As an owner of a lifted, modified 98 TJ Wrangler, I have to say that two of the things that you point out in your post are real big reasons I love it so. It is simple to work on parts are readily available, there's a HUGE enthusiast after market. There almost enough space in the engine compartment for me to crawl in and take a nap in. It's simple, durable, easy to work on and probably the MOST reliable vehicle I've ever owned.
As a geek and a weekend mechanic, I've been able to do all the mods on my jeep myself except for when I updated the gears (went from a 3.73 to a 4.56) Plus, it's a convertible, the doors are removable and it's all around super fun to drive. If it gets dirty, I can unbolt the seats, remove the carpet and hose it out in like 30 minutes.
Yeah, it gets super shitty mileage.
Yeah, the panel fits (build quality?) are unimpressive.
I gotta admit, the "low tech" DANA 30 front and DANA 44 rear axles are pretty solid.
Did I say it's simple and easy to work on enough yet?
Also, I live in CO, which is probably one of the *best* places to live, if your driving a jeep. And Moab is just about 5.5 hours down the highway.
I don't know about the latest model Wrangler's (XJ's?), the couple of times I've looked at them, the engine compartments look just as compact and hard to work on as any modern vehicle, and looking at the trim levels inside them, I doubt that I'd want to take a hose to it when it gets dirty.
I would NEVER buy a jeep for a DD, mines a fun drive that sits in the driveway 9/10's of the year, but when we do take it out the smiles (and dirt