cherokee, for better ride and handling. A Skyjacker (TJ250K-H) Suspension Lift Kit (view on Amazon) will work nicely with a 2.5-inch lift on your Wrangler.
  • Dimensions – The vehicle’s overall length is 151.2 inches, and the width is 68.3 inches. Its height is 70.2 inches; minimum ground clearance is 8.5 inches (215 mm); wheelbase is 93.4 in (standard) and 103.4 inches LWB. Recirculating ball-type steering makes the 16.73-foot turning radius possible. The TJ’s curb weight is 3,092–3,857 lbs. (1,403–1,750 kg).           
  • Exterior – Side door mirrors were black metal framed mirrors, changed to plastic molded ones in 2003. TJs returned to the classic round headlamps, had rectangular radio bezels, and a soundbar. The 1996 Jeep Wrangler interior seats were rounder while the rear seat had a less appealing bench configuration with lap belts.
Dark Green Jeep Wrangler TJ

Standard Trim Levels

  • SE (1997–2006): Models came with 2.5 L from 1996–2002, 2.4 L from 2003–2006, and the optional 4.0 L during its last year of production. Standard features included a sound system and speakers, vinyl seats, and removable rear bench seat. The 1996 Jeep Wrangler hard top mail carrier model included a Dana 44 rear axle, automatic transmission, right-hand-drive (RHD), and a flip-out front window for hassle-free mail delivery.
  • X (2002–2006): Models came with 4.0 L, but no Dana 44 rear axle option, a full-length center console, courtesy lights, an AM/FM stereo with a cassette player (later replaced with a CD player), and four speakers. Air conditioning was optional.
  • Sport (1997–2006): This had 4.0 L and Dana 35 rear axle, AM/FM stereo with cassette player, four speakers, and cloth seats. Dana 44 rear axle (can be upgraded with a Trac-Lok limited-slip differential case), 3.73 axle ratio, and 30″ wheel and tire group were optional.
  • 1996 Jeep Wrangler Sahara (1997–2004): This came with 4.0 L, wider body-colored fender flares, rocker sills, an optional 30-inch wheel and tire group, and full steel doors. Additional features include premium cloth seats, alloy wheels, and exclusive decals and trim.
  • Unlimited Sport Edition (2004-2006): The LJ has all the sport options but with a 10 inch (250 mm) longer wheelbase, two more inches of rear-seat legroom, and 13 inches more cargo storage. It had a 4.0-liter engine, Dana 44 rear limited-slip axle, and the Command-Trac NV231 transfer case. Towing capacity increased by 1,500 pounds compared to the 2000 pounds of the TJ.
  • 60th Anniversary Edition: 4,067 units of this 2001 model were almost similar to a Sahara except for the seats and unique 60th Anniversary Edition decals and floor mats. Features include a fog lamp and tow hook group, a CD player with a five-speaker sound system, and air conditioning. Color options were black or Silverstone metallic.
  • 65th Anniversary Edition: A derivative of the 60th edition, this came with exclusive 65th Anniversary Edition seats, trim, floor mats, and decals. It also had fog lamps, Sirius Satellite Radio, SunRider soft top, 30″ wheels with 15″ Alcoa aluminum wheels, high-pressure gas-charged shocks, and Dana 44 rear axle. Available colors were light khaki, dark khaki, black, bright silver, and Jeep Green.
  • Apex Edition (2002–2003): It came standard with 4.0 L, CD player with seven-speaker sound system, and exclusive hood decal and seats. Features included chrome-plated styled steel wheels and cognac-finished “Ultra-Hide” seats. Color options were silver, blue, or black.
  • Columbia Edition (2004): It had 4.0 L, fog lamps, graphite fender flares, and 15-inch painted aluminum wheels, two-tone seats with unique trim, logo, and Columbia Bugaboo parka. It came in black, bright silver, flame red, solar yellow, and patriot blue.
  • Freedom Edition (2003): Red, silver, blue and black options came with 4.0 L, full metal doors, fog lamp and tow hook group, body-colored fender flares, exclusive decals, chrome wheels, air conditioning, anti-theft system, and fold-and-tumble rear seat.
  • Golden Eagle (2006): This model came with the 4.0 L, 30″ wheel and tire, Dana 44 rear axle, hood, interior trim, seats, fender, and spare tire decals.
  • Rocky Mountain Edition (2003–2005): It had 4.0 L, Dana 44 rear axle (beginning in 2004), 15-inch Alcoa aluminum wheels and 30-inch tires, fog lamp and tow hook group, exclusive decals, fender flares, premium speakers with a subwoofer, unique cloth seats, interior trim, and Diamond plate rocker guards. Color options were black, silver, red, yellow, and blue.
  • The Wrangler Rubicon (2002): This featured Dana 44 axles with the Rock-Trac NV241 4:1 ratio transfer case, six-speed transmission, diamond plate rocker panels, 16-inch alloy wheels, and Goodyear MTR P245/75-R16 tires. New Venture Gear NV3550 five-speed manual transmission was standard from 2003. The optional automatic transmission, 42RLE four-speed, was available from 2003 to 2006. Trivia: The Rubicon Trail in the Sierra Nevada Mountains inspired this truck’s moniker.
  • Sahara Edition Unlimited Rubicon: This light khaki model rode on the success of the Paramount-released movie “Sahara” – only 1000 units were produced, offered either in manual or automatic. Features include a chrome grille, color-matched flares, optional dual khaki tops, Graphite Moab wheels, spare tire cover and decals, upgraded two-tone premium seats, taillight guards, and a numbered dash badge.
  • Tomb Raider Edition (2003): Over 1,000 of the Wrangler Rubicon “Tomb Raider” models promoted the film Lara Croft: Tomb Raider – The Cradle of Life. Exterior features include 16-inch aluminum wheels, Tomb Raider badging, and Mopar accessories. Its classic styling made it become one of the most highly collectible jeeps of all-time.
  • Willys Edition (2004–2005): This model came with the 4.0 L, fog lamp and tow hook group, exclusive “WILLYS” decals, CD player with seven-speaker sound system, body-colored fender flares, green diamond plate rocker guards and soft top, camouflage seats, and a full-size spare tire with matching wheel. Its 35X variation included everything except the military logos, optional moss green fog light covers, and tail light guards.
Yellow Jeep Wrangler TJ in the Snow
Ron Kroetz, Flickr

