Jeep YJ vs TJ: Which Is Best? – 2021 Comparison Guide

| Last Updated: September 8, 2021

Every single generation of Jeep Wrangler has brought a host of new technologies, new engine choices, and an overall improvement of the original concept. That original concept is quite simple; a compact, 4 – wheel drive, off-road focused vehicle that can go anywhere, and provide the top-down freedom that is completely unique to this American Icon. This all started in 1986 when the Jeep CJ (Civilian Jeep) was rebranded into what we now know as the Wrangler YJ. 

The question that often gets up in the Jeep community is what model years are superior to others. Are some like a bourbon that gets better with age or is the new kid on the block the one you should be looking to put in your driveway? 

Photo credit: dustrunnersauto.com

Today, we’re going to cover two classic Wrangler models, the YJ vs. TJ to see which one comes out on top but let’s be honest here. When you’re rolling down the trail in a Jeep Wrangler, there are really no losers. 

Let’s get into it!  

TL;DR: Jeep YJ vs TJ

We know, we know. The YJ rocked some distinctive square headlights vs. the TJ’s more traditional round units but that’s not the only difference between these two beasts. What it really comes down to is evolution and the TJ simply ups the driveability, interior quality, and overall capability past anything the YJ was ever capable of. 

Does this fact make the YJ a bad Wrangler? Heck no! Let’s explore. 

Jeep YJ

Jeep TJ

Pros

Jeep YJ

Proper, compact size is great for off-roading

Classic 2-door packaging

Introduction of legendary 4.0 Straight Six

Huge availability of aftermarket parts

Jeep TJ

Better packaged, higher-quality interior

More refined ride, without giving up off-road performance

Introduction of Rubicon trim

Introduction of Unlimited 4-door model

Round headlight

Cons

Jeep YJ

Rudimentary, basic interior with minimal creature comforts

Sluggish, unreliable 4.2 I6 and 2.5L 4 cylinders in early years

Square headlights made Jeep purists very angry

Rough, loud and noisy

Jeep TJ

Dialed up the price quite a bit vs. YJ

Lost it’s back to basics mission

Terrible 2.5L 4-cylinder stuck around until 2003

Some argue the leaf springs made it perform worse off-road

Best For

Jeep YJ

The person who wants the most back-to-basics version of the Wrangler or wants to create the ultimate trail rig. 

Jeep TJ

The person who is looking for an evolved Wrangler with several worthwhile upgrades like 4 doors and a decent interior. 

When Were Wrangler YJs Made? 

Years: 1987 – 1995 

These were the first Jeeps to call themselves Wranglers and they were essentially a reworked version of the popular Jeep CJ-7. They retained the same wheelbase, with slightly upgraded mechanicals and a more “refined” experience with features like Air Conditioning. Although, in today’s terms, they were about as basic as a vehicle could get. 

Trim Levels: A ton of trim levels were offered on the YJ,  including Islander, Laredo, Sahara, and the Renegade.

Engines Offered: 4.2L I6 with 2 Barrel Carburetor (1987 – 1990), 4.0L I6 (1991 – 1995), 2.5L I4 (1987 – 1995) 

Major Changes:

1989: AX-15 gearbox replaces problematic Peugeot sourced unit. 

1991: 4.2L I6 replaced with 4.0L High Output I6 with 180 Horsepower. 

1992: Three-point safety belts and anti-lock braking is optional.

Photo credit: jeepsarelife.com

When Were Wrangler TJs Made? 

Years: 1997 – 2006  

The TJ is a huge jump from the YJ in terms of overall equipment availability and interior quality. When looking at the modern JL Wrangler, you have the evolutionary process that started with the TJ to thank. The Wrangler TJ reintroduced the world to a long-wheelbase model, as well as the now legendary Rubicon trim. To that point, there had not really been an “aftermarket special” like the Rubicon offered by a manufacturer and Jeep certainly had a hit on their hands. 

Trim Levels: A ton of trim levels were offered on the TJ, including a dizzying array of special editions: 

  • SE
  • X
  • Sport
  • Sahara 
  • Unlimited 
  • Rubicon 
  • Tomb Raider Special Edition
  • Willy’s Special Edition 
  • WAY MORE! 
Photo credit: drivingline.com

Engines Offered: 4.0L I6 (1997 – 2006), 2.5L I4 (1997 – 2003), 2.4L I4 (2003 – 2006)

Major Changes:

2004: Wrangler Unlimted Debuts 

2003: Mid-Cycle Refresh with new 2.4L I4, Powerflite 42RLE Automatic, New stereo options, and Rubicon model trim. 

