Jeep Wrangler JK vs. JKU: What’s the Difference?

Black Four-Door Jeep Wrangler with Headlights on

If you’re like most people, you’d think that, apart from how many doors each of them has, the JK and JKU models of the Jeep Wrangler are basically the same. As you probably already know, they do share some similarities. But they also have significant differences, not only in their structure and dimensions, but also in their off-road performance. What’s the difference between the Jeep JK and the Jeep JKU?

A clear difference is that the JK has two doors, while the JKU has four doors. The JKU is also bigger than the JK model and has a longer wheelbase. It’s a good family vehicle due to its larger size; however, the JK is the preferred choice for off-roading.

If you’re on the fence between the Jeep Wrangler JK and the JKU, this article will be helpful to you. Here’s what you will learn:

  • A Brief History of The Jeep Wrangler JK
  • The Similarities of The JK and The JKU
  • The Differences Between JK and the JKU That You Should Know
  • What People Say About the Jeep Wrangler JK Versus JKU
  • Jeep Wrangler JK vs JKU: Which is Better for Off Roading?
  • Jeep Wrangler JK and JKU in Action (videos)
  • Jeep Wrangler JK vs JKU: Which One Should You Choose?
  • Hardtop or Soft Top?
  • Want More Cargo Space? (An obvious but sometimes overlooked solution)

Ready to learn more about the Jeep Wrangler JK and the JKU? First, let’s take a look at how these two models came to be.

A Brief History of The Jeep Wrangler JK

Jeep JK Wrangler in Snow

The Jeep Wrangler JK is the third generation of the Jeep Wrangler. It was developed under the ownership of DaimlerChrysler and released in 2006 at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. 

The JK was the first Wrangler to have a completely clean-sheet design of body, frame, and suspension. Jeep added new features to the JK, including navigation, remote power door locks, power windows, and detachable sway-bars on selected models.

Jeep JKU

The following year, Wrangler released the JK series 2007 Wrangler Unlimited (JKU) at the 2006 New York Auto Show. It offered more room with a wheelbase longer than the JK by more than 20 inches. The JKU sold quite successfully, representing 75 percent of all new Wranglers in the market.

The Similarities of The JK and The JKU

General appearance. The JK and the JKU look almost the same. They would be hard to distinguish from each other if you look at them while moving down the highway. 

Overall dimensions. Both have the same overall width and height.

Engine and transmission. Both the JK and the JKU have the same engine and transmission options.

Removable top, doors, and windshield. As any Wrangler model, both the JK and the JKU have removable windshields, doors, and tops.

The Differences Between JK and the JKU That You Should Know

Price: The JKU is understandably more expensive than the JK because it’s the bigger and heavier Jeep. JKU has more seating and cargo capacity, too.

Weight: The JKU is heavier than the JK. 

Wheelbase: The JKU has a longer wheelbase than the JK. 

Cargo space and seating capacity: Obviously, the JKU Jeep can seat more people than the JK. It also has twice as much cargo space.

Below is a table that summarizes the comparison between the two models based on their specs:

SPECS2018 Jeep Wrangler JK2018 Jeep Wrangler JKU
Doors24
Seating Capacity45
Wheelbase 95.4 inches116 inches
Total Length164.3 inches184.9 inches
Total Width73.7 inches73.7 inches
Cargo Capacity Behind First Row Seats (Seats Folded)56.5 cubic feet70.6 cubic feet
Cargo Capacity behind Second Row Seats (Seats Upright)12.8 cubic feet31.5 cubic feet
Fuel Tank18.6 gallons22.5 gallons
Towing Capacity2,000 pounds3,500 pounds
Price (MSRP)$23,995$27,895

What Does JK mean?

The Jeep JK acronym is just an engineering code and does not have a significant meaning for the public. The “U” in JKU, however, means unlimited, which refers to its unlimited versatility.

What People Say About the Jeep Wrangler JK Versus JKU

Black Jeep Wrangler Unlimited

We’ve visited online forums like Reddit to discover what people think about the JK and the JKU. Unsurprisingly, we found that people are generally divided when it comes to choosing between the two models. 