Adventure Essentials

Below are indispensable parts and accessories worthy of your investment. These must-have add-ons will help you enjoy many more years of riding down your favorite trails and keeping your vehicle protected and in mint condition.

  • Winch – trumps every other item on this list and comes very handy during emergencies. To determine the best winch, you should add at least 30 percent to the working GVW of your Jeeper. Example: a working GVW of 6,700 lbs. requires at least 8,000 lbs. of working load capacity like the WARN 26502 M8000 Series Electric 12V Winch with Steel Cable Wire Rope (view on Amazon).
  • Tires – Is your TJ a weekend warrior or a daily driver? Do you do serious mudding and prefer high altitudes? Whatever the answer is, it is best to choose tires that match your customary off-road environment.
  • Lift Kits – allow proper clearance to fit larger tires on your TJ. Depending on your tire size, 2″ or 4″ lift kits with FOX shocks would nail the job. (It is worth noting that recalibrating your odometer and speedometer and replacing your stock control arms are required when lifting your Jeep).
  • Rock Sliders – probably the best piece of armor your TJ can have (aside from doubling as a step or as a winch recovery point if your truck isn’t in an upright position).
  • Bead-Lock Capable Wheels – prevent air-downed tires from slipping off the wheels when placed under tremendous torque loads and lower tire pressures, which helps create a broader tire-to-surface contact patch, and reduces proneness to puncture from sharp objects.
  • Bull Bar – affords all-important frontal protection from fallen branches and animal strikes and allows you to indulge in winches and driving lights. RAMPAGE PRODUCTS 8620 Black Front Tube Bumper with Hoop (view on Amazon) is a terrific online find.
  • Air Compressor – allows changing tire pressure depending on the conditions you face off-road.
  • Roof Rack – this expands the available space of your TJ and frees up your interior of clutter.
  • Floor Liners – provides ultimate floor protection against water, snow, and mud. These are usually made from tough thermoplastic rubbers and are injection-molded for a precision fit. Get a Rugged Ridge 12988.10, All Terrain Floor Liner Kit (view on Amazon) that covers front, rear, and cargo.
  • Tailgate Reinforcement System – this allows for larger tires to be mounted on your Jeep and for use with spare tires up to 37 inches.

