5 Jeep Wrangler trims that go beyond graphics


The Jeep Wrangler can trace its roots to the WWII Willys MB. Although it has grown in size and added some creature comforts, the Wrangler remains a utilitarian off-roader at its core. While even the entry-level models offer buyers a level of go-anywhere capability that’s hard to find elsewhere in the market, Jeep has also offered trims and special editions that up the ante when it comes to trail-readiness.

Of course, quite a few Jeep special editions that we like amount to a handful of options combined with some unique decals and upholstery. The Islander is one; the CJ-7 Golden Eagle is another, albeit pre-Wrangler. Those Wranglers still make for a good starting point to building your own perfect off-roader, but these five provided owners with a beefier foundation for their ultimate trail machine.

2003–present Rubicon

Jeep Wrangler TJ Unlimited Rubicon

We have to start here. When the Rubicon first launched, it marked a striking jump up the evolutionary ladder by cramming a laundry list of off-road gear into one trail-taming package. Front and rear lockers allowed each aggressive mud-terrain tire to claw for whatever traction was available, and a 4:1 transfer case multiplied torque and slowed down the pace for precision crawling. The Rubicon was also the basis for the Tomb Raider Special Edition in 2003. Jeep’s engineers started with the JK Wrangler Rubicon and added front and rear sway-bar disconnects for better suspension articulation.

All of those features had been available in the aftermarket, but the Rubicon collected them into a single, seamless package that was available from the showroom. It was an instant hit among hardcore off-roaders, even if they didn’t plan on keeping their vehicle stock. Now on its third Wrangler generation, Rubicon is still the trim that carries the most weight among Jeep enthusiasts, which explains why the meanest solid-axle Jeep is called Rubicon 392 and not SRT.

2006 65th Anniversary

65th Anniversary Jeep Wrangler 2006

Base models of the standard-wheelbase Wrangler got a regular ol’ Dana 35 rear axle, but Jeep beefed up the stretched-wheelbase Unlimited model with a Dana 44. (The heavy-duty axle was optional on lots of other trims, but we don’t know the take rate.) The 65th Anniversary model, which was based on the Wrangler X—one step up from the base SE—came with color-matched fender flares, 65th Anniversary logos on the seats and floormats, graphics, and some other cosmetic goodies. Most importantly, the 65th Anniversary trim automatically specced your Wrangler with the Dana 44.

2006 Golden Eagle

2006 Wrangler Golden Eagle
This Golden Eagle has been lifted and is missing its factory gold wheels, but you get the idea. Mecum

The 2006 Golden Eagle package dipped into some nostalgia and came with embroidered seats, gold wheels, and hood graphics, although not the same hood bird that we loved from the ’70s and ‘80s. It did, however, have a Dana 44 rear axle. Considering that 2006 was the last year of the TJ Wrangler, perhaps Jeep had a surplus of the Wrangler Unlimited axles and was just looking for a place to stash them.

2012 Call of Duty: MW3

This video-game-inspired ride didn’t need a live-action movie to kickstart Jeep into action. With AEV bumpers, hood, and rock rails, the MW3 Jeep looked meaner than most Wranglers and backed up those aggressive looks with locking differentials front and rear plus 32-inch tires. Like a Rubicon without sway-bar disconnects or the 4:1 transfer case, this special edition is still a highly formidable off-roader.

2013 Moab

Not quite as impressive as the MW3 Special Edition it replaced, this slickrock-inspired ride brought a limited-slip rear differential as standard equipment but offered a locker. It also came with 245/75R17 Goodyear tires on Rubicon wheels, AEV steel bumpers—the front one being winch-ready—and an AEV hood. For those who wanted improved 4×4 capability but didn’t need the Rubicon’s 4:1 transfer case, the Moab checked a lot of boxes.

There are, of course, plenty of special editions beyond these five that made Jeep ownership more engaging and personalized, and each can be outfitted to suit just about any off-road need. If you had your way, and easy access to Jeep’s extensive parts bin, how would you build your dream Wrangler?




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    The best Jeep would be one WITHOUT all the electronic garbage. Hardcore offroaders sometimes get into bad places and end up getting a lot of water inside. Granted you don’t want to be submerged, but getting an inch or two of water inside should not kill it, but frequently does. How many Jeeps get totaled because the electronics got wet?

    I’ve been up to my waist in water driving my 73 CJ5. We would grease the distributor cap to keep out water.

    I love my 2004 Wrangler LJ. This “stretch” model two-door is the perfect size. I suggest that this model should be the standard two-door wheelbase offered along with the 4 -door model.
    Size matters!

    I still prefer the “KISS” philosophy….. Keep it simple, stupid”. My ’99 Sahara in Forest Green Pearl is as pretty as they come, and even a backyard tech like me can work on it. Of the models shown, a stock Golden Eagle would be my choice.

    The first-gen Rubicon is what got me to consider getting a Wrangler way back when. I was really hoping for a nice upgrade to the V6, but it never came. Well, it finally did, but by that time, I’d given up on the idea of getting one. I went a different direction last year 😉, but if I were to get a Wrangler, the Rubicon would be it.

    We had a 1952 model at our shop. That little Jeep was indestructible on the job site in the early 1970’s.
    None of the models you show could ever compete with it. Chrysler ( or what their name is today) jut bought the badge, not the real Jeep.

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