Those who prefer the JK say it’s more fun to drive. They think that it has many advantages the JKU will never have, especially in tight trails where there are many turns and little room to move around. JK fans say the vehicle turns sharper and is better at weaving tight corners. They claim that it’s lighter and has better acceleration than the JKU, plus it’s easier to see out the back. Also, fans of the JK say the vehicle looks better when modified.

On the other hand, those who favor the Jeep Wrangler JKU find that the extra room is a plus. Fans of the JK argue that both models have just about the same space with the seats folded or removed. However, some JKU owners say it would be difficult for them to switch to the JK because they’ve gotten used to the more considerable legroom that a JKU provides. They also say that when it comes to the cargo room and towing ability, the JKU easily beats the JK.

Jeep Wrangler JK vs JKU: Which is Better for Off Roading?

We’ve already mentioned that when it comes to space, towing, and fitting more people in, the JKU is the clear winner. 

But in off-road situations, it’s a different story for several reasons.

First, the JKU is more substantial; therefore, its engine has to work harder than the JK’s. It also has a longer wheelbase, which means it has a wider turning radius (41.2 feet versus JK’s turning radius of 34.9 feet). This makes it less nimble and less able to negotiate sharp turns than the JK. 

But the biggest reason why the JK is better at off-roading is its breakover angle. But before we go into that, let’s talk a little bit about breakover angle and high-centering. The breakover angle is the angle between the tires of a vehicle and the center of its underside. It’s also the maximum possible angle of an obstacle you can drive over without getting high-centered. Being high-centered means balancing on an obstacle with all four of your wheels off the ground.

Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Off-Roading

Rock Sliders and Underbelly Armor

Because the JK has a more compact wheelbase, you can go over a steeper hill. You’re less likely to drag the belly of your vehicle as you crest that hill. On the other hand, the JKU has a longer wheelbase. The breakover angle is going to be flatter, which means you won’t be able to get over as much without dragging the belly of your vehicle, which is why JKUs need to have rock sliders and underbelly armors.

If you want to protect the underbelly of your Jeep Wrangler JK, check out the Tyger Auto Star Armor Kit (view on Amazon). This dual girder system provides maximum wheel-to-wheel protection for the underside and rocker panel area. It’s made with durable, heavy-duty tubes. The armor kit is easy to install. You can do it yourself! No drilling required. (Instructions are included in the package.) It fits 2007-2018 Jeep Wrangler JKUs.

Jeep Wrangler JK and JKU in Action

Want to see which one fares better off-road? The videos below show a Jeep Wrangler JK and two JKUs battling it out at Gees Arm South Trail in Australia on 37-inch tires. The rocky terrain is dry, dusty and has little traction. You may use the timestamps below each video to skip to the sections you want to see.

Part 1:

Timestamps:Section 1 (Entry)

Section 1 (Entry)

  • 00:05 Jeep Wrangler JKU (white)
  • 00:50 Jeep Wrangler JK Shorty
  • 01:35 Jeep Wrangler JK Unlimited (black)

Section 2

  • 03:13 Jeep Wrangler JK Shorty
  • 03:30 Jeep Wrangler JKU (white)
  • 03:59 Jeep Wrangler JK Unlimited (black)

Section 3 (Mechanics Rock)

  • 04:25 Jeep Wrangler JKU (white)
  • 04:46 Jeep Wrangler JK Shorty
  • 05:24 Jeep Wrangler JK Unlimited (black)

Section 4

  • 05:50 Jeep Wrangler JK Shorty (middle line)
  • 06:26 Jeep Wrangler JKU ((white)far line)
  • 07:36 Jeep Wrangler JK Unlimited ((black)far line)

Section 5

  • 08:47 Jeep Wrangler JKU ((white)left line)
  • 09:09 Jeep Wrangler JK Shorty (middle line)
  • 09:37 Jeep Wrangler JK Unlimited ((black)middle line)

Section 6

  • 10:48 Jeep Wrangler JK Shorty
  • 13:20 Jeep Wrangler JKU (white)
  • 14:17 Jeep Wrangler JKUnlimited (black)

Section 7 (V-Rock)

  • 16:36 Jeep JK Wrangler Shorty
  • 17:08 Jeep JKU Wrangler (white)
  • 18:48 Jeep JKUnlimited Wrangler (black)

Part 2:

Timestamps:

