Cars and Drivers

7 Jeep Wrangler Model Years to Own

Sjo / iStock Unreleased via Getty Images

As one of the best-known midsize SUVs on the road today, the Jeep Wrangler name does not need much introduction. First introduced in 1986, the Jeep Wrangler has gone through its share of trials and tribulations. Across five different generations, the Wrangler has both wowed and disappointed owners, but it’s a cult classic vehicle for one very important reason: going off-road. 

While the Wrangler is best known for its off-road capabilities, Jeep has worked hard to bring the Wrangler in line with other popular SUVs available today. For this reason, we can look at websites like CoPilot, Consumer Reports, J.D. Power, and Car Complaints to find the best Jeep Wrangler model years to own. 


2003 Jeep Wrangler Sport
Source: G.Goodwin Jr. and Snark /
The 2003 Jeep Wrangler is one of those models that seemingly lasts forever.

Even though the 2003 Jeep Wrangler is over 20 years old, it’s still one of the best models to date. Less than 100 NHTSA complaints mark a notable time for the Wrangler when everything about the car and engine came together. While crash test scores were disappointingly poor, you’d be hard-pressed to find a Jeep Wrangler over the next 15 years that has “good” safety ratings, especially for side impact. 

What’s most important about 2003 is that this model year for the Jeep Wrangler is known for its durability and no-nonsense design. Jeep didn’t try to do too much or mess with success to sell more vehicles. The best part of the 2003 model is plenty of them are still on the road today with over 100,000 miles while still going strong. 


2004 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon
Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons
The 2004 Jeep Wrangler was also the introduction of the popular Rubicon model.

If you’re comfortable going back in time to earlier this millennium, the 2004 Jeep Wrangler was a standout. Part of the second half of the second-generation Jeep Wrangler run, the 2004 model was pretty great. With the 2004 model year introducing a stretched body for the Wrangler Unlimited, owners were immediately pleased. This model year is also notable for the introduction of the Rubicon model, which was a trim level built with a specific focus on catering to Jeep’s off-reading fanbase. 

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the 2004 Wrangler and its 4.0L inline-six engine could run well over a hundred thousand miles. With only 280 NHTSA (National Highway Transportation & Safety Administration) complaints, the 2004 year for the Wrangler continues to look good. The only real downside is that crash tests were subpar, which should be a consideration. 


Source: jetcityimage / iStock Editorial via Getty Images
The 2017 Jeep Wrangler was a return to form after a decade of bad reviews.

For the 2017 model year, the Jeep Wrangler has a solid performance record that performs well overall. With the 2017 release, the Jeep received an updated interior that feels improved and more modern, which was welcomed. The better aspect is that Jeep updated the interior without stripping the Wrangler of its off-road performance. While wind noise was a complaint in some Jeep Wrangler trim levels, this has long been something Jeep buyers should know in advance. 

With only around 200 plus NHTSA complaints, the 2017 model has a lower number of complaints than most model years. When you factor in poor safety ratings, it’s hard to recommend it to anyone who values safety above all else. If you know what you are buying with the Jeep Wrangler concerning its safety, there is little to complain about with this model year overall. 


Source: Robert Hradil / Getty Images
The 2018 Jeep Wrangler offered a host of interior and exterior improvements.

Between 2005 and 2016, the Jeep Wrangler went on to have a subpar record. There were hundreds (and hundreds) of NHTSA complaints every year. Between subpar safety records and a so-so road ride, you can avoid this whole period. However, in 2018, Jeep began to turn the Wrangler around picking up the improvements from 2017. This was the year of the upgraded Wrangler with the exterior and interior receiving a bunch of refinements. 

With the 2018 model, the Jeep Wrangler maintained its excellent off-roading capabilities but started to work toward a more comfortable road ride. There was plenty of praise around the V6 powertrain, which lasted a long time, as is typical for Jeep Wrangler models. Perhaps most importantly, the 2018 Wrangler started showing signs of improvement in safety. As safety was a primary focus for the Jeep Wrangler brand, any improvements were welcomed to help provide additional peace-of-mind for Wrangler owners. 


Source: Duane Prokop / Getty Images
The 2019 Jeep Wrangler once again continued to build on previous years’ successes.

With the introduction of a new Jeep Wrangler in 2019, nicknamed the JL, this vehicle embarks on a new journey. As is the case with any first-year model, NHTSA complaints were expected. Just over 800 NHTSA complaints are nothing to ignore, but we’re giving a little leniency because it’s the first year of the model year. The reason why the 2019 is recommended is because it’s the first time in a while the Jeep Wrangler has truly good safety scores according to the IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety). 

Along with safety, J.D. Power gives the 2019 Jeep Wrangler one of its best-ever resale scores of “Best”. Because of the Jeep Wrangler’s deep fanbase, many customers are willing to overlook first-year issues and know they will get ironed out as time goes on. The biggest issue this year concerned steering, which was prominent enough to receive over 300 NHTSA complaints on its own. This said, if you’re willing to accept a few growing pains, the positive 2019 model changes are hard to ignore. 


2020 Jeep Wrangler
Source: Noah Wulf / Wikimedia Commons
The 2020 Jeep Wrangler received one of the best safety scores in the vehicle’s history.

Jumping from 2019 to 2020 did wonders from an NHTSA standpoint. Only 433 complaints were filed in 2020, which means overall complaints dropped 45% from the previous model year. This is a big number to consider and shows that Jeep took the 2019 Wrangler problems seriously and looked for fixes. While steering continued to be the big issue in 2020, the issue is not prominent enough to take away 2020 as one of the better Jeep Wrangler years. 

When you also consider how well the 2020 model did with safety, you can see why overlooking steering is justified. Compared to the safety scores from 5 years ago, the IIHS gives the Jeep Wrangler a score of “Good” with everything but “Small Overlap.” As such, it’s easy to consider the 2020 as a positive purchase with such dramatic safety improvements. Plus, you have a more refined interior for enjoying off-roading and day-to-day driving. 


Source: Neydtstock / iStock Editorial via Getty Images
The 2021 Jeep Wrangler is well worth considering as it comes off three-year leases in 2024.

As 2021 Jeep Wrangler models are ending leases in 2024, it’s important to know how well this model year performs. The challenging part is that 2021 doesn’t exclude a high number of NHTSA complaints, but many of these appear to have fixes available through Jeep recalls. Given that Jeep has already addressed many of the issues that originally plagued the 2021 model year, it’s worth suggesting this year as one to own. 

If you want to consider a Jeep Wrangler from 2021 coming off lease, you should rest comfortably in doing so. This is especially true if you can find one with low mileage as the updated interior and boosted safety scores should give you a strong sense of comfort. With multiple “Good” scores on the IIHS safety results, it’s high time that Jeep really starts to take safety seriously and it’s doing exactly that in 2021. 

ALERT: Take This Retirement Quiz Now  (Sponsored)

Take the quiz below to get matched with a financial advisor today.

Each advisor has been vetted by SmartAsset and is held to a fiduciary standard to act in your best interests.

Here’s how it works:
1. Answer SmartAsset advisor match quiz
2. Review your pre-screened matches at your leisure. Check out the advisors’ profiles.
3. Speak with advisors at no cost to you. Have an introductory call on the phone or introduction in person and choose whom to work with in the future

Take the retirement quiz right here.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us?
Contact the 24/7 Wall St. editorial team.