Cheap Or Expensive: Which Jeep Is The Better Option? Cheap Jeep Challenge Ep. 7

Nearly $30,000 separates these two Jeeps

Is it worth building up that brand new Jeep, or is an old one better?

The overarching theme of the “Cheap” Jeep Challenge is to find an inexpensive Jeep and build it up without breaking the bank. In this case, Roman and Tommy spent $6,500 on a 2002 Jeep Wrangler TJ SE. From there, they’ve spent the better part of $3,500 turning it into a more capable off-roader. From new tires and a lift to simple, quality of life fixes, the cheap Jeep looks much more the part than it did a few weeks ago. But is it just as capable as a newer model?

Cheap Or Expensive: Which Jeep Is The Better Option? Cheap Jeep Challenge Ep. 7
Our 2002 Wrangler TJ in the snow. [Photo: TFLcar]

To find out, we took Tommy’s 2016 Wrangler Sport and the TJ up into the Colorado Rockies for a bit of winter off-roading. Naturally, the $32,000 newer Wrangler has more creature comforts than the more agricultural TJ. It has a six-speed manual transmission, whereas the TJ’s automatic only has three forward gears. It has a much more powerful 3.6-liter V6 engine to the TJ’s 2.5-liter inline-four. The Wrangler JK has power windows, more airbags, and all around more technology at play than the TJ.

On the other hand, the 2002 Wrangler TJ is a smaller, lighter machine than the JK. Like Tommy’s Wrangler, the TJ is also running without full locking differentials, and it still has the lift and tires, albeit smaller (31 inches) than the JK’s tires. It’s also the last generation to carry more of the classic Jeep look, whereas the more modern JK moved away from that design philosophy. Of course, we’ve seen some of it come back in the new Wrangler JL.

2018 Trackhawk vs. 2016 Wrangler - which is least fuel efficient?
Tommy’s 2016 Wrangler JK. [Photo: TFLcar]

It costs how much?

At nearly $40,000 with modifications, the Wrangler JK is a pricy proposition against the $10,000 or so you can spend on the TJ. Ultimately, it is a more capable off-roader as well as a more comfortable on-road driver. However, for the more classic Jeep feel, better maneuverability and lower barrier to entry, the Jeep Wrangler TJ might hit the sweet spot for some.

Which would you buy? Let us know in the comments below! Come back to for more news, views and real-world, cheap Jeep reviews.

If you missed our first off-road excursion in the modified TJ, check out the video below: