1996 Jeep Wrangler TJ: Full Review and Road Test

1996 jeep wrangler tj

Is the iconic 1996 Jeep Wrangler TJ worth buying today? In short – yes, if you’re seeking an extremely capable off-roader with loads of customization potential. In this in-depth review, we’ll cover everything you need to know about the specs, off-road performance, driving dynamics, interior, pricing, and pros and cons of the 1996 Wrangler TJ. Read on to learn why this classic Jeep still delivers an unforgettable adventure 27 years later.

The Jeep Wrangler is an American icon synonymous with off-roading freedom and fun. In 1996, Jeep released the second generation Wrangler known as the TJ, bringing significant improvements over the previous YJ generation.

Compared to the square-headlight YJ, the 1996 Wrangler TJ featured a return to the classic round headlights reminiscent of the 1945 Willys MB. This immediately gave the Wrangler TJ a more rugged, retro look while thoroughly modernizing and upgrading the entire vehicle.

So what exactly does this iconic second-gen Wrangler offer for those seeking four-wheeling excitement? Let’s explore the full details of the 1996 Jeep Wrangler TJ inside and out.

An Overview of the Legendary 1996 Jeep Wrangler TJ

The 1996 model year brought a complete redesign to the Jeep Wrangler, moving into its second generation with the TJ. This was a significant upgrade over the previous YJ generation Wrangler, which utilized a rectangular headlight design.

For 1996, Jeep returned to the traditional seven-slot grille and round headlights, immediately giving the Wrangler TJ a tougher, more rugged look. The 1996 TJ featured all-new sheet metal with rounded edges, improving aerodynamics and reducing noise compared to the boxy YJ.

At launch, the TJ was offered in both two-door and four-door body styles known as the Wrangler and Wrangler Unlimited. Two-door models came in standard, Renegade, and upscale Sahara trims. Under the hood, engine options consisted of a 2.5L AMC inline four-cylinder and a 4.0L AMC Straight-6.

Right from the start, the 1996 Wrangler TJ delivered excellent off-road credentials thanks to its sturdy body-on-frame construction, solid axles front and rear, generous suspension travel, and low-range four-wheel drive. This allowed it to continue the Wrangler’s legacy of unmatched trail capability.

Now let’s take a deeper look under the hood at the available powertrain options for the ’96 Wrangler TJ.

1996 Jeep Wrangler TJ Powertrain Options: Engines, Transmissions, and More

The 1996 Jeep Wrangler TJ offered two engine choices: a base 2.5L AMC inline four-cylinder and an upgraded 4.0L AMC Straight-6.

The 2.5L delivered 150 horsepower and 165 lb-ft torque, providing adequate around-town acceleration paired with either a 5-speed manual or 3-speed automatic transmission. Fuel economy for the 2.5L engine came in at 18 mpg city and 21 mpg highway per EPA estimates.

Stepping up to the 4.0L brought 190 horsepower and 225 lb-ft torque, a helpful boost when carrying gear or towing. The 4.0L could be equipped with either a 5-speed manual or optional 4-speed automatic. Fuel economy took a slight hit at 15 mpg city and 19 mpg highway.

In terms of drivetrain, the Wrangler TJ offered a choice of either rear-wheel or four-wheel drive. Available four-wheel drive systems included Command-Trac part-time 4WD and Selec-Trac full-time 4WD. All TJ models included shift-on-the-fly 4WD engagement, allowing drivers to safely switch between 2WD and 4WD while moving up to 55 mph.

Towing capacity came in at 2,000 lbs for four-cylinder models and 3,500 lbs for six-cylinder Wranglers. This provided solid utility for light towing needs. Payload capacity offered respectable hauling ability as well, rated at 800 lbs minimum.

Overall, the 1996 Jeep Wrangler TJ powertrain options delivered a balance of strong acceleration, fuel economy, and versatility for both on-road driving and off-road adventures. Next up, let’s put the Wrangler TJ’s rugged 4×4 hardware to the test off the beaten path.

Conquering Trails: Off-Road Capabilities of the 1996 Jeep Wrangler TJ

The Jeep Wrangler has always been purpose-built for off-road performance. The 1996 redesign maintained this priority, equipping the Wrangler TJ with excellent suspension articulation, ground clearance, and 4WD hardware. Let’s look at some key off-road specs and capabilities:

Approach, departure, and breakover angles measured 36°, 31°, and 20° respectively on two-door models. This allowed the TJ to easily clear obstacles and ridges without damaging the underbody. Minimum ground clearance came in at 7.6”, but many owners added aftermarket lifts providing 10” or more clearance.

The TJ utilized a sturdy body-on-frame construction with a separate frame and solid axles at both ends, ideal for absorbing harsh impacts off-road. Suspension travel measured 9” in front and 9.5” in rear, giving the tires ample droop to maintain contact with the ground over rugged terrain.

Both the Command-Trac and Selec-Trac four-wheel drive systems featured low-range gearing for 4WD low, providing maximum traction at slow speeds on steep, slippery surfaces. Skid plates protected vital components like the fuel tank and transfer case.

To further improve its off-pavement prowess, many owners upgraded their 1996 Jeep Wrangler TJs with suspension lifts, larger tires, locking differentials, aftermarket bumpers, skid plates, and winches. This opened up the TJ for serious rock crawling and other extremes.