2003: Rubicon model makes its debut. 

Relevant Characteristics Between Jeep YJ and TJ

At their core, the YJ and TJ are remarkably similar vehicles in both their mission and their execution. The main differences between these generations are centered around creature comforts, trim availability, and overall refinement. 

Jeep YJ vs. Jeep TJ

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Engines

Jeep YJ

4.2L I6 with 112 HP (1987 – 1990) 

4.0L I6 w/ 180 HP (1991 – 1995)  

 2.5L I4 w/ 120 HP 

Jeep TJ

4.0L I6 w/ 190 HP (1997 – 2006) 

2.5L I4 w/120 HP (1997 – 2003)

 2.4L I4 w/ 150 HP (2003 – 2006)

Transmissions

Jeep YJ

2.5L I4

3-speed 30RH automatic

5-speed AX-5 manual

4.2L I6

1987–1990 3-speed A999 automatic

1987–1989 5-speed BA-10 manual

1989–1990 5-speed AX-15 manual

4.0L High Output

1991 3-speed A999 automatic

1991–1995 3-speed 32RH(A999) automatic

1991–1995 5-speed AX-15 manual

Jeep TJ

2.5L I4

3-speed 30RH automatic

5-speed AX-5 manual

2.4L Powertech

2003–2006 4-speed 42RLE automatic

2003–2004 5-speed NV1500 manual

2005–2006 6-speed NSG370 manual

4.0L High Output I6

1997–2002 3-speed 32RH automatic

2003–2006 4-speed 42RLE automatic

1997–1999 5-speed AX-15 manual

2000–2004 5-speed NV3550 manual

2005–2006 6-speed NSG370 manual

Dimensions

Jeep YJ

Length:

1986–89: 152.6 in 

1989–92: 153 in 

1992–95: 151.9 in

Width: 66 in. 

Wheelbase:  93.4 in.

Jeep TJ

Length:

1996–99: 151.2 in 

    1999–2003: 155.4 in 

Width

1996–2003, 2004–06 LWB: 68.3 in

2004–06 SWB: 66.7 in

Wheelbase:

93.4 in (2,370 mm) standard

103.4 in (2,630 mm) LWB

Curb Weight Range

Jeep YJ

2,855–3,241 lb.

Jeep TJ

3,092–3,857 lb.

Ground Clearance

Jeep YJ

9.0”

Jeep TJ

9.0”

Approach Angle

Jeep YJ

34 Degrees (est.)

Jeep TJ

42.2 Degrees

Departure Angle

Jeep YJ

34 Degrees (est.)

Jeep TJ

31.5 Degrees

Mileage / MPG

Jeep YJ

15 City / 18 Hwy (est.)

Jeep TJ

18 City / 20 Highway

Typical Used Price Range

Jeep YJ

$5,000 to $30,000+

Jeep TJ

$5,000 to $20,000+

Similarities and Differences 

Although these two vehicles are remarkably similar in a ton of ways, there are some differences between these two models. The differences come down to engine choices, daily livability, and overall refinement. 

Jeep YJ and TJ Differences 

The first thing you’ll notice is the design on the exterior of these two Wranglers. YJ Wranglers instantly stand out because of their square headlights, while TJ Wranglers retain the more classic round design. 

The TJ was crucially available in an extended-wheelbase model known as the Unlimited. This harkens back to the CJ Scrambler and was offered a more “family-friendly” version of the less than commodious Wrangler. This was not available on the YJ, thus striking it from many people’s lists due to the lack of practicality. This longer wheelbase model would eventually go on to sprout an additional 2 doors and become the defacto choice for new Wranglers. 

2005 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited (Photo credit: wranglertjforum.com)

Inside, these two vehicles couldn’t be much different from each other. While the YJ went with a bare-bones, scrape your knee type of aesthetic, the TJ borrowed parts from the Chrysler family to make the interior way more livable.

This idea was also translated to the suspension, where the TJ received coil springs vs. the rock hard leaf springs in the YJ. This commitment to refinement and offering more and more interior luxury items is a trend that still continues to this day. 

