Jeep YJ Overview

Jeep YJ Overview

Last Updated May 27, 2022 | Andrew Boyle

In 1986, the Jeep YJ was released. Following behind the CJ-7, this Jeep was the first vehicle to be officially labeled as a “Wrangler.” While the YJ shares plenty of details with its predecessors, the differences in this generation show how the Wrangler became the vehicle it is today.

Red YJ Wrangler

Even though the YJ is still a rugged and competent 4x4 vehicle, all of the things that set it apart from its predecessors are quality of life improvements. From this point onward, the Wranglers were designed to be a perfect marriage of a dailyable SUV and a talented four-wheeling machine.

Birth of the Wrangler

While the CJ series Jeeps were certainly a big hit, they were a bit alienating to some drivers. Even though they could crawl rocks like a billy goat, they were rather uncomfortable on-road. They were full of road noise, ran a little rough, and had a tendency to roll over if driven roughly. That’s were the YJ came in.

In order to widen the appeal of a Jeep, the YJ was made to be more accommodating to a wider audience. It was given bigger leaf springs than its predecessor; anti-roll bars and track bar suspension links were installed to give it a smoother, more stable ride.

Army Green and Red Jeep YJ

Additionally, its design was changed quite drastically. While the later versions of the Wrangler like the JK and JL all more closely resemble the earlier CJ Jeeps, the YJ was quite a big departure. The grille and the headlights for the YJ are most, unlike any other Wrangler. For this reason alone, a lot of Wrangler aficionados aren't the biggest fans of the YJ.

That's unfortunate too because the YJ came with a durable leaf spring suspension setup similar to the earlier CJ Jeeps. While there are certainly a few shortcomings of this more primitive style of suspension, it can really excel on the trail. Leaf spring suspensions allow for a lot of flex, are easy and cheap to repair, and are quite customizable. After the YJ, all Wranglers rely on a coil spring suspension setup. The YJ is certainly more than meets the eye.

That all being said, if you really can't get past the unconventional headlights, then you can always swap those square lights out for a pair of round ones.

YJ Wrangler Engine and Transmission Options

There are a variety of engine and transmission options that were offered for the YJ Wrangler. All of these engines were AMC engines, as the YJ was built shortly after Jeep's acquisition by Chrysler (as they were known at the time).

Wrangler YJ Engine Options
Engine Horsepower Torque (lb.-ft.)
2.5 L AMC straight-four engine(fuel injected) 121 hp 135 lb-ft
2.5 L AMC straight-four engine (multi-port injection) 130 hp 139 lb-ft
4.2 L AMC straight-six engine 112 hp 210 lb-ft
4.0 L AMC straight-six engine 190 hp 220 lb-ft
Wrangler YJ Transmission Options
Transmission Automatic or Manual
3-Speed TorqueFlite TF904 Automatic
3-Speed TorqueFlite TF999 Automatic
5-Speed Aisin AX-5 Manual
5-Speed Aisin AX-15 Manual
5-Speed Peugeot BA-10/5 Manual

Jeep YJ Trim Levels

Cream Yellow YJ Wrangler

S / SE

This is the base trim for the YJ wrangler. The engine options changed based on the year, only offering the 4-cylinder engine for some years, and the 6-cylinder for others. A radio, a heater, and vinyl bucket seats were all included with this trim (although earlier radios were only AM). Besides that, everything else was optional.


This appearance focused package was chock full of chrome. With a chrome grille, bumpers, and various other trim pieces, the Laredo YJ was certainly an attention grabber. Along with body-colored fender flares, cloth seats, and Laredo decals, this trim was truly a looker.


This trim is a much more pared down YJ Wrangler. It came with the 4.0L i6 engine, and honestly, not much else. This model came with the AM/FM stereo, but virtually no other standard features. Air conditioning, a cassette player, and the rear soundbar were all optional on Sport YJs.


This was the first Wrangler to come with a Sahara trim level. Similar to the JK/JL Sahara, this trim level was more luxury-focused. Most of the optional elements of the Wrangler's interior like a cassette player, high back bucket seats, and rear soundbar were offered by default on this trim.

Changes By Year

1987: There was a transfer case specific to this year of YJ Wrangler. The NP207 transfer case was only used for this year of Wrangler. Later, the NP231 was used in its place.

1991: The YJ got a new engine option this year. The fuel-injected 4.0L engine replaced the 4.2L.

1992: There were quite a lot of new features added to the YJ Wrangler in 1992. This year saw the introduction of an electronic speedometer, anti-lock brakes (the first example of this technology on a Wrangler), and an extended roll cage. This year also saw the introduction of the Sahara trim level.

1994: This year saw a slight redesign of the YJ’s transmission. The slave cylinder was moved outside of the transmission bellhousing (which allowed for easier access) and an automatic transmission was configured to work on the 4-cylinder engines.

1995: This was the final year that the YJ Wrangler was produced. There were a few YJs sold in early 1996, but they were identical to the 1995 versions. Given the overlap with this Wrangler and its successor, the TJ Wrangler, some parts that were later featured on the TJ made a brief cameo on the YJ.

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About the Author

Andrew is a Jeep TJ owner and car industry aficionado with over 150 articles under his belt. Read full bio →

Jeep YJ Overview

The YJ is in many ways the black sheep of the Wrangler family. It's odd front end design and relatively primitive technology make it not the most popular model of retro Wrangler. That being said, there's a lot that the YJ Wrangler has to offer.