Popular Mechanics put a TJ through the rigors of the Rubicon Trail, placing it "at the front of the pack in stability and capability," able to take "holes, ditches and trenches in stride." Additional merits included the Wrangler's "exposed drawbridge-grade door hinges," and the fact that "doors can still be removed for that close-to-nature experience."
"Like all Wranglers," wrote Ted West in Outdoor Life, the new TJ "eats phonies and spits rivets-only now it wipes its chin afterwards." Though continuing to use "no-nonsense solid beam axles," the new Wrangler proffered "much improved pavement manners [and] has traded in most of its buckboard harshness . . . in favor of a well-controlled pavement ride."
While lauding its "improved ride and off-road manners," Car and Driver gave low marks to the Wrangler's "high-decibel soft top," complaining that "highway cruising with the soft top up is like driving through a perpetual hailstorm." Comparing Wrangler with the Geo Tracker, Suzuki X-90, and Toyota RAV4, C/D called it "too spartan," despite leading the pack for off-road adventures. "Wrangler is still something of an implement," said the magazine.
Wrangler sales had escalated every year from 1986 onward, peaking at 74,952 in 1994 before slipping down to 63,890 a year later. Sales rebounded sharply with the TJ's debut, to 81,444 in 1996 and another 81,956 during 1997.
Changes to the Cherokee and Grand Cherokee were less dramatic for 1997. A new Cherokee interior boasted increased sound insulation and interior standard dual air bags. Furthermore, a new central panel held climate and radio controls, while an overhead console contained a five-function trip computer.
Subtle styling revisions revolved around the grille, fascia, and front bumper. Revised bodyside moldings and wheel arches flowed into front and rear bumpers, and a new stamped-steel liftgate used hidden hinges.
With a major redesign looming, Jeep Grand Cherokee sailed through 1997 with minimal modification. The 5.2-liter V-8 engine, formerly available only with four-wheel drive, became available with two-wheel-drive models. Integrated child safety seats were dropped from the options list.
Detail changes marked the 1998 Jeep Wranglers. Cruise control became available for the first time. So did an engine-immobilizer antitheft system.
The driver's seat got tilt-forward entry, like that of the passenger seat. For off-roading, a 3.73:1 axle replaced the 3.55 unit as a no-cost option for six-cylinder models. Power steering was now standard across the board (it had formerly been optional on the base model).
Comparing a four-cylinder Wrangler to the new Isuzu Amigo, Motor Trend noted that its "Wrangler SE 4x4 is a ready-to-rumble dirt monger with a torquey 2.5-liter/120-horsepower inline four, a huge fun quotient, and not a whole lot more." Its main appeal, they suggested, was the long list of personalizing options, including brush guards, tubular bumpers, light bars, and side steps available from the factory.
Learn more about the 1998 Jeep on the next page.
For more information on Jeeps, see:
- History of Jeep
- Consumer Guide New Jeep Prices and Reviews
- Consumer Guide Used Jeep Prices and Reviews