if you can afford a 04-06 Rubi that would be a good choice.
If you can only afford 4-6k get a 97-99 Sport.
stay away from a 2.5l 4cyl. It is a good engine just not as much power as the 4.0.
License to kill gophers by the government of the United Nations. Man, free to kill gophers at will. To kill, you must know your enemy, and in this case my enemy is a varmint. And a varmint will never quit - ever. They're like the Viet Cong - Varmint Cong. So you have to fall back on superior intelligence and superior firepower. And that's all she wrote.
There's no such thing as a bad year TJ, but Nick is right about staying away rom the 2.5. It just doesn't make enough power to push oversized tires on the highway. If you plan to wheel it, then a Dana 44 rear is a good option to look for. Rubicons have D44 front and rear. All LJs have a rear D44. It was an option for the rear on Sport models, but I don't know what year that started. And I think the D44 rear was standard on Sahara models starting around '01 or '02. But all year model TJs are well built and dependable.
Honestly, if you aren't going to wheel it that often, or that hard and money is an issue, a Sport or X with an I6 should be fine. If you have the $ then a Rubi is worth it, but not necessary. Sports and X's wheel just fine too, just maybe not as easily as a Rubi...
Thanks for your help guys! I'll look into the rubicon and LJ.
What should I look out for or pay close attention when going to inspect a TJ?
Rust underneath depending on where you buy it. Check the 4X4 to see how it shifts, if it works, etc...
An odd thing to check is to see if the seats flip up. Depending on year make and model. Just one of my pet peaves with the TJs.
Alignment and breaking. acceleration and any noises. underneath to see if anything is bent or loose.
Are you planning on installing new tires on those rims? Will they fit? Is there enough clearance? That question has been brought up many times so you might want to look at some of the past threads to see.