It's not just about appearance packages.
In the US, the Jeep Wrangler is its own deep vein of car culture. It has a unique history, born as a military vehicle and now transformed into a recreational vehicle whose primary purpose is to conquer the unknown, unlike the Land Rover Defender and Mercedes-Benz G-Class, vehicles that have swayed more towards luxury despite their farming and military origins. As a result of being a dedicated off-roader, the Wrangler has one of the largest aftermarket followings out there, and with a simple design with a heavy emphasis on heritage, Jeep owners love to personalize their Wranglers and make them their own.
Jeep has come to understand that its owners like to have something unique and started to build special editions featuring performance upgrades and graphic packages from the factory. It's become a staple of Jeep's marketing, and the special editions now come thick and heavy. These are our favorites from over the years.
It became its own separate model later, but the first Jeep Renegade was an option package in 1970 for the CJ-5 generation. The Renegade I came with hood stripes and low-key 'Renegade' decals but, more importantly, it rolled on upgraded tires, eight-inch wide wheels, and was equipped with a heavy-duty frame and springs, a roll bar, and bucket seats in the front. Somewhere between 250 and 500 Renegade Is are estimated to have been sold, and for the first year, it came with either Mint Green or Wild Plum paint. The Renegade 2 package followed in 1972 and featured a black center stripe for the hood and alloy wheels, as well as more paint options, with production numbers swelling to 750 units. From 1973, it was just known as the Renegade package.
The Golden Eagle decal across the hood of a Jeep became iconic through the late 1970s and early 1980s. Initially, it only came on Oakleaf Brown paint, and that's what springs to mind when we talk about it now, and that's the edition collectors want. It was, essentially, an appearance package but did pack some extra utility in the form of supplementary lighting on the roll bar. That came along with a tan Levi's soft top, chrome or anodized front bumper, a swing-away rear tire carrier, a rear step bumper, and 8-inch spoked steel wheels that could be optioned in gold. Inside was a different instrument panel with a built-in tachometer, Levi's brand vinyl-covered bucket seats and rear bench seat, and a sport steering wheel.
Jeep did try a long-wheelbase Jeep model with the CJ-6 generation, but it was the TJ generation Jeep Wrangler Unlimited that added 13 inches to the chassis that caught on. It both performed and sold well by giving adventurers more room to load up on people and gear. It laid the groundwork for the 2007 introduction of a four-door Wrangler. It was a huge moment for Jeep as sales jumped, and the brand found itself with a whole new line to sell. While it's not one of the most spectacular Jeeps across the decades, it's one of the most important.
That leads us nicely into some of the modern special editions that have captured the imagination and delivered extra factory off-road chops. The Willy's Jeep was the original, and the Wrangler Willys Wheeler channels the military history and reputation for off-road prowess that made its name. It came with aggressive off-road tires, rock rails, and limited-slip differential in 2014. The Willys name has been revived numerous times since then, and the 2020 special edition now includes 32-inch Firestone Mud-Terrain T/A tires, upgraded high-performance shock absorbers, underbody armor, and subtle retro-styling touches.
The first Rubicon version of the Wrangler showed up in 2003 and was designed to tackle the Rubicon Trail straight from the factory. The 10th Anniversary edition was even more hardcore. Added to the extra half an inch of ride height and BF Goodrich tires were a Rock-Track part-time transfer case with a 4:1 low-range ratio hooked to 4.10:1 Dana 44 axles and Tru-Lok locking differentials. That makes the Rubicon 10th Anniversary Edition a beast for crawling through the gnarliest and rockiest of terrain due to having a first gear ratio reduction of 73:1. In other words, it crawled along slowly to make sure it used every ounce of the 3.6-liter Pentastar V6's 270 lb-ft of torque. It was available in both two- and four-door configurations, and could be had with either the hard or soft-top roof. A range of interior styling tweaks like red leather and a technical specifications plaque added a little extra to this special edition.
Jeep launched the Rubicon Hard Rock Edition in 2015 as, effectively, a rename of the Rubicon X Edition. It takes ability and comfort to the next level with features including a Rock-Trac part-time 4WD system with a 4:1 low-range ratio, Dana 44 axles, Tru-Lok electronic lockers for when traction becomes an issue, and electronic sway bar disconnect for when axle articulation is everything. Inside, the Rubicon Hard Rock Edition has standard equipment that is usually an option to tick, including a nine-speaker Alpine audio system and leather seats. The exterior got some upgrades, too, like a winch-capable steel front bumper, generally reserved for special models like the Hard Rock and Rubicon Recon, and a thicker front skid plate for added protection.
