2018 Jeep Wrangler

TUCSON, Ariz. — One could easily argue that the Jeep Wrangler is the most instantly recognized vehicle in the world. Even my three-year old grandson would excitedly call out “Jeep, Papa! look!” whenever he saw one. Born in 1941 as the Willy’s Overland MB, it was specifically tailored to Army specifications for the Allied soldiers in World War II. Most were sent to soldiers in England and Russia under the Lend-Lease program.

About 16,000 MAs were produced at a unit price of $738.74. Arguably, it was the first mass-produced four-wheel-drive vehicle — now known as an SUV. President Eisenhower would go on to say that, “America could not have won World War II without it.”

Today, Jeep Wrangler is unquestionably one of the most capable off-road vehicles in the world with an unmistakable, classic and iconic retro design. For 2018, Jeep’s design team has again tinkered with Wrangler, an infrequent task that they take extremely seriously. A redesign happens only about every 10 years or so, and care is taken to respect the brand’s history and legacy. The last update was 11 years ago, with the JL replacing the outgoing JK. So, when a new Wrangler is introduced, it’s a really big deal not only for the company, but also for the millions of Jeep owners around the world.

I recently spent a day behind the wheel of the newly redesigned 2018 Wrangler, putting it through its paces both on and off-road, negotiating the Rubicon-equal, 60-degree boulder-strewn landscape in the Sonoran Desert outside Tucson, Arizona. Jeep loyalists will be more than pleased to know that the new Wrangler JL is an absolute home run in every sense. Its capabilities off-road boggle the mind; its on-road manners are significantly improved. It is the most capable off-road and most comfortable on-road vehicle in the brand’s 75-plus-year lineage.

The 11-year wait for the new Wrangler has brought a ton of needed changes and new features. The doors and door hinges, hood, fenders and windshield frame are now made out of aluminum with a magnesium rear swing gate with aluminum skin.

The windshield still folds, but instead of taking an hour and a half to work your way through 28 bolts, you now need only a matter of minutes by removing just four bolts for the operation. A new headbar now connects the A-pillars and stays in place when the windshield is folded, allowing the rearview mirror to remain in place.

The doors are still removable, and combine with door pins that are staggered lengths for easy installation and removal. The Torx bit tool size is now stamped directly on to the aluminum door hinge to eliminate the guesswork in determining which tool is needed. The doors are also self-closing, and have a new detent feature that keeps them open to a set position when desired. A new half-door design will be available starting in 2019.

The rear swing gate has a wider opening; the rear license plate now sits on the rear bumper to accommodate the spare tire, which as been lowered to improve visibility. Rear visibility has also been improved by relocating the rear wiper to the bottom of the glass, and equipping all models with a rear backup camera.

The vehicle’s beltline has been lowered and every window is now larger. The legendary seven-slot grill has been updated, with the outer grille slats now intersecting the headlights, a nod to the Jeep CJ. The keystone-shaped grille has been gently swept back, improving aerodynamics. We also liked that designers ditched the hard-to-use push-button door handles in favor of simple pull handles.

All four trim levels — Sport, Sport S, Sahara and Rubicon — come standard with a removable soft top. Thankfully, the zippered windows have given way to a new and easy to use slide-in tongue-in-groove configuration that makes removing the windows a snap.
An all-new premium Sunrider soft top relies on clock springs held in place with clips and takes less than four minutes to fold. Previously removing the soft top was labor intensive and usually couldn’t be accomplished without getting your fingers pinched in the folding mechanism.

A new optional Sky One-Touch powertop is available on Sahara and Rubicon four-door models. The full-length open-canvas roof retracts with the push of a button. It can be operated at speeds of up to 60 mph.

Ryan Patrick Joyce, Jeep’s interior design manager, describes the new interior as “refined-authentic.” The intention was to recapture the original Willy’s MB “horizontality” for the dashboard, where all round gauges and air vents are aligned horizontally and simply — a mix of old and new. Sport models feature Satin Silver panels, while Sahara models use Grillz Silver.

There are plenty of new-for-’18 refinements, including an optional premium leather-wrapped dashboard, standard cloth or optional leather-contoured seats with contrast stitching. The center armrest is longer, there are larger storage areas with a center console that can accommodate an iPad. Push-button start and side airbags are now standard across all trim levels. Another much needed fix is the standard tilt/telescoping steering wheel on both Sahara and Rubicon models.

A 7-inch or available 8.4-inch touchscreen houses the fourth-generation Uconnect system, which now sits atop the center stack and includes both Apple 
CarPlay and Android Auto. Large, functional climate control and audio volume control knobs with media connectivity ports are directly below the touchscreen. There are five USB ports — as many as one for each passenger — located throughout the cabin.

The standard engine is an updated version of last year’s 3.6-liter 285-horsepower Pentastar V-6 that produces 260 lb-ft of torque. A new six-speed manual transmission with 50 percent shorter shift throws is standard; an eight-speed manual is optional with the V-6.

An optional engine upgrade is a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder mated to a new eight-speed automatic transmission. It develops 270 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque, more than the V-6, and is also available with a mild hybrid system. While I’m a fan of the Pentastar V-6, I also thought the 2.0-liter delivered excellent power on and off the road, with noticeable torque when needed thanks to the twin-scrool turbocharger that spools quickly, making for excellent response. A 3.0-liter diesel V-6 will join the lineup in 2019.

We first drove the new Wrangler about 40 miles on paved roads and immediately noticed the improved ride and steering vs. the outgoing model. Steering is much more precise and steady with none of the previous wiggling, thanks to the new electro-hydraulic rack-and-pinion steering system. This is a new and welcome standard for Jeep.

Despite the Wrangler being “all new,” the JL actually improves upon its world-class off-road capability. The design team improved the approach, departure and breakover angles. This minimizes undercarriage skid plate scraping during aggressive climbs, descents and hill crests, over boulders and through deep trail ruts. This is especially with the Rubicon models. Ground clearance is also up across the board — up to about 11 inches depending on trim and tire size. The JL can ford up to 30 inches of water.

Also new for 2018, the Rubicon features removable outer front bumper sections to improve the approach angle for steep inclines. Steel rock guards outboard of the rocker panel protect the Wrangler’s body from damage. The Rubicon also gets a 1.5-inch wider track; 33-inch all-terrain tires, and an electric front sway bar disconnect system that’s perfect for extremely slow rock crawling.

2018 Wranglers are offered in four trims: Sport ($26,995), Sport S, Rubicon ($36,995), and Sahara ($37,345). Add another $1195 for destination charges.

All trim levels are available with two or four doors, with the exception of the Sahara, which is only a four door. That gives you seven total options — at least before Jeep starts offering special editions. Interestingly, the four-door Wrangler outsells the two-door, four to one.

The many incremental improvements to the 2018 Wrangler renders the previous generation practically ancient by comparison. And, for the record, I really like the JK. Based on my recent time behind the wheel of the new JL, I expect it to fly off dealer lots when it goes on sale the first quarter of 2018. All Jeep Wranglers are still only built in Toledo, Ohio.

Vital Stats
Base Price: $26,995 - $37,345
Price as Tested: N/A
Engine: 3.6-Liter 285-hp V6 and optional 2.0-Liter 270-hp turbocharged 4-cyl
Transmission: 6-speed manual or 8-speed automatic
Fuel Economy: V6-18-mpg city – 23-mpg highway, 4-cyl., TBD
Seating: 5
Safety Crash Test Results: NHTSA = 3 out of 5 stars frontal collision

Competes With

Fab Features
Wide variety of new engine options
Much improved on-road ride and handling
Improved World Class off-road capabilities

— Jim Prueter