The soft top Jeep is an icon, there’s no question about that. What other vehicle exudes the same level of physical excitement as a Wrangler JK with the fabric rolled back, driver beaming as the breeze and the sun connect them to the trail on a spiritual level? Along with that cult status goes a debate: what soft top style is the best?
As with most such questions, the answer is: which soft top style is best for you? A quality Jeep soft top can be broken down into two basic categories: factory style soft top and frameless soft top.
Factory: Factory-style soft tops are built with an internal bow assembly to support the soft top material and designed for ease of use when you want to fold and unfold the top for the weather at hand. Some also come with folding sunroof feature. They are more expensive, but a nice benefit is that the internal bow assemblies allow you to replace the fabric and windows and reuse the hardware that’s already factory-installed on your Jeep. There are also complete soft top kits available if you need to replace the bow assembly for any reason.
Frameless: What makes this different is that there is no internal bow assembly, which can simplify your installation if you you’ve never installed a soft top before. Another great feature of frameless style soft top is that you can unzip the rear windows to leave the top fabric in place as a sun shade while still getting a true open-air feel. An important consideration is that most frameless tops are designed to leave the top fabric in place; it is possible to remove the top fabric, it just takes several more steps, which is important to consider when you just want to blast out onto the trail. It’s also important to consider when a storm rolls in and you’re frantically trying to beat the rain to get the top back on.
Put simply, factory style is best for those who want versatility; to be able to remove the side windows or roll the top back quickly and easily, and roll them back in place just as quickly. A frameless style, or “summer top” is best for those who want a truly open air feel on a budget or live in a climate where rain or mosquitoes aren’t really a problem.