With the JL Wrangler's debut late in 2017, the JK-generation off-roader was given numerous special edition send-offs in the same year. One of these special editions was the Jeep Wrangler Chief. It's a callback to a blend of beach-ready styling and off-road performance. Among the throwback elements, its two-tone blue and white paint job paid homage to the original Chief Cherokee, as did the 17-inch five-spoke high-gloss silver wheels. Inside, the Wrangler Chief carried on the homage with black leather-trimmed seats, a silver passenger grab handle, vinyl-wrapped front door armrests, and silver vent rings and door handles.
It wasn't just an appearance package, though, and came riding on 32-inch BF Goodrich KM off-road tires; a Dana 30 front axle and heavy-duty Dana 44 rear axle, and 3.21 axle ratio as standard. Optionally available was a 3.73 axle ratio and a Command-Trac transfer case with a 2.72:1 ratio.
While the Rubicon is the most well-known trail for off-roaders to test their metal and their mettle, the Black Bear Pass trail is firmly in the top ten trails Jeep owners aim for. While the 2016 Jeep Wrangler Black Bear isn't anything too crazy, it came specced out specifically to tackle the notorious Black Bear trail. It used the Command-Trac transfer case with a 2.72:1 ratio, Dana front and rear axles with a 3.21:1 axle ratio. On the inside, it came decked out with black cloth seats with Iron Gray trim, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, new floor mats, and the Connectivity and Power Convenience packages. Because it was based on a Wrangler S, the usually optional air-conditioning was also part of the Jeep Wrangler Black Bear's specifications. The exterior was immediately identifiable by 17-inch black wheels wearing a set of Kevlar-reinforced Goodyear Wrangler Silent Armor tires, and the hood of the Black bear was dominated by a topographical map of the trail.
This is a current special edition from Jeep and reminds us a Wrangler isn't just for trails, mud, and rocks, but tackling snow and cold climates as well. A soft top isn't ideal for a winter climate, so, for when the weather eases up, the Wrangler North Edition is equipped exclusively with a three-piece removable hardtop. Jeep's Selec-Trac Full-Time 4x4 system is standard, as is the brand's brake lock differential, making it easier to get unstuck from the snow. Also standard are heated seats and a heated steering wheel along with all-weather floor mats to cope with the snow, while Jeep says the standard tow hooks allow you to lend a hand to other drivers when they get stuck. The Jeep Trail Rated kit is also included, with a tow strap, D-rings, carabiners, gloves, and a safety kit, but even with all this, no road-legal vehicle is the absolute master of snow and ice.
Jeep special editions don't tend to be that rare, but the tie-in to the Call of Duty video game franchise was limited to 3,500 units. We actually love that this exists and how cool it looks, despite the fact we wouldn't be seen dead driving one. Unlike the previous Call Of Duty Black Ops edition, the 2012 Wrangler Call of Duty: MW3 Edition is based on the more off-road-focused Rubicon instead of the Sahara. That means the MW3 Edition has the chops to back up its winch-ready Mopar heavy-duty front and rear bumpers, black rock rails, taillamp guards, and winch cover. It came on unique semi-gloss black 17-inch wheels and a liberal spattering of MW3 badges and logos inside and out - there's even one on the speedometer.
Whether it is deliberate or not, Jeep often leaves a large gap between the hardcore Rubicon trim and the more on-road-oriented Sahara trim. In 2018, that gap was bridged by the Wrangler Moab Edition that, if it were porridge, would be just right for most people. The Moab trails in Utah have some daunting names, such as Hell's Revenge, Steel Bender, Metal Masher, and Hellroaring Rim. It's an area full of dunes and sandstone, and if you're going to be there for any amount of time, you want comfort as well as ability. The Moab edition got the Rubicon's rock crawling ability, including its rock rails and 32-inch tires, and the Sahara's level of refinement. To us, it's close to being the perfect Jeep, and the vented hood made it look like a real badass.