A manual may be more fun for some but the purpose built offroad machines like compete in King of the Hammers and other major offroad events made the switch to automatics many years ago. Both winners at the 2012 King of the Hammers event were running automatics. And their automatic transmissions were essentially stock too, only coolers were added.
I converted my previous TJ from its OE 5-speed to an automatic for offroading purposes and the increase in its offroading ability from the automatic's 2-3X extra torque and infinitely low 1st gear ratio gave my TJ as much of a boost in offroad ability as installing the front and rear lockers did. The conversion to the automatic made a DRAMATIC improvement in how well it did offroad, expecially when climbing obstacles. The exact same three obstacles on a trail I have run for years always require a winch to get up and over them with my 4.88 gearing, 5-speed manual, and 35" tires. I couldn't make it up those obstacles without a winch no matter how many different lines I tried over the years. Then after I converted to the automatic, it went up those same three obstacles more easily than I could believe and without the need of a winch. The automatic's 2-3X greater low-end torque from its torque converter was the only difference. Same 35" tires, same 4.88 axle ratio, just the automatic transmission. It was almost stupid-easy after converting to the automatic, wow what a huge improvement on just that trail alone.
And for those who may think I just don't know how to drive a manual transmission well enough... I first learned to drive a stick back in 1964... almost 40 years of owning and driving a whole bunch of manual transmissions.
__________________ When you have a choice, buy American.
My old CJs were three speed manuals but I really enjoy the convenience of the auto in my TJ. Easier to drink my coffee on the way to work and all that jazz. I also like the AC and shift on the fly 4WD. I'm getting older I guess. It was very fun to shift that three speed behind a 304. Felt great.
I love wheeling with an auto. You can just ease up to a obstacle and climb up it pretty smooth. I have never wheeled with a stick but alway see guys stalling and jerking trying to work the clutch climbing up stuff. I see rock crawling with a stick being a hassle. Just my .02
Southern New Mexico
When I bought my 97 TJ 3 years ago it was a 5 speed, yes it was fun to drive but I go to Rausch creek here in PA every chance I get and for the rocks an automatic is the way to go. Last summer I swapped out my ax-15 5 speed manual for a 32-rh 3 speed auto and it is by far the best mod I have done to my jeep.
Favorite quote, Thanks GoldenSahara00 "not many people do it. most of the guys who do do it, don't sit on the computer and talk/write about it, they do it then go wheel"
Love to dive a stick, I have the 6 speed and it's not a DD either. However, I too think an auto would be more enjoyable crawling around the hills.
2013 Wrangler Sport S. Max tow, 3.73, connection package, power package, upgraded Alpine, Rough County stubby bumper mod, Rugged Ridge light bar, Ace rock sliders, Rough Country 2.5" lift, 15" MB TKO's, 33" Duratrac's, Spiderweb Shade.
I have the 5 speed and I love it. To me it's funner and is more sporty than an automatic. Plus, not many people know how to drive stick shift, so, if your buddy wants to drive your jeep, but they don't know how to drive a stick...tough luck! If it was an automatic, you'd have no excuse for them not to drive it.
Also, manuals are a little simpler and cheaper. You also can use engine compression to slow your Jeep down with a stick shift vs. using your brakes all the time.
Lastly, I think a true, traditional Jeep needs to be Manual.
But, for rock crawling and for off roading, ...an automatic would be easier to operate. Can't disagree with that.