Overall, the 1996 Wrangler TJ provided stellar 4WD credentials right from the factory while offering endless customization potential to transform it into a hardcore off-road machine.

Interior and Exterior Overview: Inside the 1996 Jeep Wrangler TJ

The 1996 redesign modernized the Wrangler inside and out. Exterior styling moved away from the previous square-edged look, rounding off the sheet metal for improved aerodynamics and a more classic look.

Two-door models measured 150” long with a 93.4” wheelbase, while four-door Unlimited models stretched to 181” long with a 104” wheelbase.

Interior space increased over the prior YJ, providing greater comfort and ergonomics. However, the TJ remained tight on rear legroom and cargo capacity, prioritizing open-air fun over practicality. Let’s look closer at the exterior and interior details:


  • Traditional flat-fender styling and seven-slot grille
  • Round headlights and front signal lights
  • Full-framed removable soft top or hardtop
  • Fold-down windshield for open-air driving
  • Standard full-size spare tire mounted on rear swing gate


  • Simple dashboard design with large gauges
  • Available tilt steering column and upgraded sound system
  • Manual windows and locks standard
  • Water-resistant interior materials
  • Rear seat folds for expanded cargo space
  • Available air conditioning

One of the most endearing qualities of the Jeep Wrangler is its extensive customization and accessory potential. The 1996 TJ could be outfitted with a wide range of tops, half-doors, fender flares, bumpers, winches, and so much more directly from Mopar and the aftermarket. This allowed owners to configure their Wrangler uniquely for style, function, and performance.

On-Road Manners: 1996 Jeep Wrangler TJ Driving Dynamics

The Jeep Wrangler has never focused on delivering a luxury car ride and handling. However, the 1996 redesign did improve on-road comfort and drivability compared to the previous YJ. Let’s look at some driving dynamics:

Thesuspensionprovided a smooth and compliant ride for a 4×4 off-roader, soaking up bumps reasonably well. However, handling remained loose and truck-like rather than agile and precise.

Engine choices delivered adequate acceleration for merging and passing, but never felt fast. The 4.0L six-cylinder provided the best performance. The 5-speed manual transmission gave a greater sense of control compared to the automatic.

Wind and tire noise remained pronounced at highway speeds, along with a noticeable ride sway in gusting crosswinds. Hardtop models provided a quieter interior than soft tops.

Braking performance offered stable, straight stops despite the all-terrain tires. However, brakes required more pedal effort compared to regular passenger vehicles.

In terms of occupant safety, the Wrangler lacked standard safety features like airbags or ABS in 1996. Still, its sturdy body-on-frame design provided protection in accidents.

Overall, on-road manners emphasized ruggedness over refinement. For relaxed cruising, the 1996 Jeep Wrangler delivered adequate comfort. But higher speeds revealed its off-road DNA through wandering steering and noise. Next up, let’s summarize the highs and lows of the iconic ’96 TJ.

The Pros and Cons of the 1996 Jeep Wrangler TJ


  • Excellent off-road capability from the factory
  • Removable top for open-air driving enjoyment
  • Retro styling and round headlights
  • Strong aftermarket parts and accessory selection
  • Reasonable fuel economy from 4-cylinder models
  • Towing and payload utility


  • Less refined on-road than modern crossovers
  • Tight rear seat and cargo space
  • Can feel unstable at highway speeds
  • Lacking safety features like airbags or ABS
  • Requires more maintenance than other vehicles
  • Poor rearward visibility when top is on

For the right buyer seeking a capable and fun 4×4, the Wrangler TJ’s pros easily outweigh the cons. This Jeep remains simple and uncomplicated by design. Next up, let’s talk pricing and ownership costs.

1996 Jeep Wrangler TJ Pricing and Ownership Costs

As an iconic Wrangler, the 1996 TJ retains strong collector demand in today’s used marketplace. Here’s a look at pricing and ownership costs:

  • Used pricing ranges from about $7,000 to $15,000 depending on condition, mileage, and configuration. Well-maintained examples bring top dollar.
  • Fuel economy reaches 18 to 21 mpg, making the 4-cylinder a more frugal choice over the six. Requires premium fuel.
  • Insurance costs are reasonable compared to other off-road SUVs thanks to the TJ’s safety cage design.
  • Maintenance and repair costs are higher than average given the simple drivetrain. Easy for DIY repairs.
  • Finding one for sale is easier than older Wranglers, given the TJ’s more substantial production run through 2006.

Overall, the 1996 Jeep Wrangler TJ delivers an unmatched blend of off-road prowess and fun-to-drive freedom. For those seeking adventure, this capable Jeep remains a top choice.


The 1996 redesign of the iconic Jeep Wrangler brought both enhanced capability and everyday livability. For shoppers considering a used 1996 Wrangler TJ today, this classic 4×4 still delivers an excellent combination of retro style, off-road talent, and open-air fun.

While on-road handling reveals its truck underpinnings, the TJ remains sure-footed at speed with the top on. Meanwhile, its off-road resume outshines nearly any stock SUV with impressive suspension travel, low-range gearing, and stout axles. Expandability through aftermarket upgrades is nearly endless as well.

For those seeking adventure, the Jeep Wrangler TJ faces little competition even today. There’s nothing else quite like driving top-down on a sunny day, feeling close to the elements. The TJ keeps life simple, foregoing luxury features to provide authentic 4WD experiences that build lasting memories. For Wrangler fans, the 1996-2006 TJ remains a high point.

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