Lastly, the Rubicon trim would debut in the TJ, and that is something you simply can not get in the YJ. We all know how popular this time is today and it cemented the TJ as one of the best, off-the-showroom floor, off-road vehicles of its day. Not to say the YJ was a slouch off-road but the Rubicon just took up another ten notches. 

Jeep YJ and TJ Similarities

At their core, both of these vehicles are designed to be a whole bunch of fun off the beaten path and they achieve that in spades. Each has its own set of removable doors, removable roofs, and a bevy of aftermarket accessories at its disposal. These things, even in bone stock form, are amazing off-road. 

Photo credit: extremeterrain.com

Both of these generations offer a selection of 4-cylinder and 6-cylinder engines but, and this is a BIG but, you want to do everything in your power to seek out the High Output I6 engine available after 1991. This motor is powerful, reliable as all get out and a breeze to work on. It’s got somewhat of a cult-like following in the Jeep community and that’s for good reason. 

Although the TJ was available in a longer wheelbase form, it still stuck to the 2 door model that Jeep had been well known for and the TJ continued to popularize. You can also get a huge variety of trims in the Wrangler TJ and YJ, including such legendary variants as the Sahara. Again, this along with the Rubicon is still offered today and has built a rabid following. 

What About the CJ?

For those looking to throw it back old school, the Jeep CJ is an awesome option. These bear a remarkable resemblance to the YJ that replaced it but lose some of the creature comforts like A/C. There were 7 generations of the CJ, starting after World War II and culminating in the CJ-7 that died off in 1986.

These rigs are incredibly popular for mudding, rock-crawling, and all sorts of off-road activities. They are super lightweight and therefore make a popular towable rig for those that travel the country in RV’s. Classic, well proportioned, and a blast to upgrade. What’s not to like? 

When and Why Would I Choose the Jeep YJ? 

  • You’re looking for a collectible, first-of-its-kind model that set the stage for many legendary generations to follow
  • You’re looking for a basic vehicle to turn into the ultimate trail rig or rock-crawler
  • You’re interested in dabbling in the Jeep experience without dropping $30k+ on a brand new Jeep Wrangler
Photo credit: altdriver.com

When and Why Would I Choose the Jeep TJ? 

  • You’re looking for a classic Jeep design that has a little more refinement baked into the overall package and more creature comforts
  • You’re looking to pick up a Rubicon that is much cheaper than the $50K+ you need to drop on a brand new one
  • You’re looking for a classic Jeep with a little more room on the inside that comes from the long-wheelbase model (Unlimited)

Bottom Line

Here’s the thing, you can’t really go wrong with either of these incredible vehicles! Prices are pretty similar between the two on the used market, with certain trims/engines/transmissions fetching higher prices. Stick with the 4.0L High Output straight six for punchy performance, and awesome reliability.

Want even more fun? Row your own gears with a manual transmission. You just need to decide if things like a more refined suspension, longer wheelbase, and more refined interior are reason enough to step up from a YJ to a TJ. 

For our money, we think the TJ is a great buy. 

People Also Ask

Still not sure on which to choose between the Jeep Wrangler YJ and TJ? Here are a few more of the commonly asked questions. 

What Does CJ, YJ, and TJ Stand For?

CJ stands for “Civilian Jeep” while YJ and TJ have no specific meaning other than being designated engineering codes used by Jeep engineers. 

Are Jeep YJ Reliable?

Stick to the High Output 4.0L available after 1991 and the AX-15 and you have a pretty reliable rig. Avoid the 4-cylinder models and Peugeot sourced manual transmission. 

Will A YJ Hardtop Fit A TJ?

The short answer is no, but some owners have performed extensive modifications to get it to fit. The answer is why? Just buy the right top. 

Are YJ And TJ Bumpers Interchangeable?

Again, the short answer here is no. It can be done if you intend to modify the bumper with new holes but again, why do this? Just purchase the correct one and avoid the modifications. 

Who Worked on This?


Brian

Editor

A master of organization, Brian helps keep everything running smoothly for Your Jeep Guide.

No Jeep yet but we’re working on that!

Cory

Writer

Cory loves his XJ and frequently thrashes it through the hills. He’s constantly fixing something.


“What fenders?”

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