Common Questions

  • How much is a 1996 Jeep Wrangler TJ?  The initial MSRP for the 1996 Jeep Wrangler 2-door SE was priced at $13,470, while the Sahara trim cost $22,435.  CurrentlyBlue Book value for this collectible is anywhere between $642 and $4,000 dependent on vehicle condition, mileage, and options. It would be worth the extra $100-$200 getting your vehicle from a reputable dealer with an excellent service department.
  • What is the difference between a Jeep Wrangler TJ and YJ?  The TJ is broader, has better acceleration and torque, and has a higher top speed at 108 mph. It has a bigger fuel tank capacity and is also more fuel-efficient, consuming only 13.1 liters for every 100 Km. On the other hand, the YJ has better power output and spews 181 HP @ 4,750 RPM. Its heavier curb weight makes it more stable.
  • Which Jeep is better, TJ or JK?  If you prefer a vehicle with a lower center of gravity, a six-speed manual transmission, and an adequate braking system, then go for the JK. But if you’re after speed, acceleration, and an eco-friendlier car, the TJ is the better choice.
  • What is the ideal lift for the Jeep Wrangler TJ?  It depends on what you want from your TJ. You also have to think about certain things such as tire diameter, suspension travel, additional weight from accessories, and cost. 31-inch tires would need at least a 2-inch lift kit, 3-inch kits for up to 33-inch tires, and 4-inch ones for 35-inch tires. This video by Quadratec will show you how to do it using Old Man Emu 2″ suspension lift kit.
  • What are common problems with the Jeep Wrangler TJ?  Some of the issues noticed by TJ owners are the gas mileage, cramped front seats, noisy soft top, insufficient storage space, and uncomfortable riding experience. These are not necessarily defects but just a few things you may want to consider.
  • What should I look out for when buying a used Jeep Wrangler?  One of the main things you should do is get to know the story behind the vehicle, as this will tell you a lot about its condition and potential problems. Physically, inspect the frame and chassis, driveline components, axles, clutch, and body mountings. You also need to know about previous mods done on the Jeeper.
  • Is Jeep Wrangler TJ reliable?  Yes, it is. The TJ gives you better coil-spring suspension similar to the 3rd generation Wrangler but, at the same time, still has the smaller and uncomplicated setup of its predecessor. It hits that sweet spot of being a capable vehicle on and off-road.

About FCA

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is among the “Big Three” automobile manufacturers in the U.S. and is the maker of the 1996 Jeep Wrangler TJ. The almost century-old company boasts of a roller-coaster-ride history – going from initial success to near-bankruptcy status to taking control of European auto companies. The firm’s portfolio includes automotive brands Abarth, Alfa Romeo, Chrysler, Dodge, Fiat, Fiat Professional, Jeep, Lancia, Maserati, and Ram, and is looking forward to a merger with Groupe PSA in 2021.

Red Jeep Wrangler TJ

Conclusion – 1996 Jeep Wrangler TJ

The 1996 Jeep Wrangler TJ had a lot going on during its time – and it still does. Its engine, gruff and loud, is enough to enable highway speeds and trekking through dirt, streams, and mud. Its reliability earned it enthusiasts’ seal of approval long before “Trail Rated” badges were a thing. What the 1996 Jeep Wrangler TJ lacks in comfort, it makes up for its badass, rugged appeal and adaptability. Most importantly, rebuilding costs for this quad is dirt cheap.

This tank lives up to the hype on its box, runs like a top, and will never get you stranded. It is the perfect ride when going solo or with a bud on an outdoor adventure. It is an off-road legend and may well be the best Jeep ever created. Probably now, you’d think so too.

Kris Peter

Adventure seeker and off-road enthusiast. I love the thrill of going off-road and taking on the elements.

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