1st Obstacle

  • 00:05 Jeep Wrangler JK Shorty
  • 00:37 Jeep Wrangler JKU (White)
  • 01:12 Jeep Wrangler JKU (Black)

2nd Obstacle

  • 02:50 Jeep Wrangler JK Shorty
  • 03:58 Jeep Wrangler JKU (White)
  • 05:56 Jeep Wrangler JKU (Black)

3rd Obstacle 

  • 08:33 Jeep Wrangler JK Shorty

4th Obstacle

  • 09:40 Jeep Wrangler JKU (White)
  • 11:31 Jeep Wrangler JK Shorty
  • 14:47 Jeep Wrangler JKU (Black)

5th Obstacle

  • 19:24 Jeep Wrangler JK Shorty
  • 19:57 Jeep Wrangler JKU (Black)

6th Obstacle

  • 20:26 Jeep Wrangler JK Shorty
  • 21:58 Jeep Wrangler JKU (Black)

Jeep Wrangler JK vs JKU: Which One Should You Choose?

Want to do some hardcore wheeling? If so, the JK is for you. It’s better for off-roading because of its higher breakover angle, which allows you to slide over steep obstacles more easily. It’s excellent for sharp turns and weaving tight corners. It also has better acceleration.

But if you’re a family man or someone who carries a lot of gear, wants to be more comfortable, and likes to have a lot of people, then the JKU is the better option for you. 

It all just comes down to what you like and how you’re going to use your Jeep. 

Hardtop or Soft Top?

Another battle of preference among Jeep JK and JKU enthusiasts is choosing between a hardtop and a soft-top Jeep.

Hardtop

Hardtops offer some advantages. A hard protects you and your passengers better from the elements like sun, rain, snow, cold, etc. Durability is also one of the hardtop’s outstanding traits, which is why some people prefer it to a soft top. It can take a lot of beating and seldom gets replaced due to wear and tear. Hardtops are also more secure. It lets you keep a few items inside. It’s less likely to be broken into than a soft top.

Soft Top

But some Jeep enthusiasts prefer a JKU soft top to a hardtop. First of all, soft tops are exciting and fun. There is a wide variety of soft tops to choose from — full tops, half tops, flip tops, etc. They can be made of twill, mesh, or black diamond. Also, a soft-top lets you enjoy the great outdoors a lot more than a hardtop can. 

Another reason why some people prefer soft tops is that they cost less than hardtops. This means you can set aside a few extra dollars for other Jeep accessories.

Jeep JKU Soft Top

If you’re the fun-loving type who likes the versatility of a soft top, check out the Smittybilt Black Diamond Replacement Top (view on Amazon). It’s made with black diamond fabric and marine-grade vinyl. It has heat-sealed seams that prevent leakage. It fits 2007 to 2009 JKUs.

The SPIDERWEBSHADE mesh top (view on Amazon) is also an excellent option, especially if you have a JKU later than 2009. This soft top offers UV protection for your passengers and the vehicle’s interior by blocking 90% of the sun’s harmful rays. Its unique design significantly reduces wind noise by smoothly diverting wind over the sound bar and out of the cabin. The mesh top fits 2007 to 2018 JKUs. No header or additional hardware necessary.

Want More Cargo Space?

Gold Brown Jeep Wrangler Unlimited JKU

If you’re someone who tends to bring a lot of stuff when traveling, you might find it hard to fit your belongings into your vehicle. Here’s an obvious solution–when there isn’t enough room for your cargo in your vehicle, just place some of them on the roof. For that, you’re going to need a Jeep JKU roof rack.

If you want your belongings to stay securely placed on the Jeep roof, JKU roof rack quality should be your primary concern. The best roof racks are entirely made of metal, durable, rust and corrosion resistant, and not too heavy. The MaxxHaul Steel Rack (view on Amazon) is a good choice. Assembling and installing it is a breeze. You can attach it to most cross bars with easy-to-use U-bolts. 

Conclusion – Jeep JKU vs JK

Now that you know the similarities and differences of the Jeep Wrangler JK and the JKU, you should be able to determine which of these two models fits your needs and preferences. You can make some modifications (like changing the top or adding a roof rack), but in the end, you need to make sure that you pick the one that you know you will love. Remember that Jeep Wranglers are built to last–you and your vehicle could be together for a long time.

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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