The Jeep Wrangler Unlimited LJ Is The Stretched Two-Door TJ You Forgot Existed
The modern Jeep Wrangler Unlimited has become an extremely popular choice for off-road fans who need their rig to double as a daily driver. With four-door practicality embedded in the same tough, go-anywhere platform as the standard Wrangler, the Unlimited has vastly expanded Jeep's customer base and helped to cement the 4x4's iconic status even further.
What most current Wrangler fans might not be aware of is that for a brief period of time, the Unlimited badge wasn't at all associated with four-doors of fun. From 2004 to 2006 the Jeep TJ Unlimited—also known as the 'LJ'—provided buyers with the option of a long-wheelbase design, stretched over the same two-door canvas as the base Wrangler. Despite only a two-year reign, the Jeep Wrangler LJ has become a highly sought-after member of the brand's off-road family, and one that provides a number of key benefits versus its short-wheelbase TJ sibling.
Scrambling Back Through Time
The idea of a long-wheelbase Jeep wasn’t a new one. The most famous ancestor of the Wrangler Unlimited LJ was the CJ-8 Scrambler, a model that in the early '80s added another 12 inches or so to the wheelbase of the regular CJ-7. Instead of boosting passenger space, however, that additional length was used for cargo, fashioning a mini-pickup out of the Scrambler's rear quarters.
Even buyers who didn't need a pickup version of the CJ appreciated the smoother handling provided by the stretched platform, which was more stable and less bouncy over rough pavement.
The Jeep TJ Unlimited welded in 10 inches of space between the front and the rear axles, while extending the overall length of the vehicle by 15 full inches. Thanks to clever packaging, that translated into a bit more than a foot of storage space behind the rear seat (roughly twice what the base Wrangler had to offer), as well as a two-inch bonus for anyone riding in the second row.
Although the LJ (short for 'Long Jeep') retained its two door body style, like the Scrambler, the extra space made it considerably easier to access the back of the SUV, further enhancing its utility.
Finally there was version of the Wrangler that could realistically accommodate a family—or at the very least, help a potential buyer justify the purchase despite the presence of young children in their life. Filling the rear with passengers no longer meant sacrificing useful cargo space, and kids could grow into the LJ's cabin as long as they didn't mind climbing in behind a tilting front seat. It wasn't a perfect commuter, but it was light years ahead of the TJ's relatively tiny two-door footprint.
Smoother Sailing, Same Trail Toughness
Similar to the CJ-8, the longer step of the LJ Unlimited subdued some of the jitters that the Jeep TJ was known for when driven quickly over broken pavement. It also added extra stability during high speed cornering and enhanced the towing capacity of the sport-utility, checking in at 3,500 lbs (a 1,500 pound boost over the regular Wrangler).
The LJ maintained the same 4.0L inline six-cylinder engine and choice between a 4-speed automatic or 6-speed manual gearbox.
Most importantly, the LJ's longer stance wasn't a liability when compared to the standard TJ off-road, where it remained competitive everywhere except departure angle (and also weighed in at only 200 extra lbs). Expand that scope to include the JK-generation Unlimited that replaced it in 2007, and its four-door successor is mammoth in comparison: 350 lbs heavier, with 13 inches of extra wheelbase, and substantially wider. The LJ was also considerably shorter than contemporaries like the Toyota FJ Cruiser, which boasted more than a foot of extra length versus the Jeep.
When outfitted with a lift and larger tires, the Jeep Wrangler TJ Unlimited offered a more balanced center of gravity appreciated by serious four-wheelers. Hill climb traction is also improved by the longer wheelbase as compared to the regular TJ, without the added bulk of the four-door JK Unlimited making it difficult to squeeze down tight trails. Throw in the fact that the Long Jeep was available with a standard Dana 44 axle at the rear, as well as a Rubicon trim featuring a pair of locking Dana 44s and 4:1 low-range gearing for maximum rock crawling, and the LJ was a formidable overall package.
A Hidden Gem
Today, the LJ is a jewel among Jeep aficionados. Prized by those seeking a Wrangler they can drive every day with an extra degree of comfort that the short-wheelbase TJ can't provide, as well as by hardcore fans seeking a solid foundation for an off-road build, the first Unlimited has seen its values shoot past even the usually-robust standards of the Wrangler.
Available with either a soft top or a hard top, the Jeep Wrangler TJ Unlimited is a year-round capable, family-friendly modern classic that can more than hold its own when put to the test on the trail.