1993-2002 Jeep

1997 TJ Jeep Wrangler

In the auto industry, a decade is an awfully long time. Last redesigned for 1987, the smallest Jeep model was more than ready for a major makeover. While the last model-year 1995 Jeep Wranglers were reaching customers in 1996, a new 1997 TJ Jeep Wrangler was getting the final touches for its debut.

Engineers and stylists had been working diligently on an update of the Wrangler since the early Nineties. As early as 1992, in fact, the first prototypes were observed hammering away off-road -- on the fabled Rubicon Trail, of course.

1997 Jeep TJ Wrangler
©Chrysler LLC
The 1997 Jeep TJ Wrangler emerged in early 1996 in three trim levels.

Although devoted fans liked their Jeep Wranglers just as they were, a few grumbles about the YJ generation had been voiced. Some owners complained that off-road capabilities fell short of the old CJ models. Others never cottoned to the look of the 1987-1995 models. Jeep marketers weren't oblivious to the emergence of T-shirts that read: "Real Jeeps don't have square headlamps." What might seem a minor quibble to outsiders was a serious issue to Jeep Wrangler enthusiasts.

Jeep had a straightforward goal, according to platform general manager Craig Winn: "To make an acceptable road vehicle and an exceptional off-road vehicle." Following a theme of "merging history with the future," developers spent $260 million on the Jeep TJ Wrangler project producing what Chrysler Corporation described as a "subtle but nearly complete redesign of the classic Wrangler form."

When their work was done, 77 percent of the parts were new. Every body panel was new, except for the doors and tailgate. As before, Wranglers were built at Toledo, Ohio.

Launched in April 1996 as an early 1997 model, the new Jeep TJ Wrangler looked similar at a glance to its predecessor -- except for the retro-look round headlamps, that is. Not since the 1986 CJ had round units been installed on a Wrangler. Under that subtly modified skin, though, the Wrangler now had dual air bags as well as a batch of notable chassis, body, and interior upgrades.

Engineers finally did away with the Wrangler's primitive, trucklike leaf springs -- not only to soften the on-road ride but to provide more wheel travel during adventurous off-roading. Similar to the setup on the Jeep Grand Cherokee, the new Quadra-Coil suspension, with coil springs all around, provided seven more inches of articulation than its leaf-spring predecessor.

In addition to a smoother highway ride, this installation yielded improved ground clearance and approach/departure angles -- essential when the highway ends and the boulders begin. Solid axles remained at front and rear, and stabilizer bars were installed at both ends.

Although the new-generation Wrangler retained the basic, rugged, body-on-frame construction of its predecessors, the ladder frame was strengthened. Wheelbase was again 93.4 inches, and Wrangler measured a mere 151.8 inches long overall to the edge of its rear-mounted spare tire. Wheel-track width grew by an inch.

The new Wrangler's body was almost an inch wider, but exterior dimensions were otherwise little-changed. However, occupants gained some welcome space inside, including an extra 1.6 inches of front-seat travel. Front fenders were redesigned and front/rear wheel openings were higher to give more clearance for suspension articulation as well as bigger (30x9.5/15) optional tires.

Get more details on the 1997 Jeep Wrangler 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