If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it
At long last, the newest generation of the Jeep Wrangler has arrived. The JL Wrangler began delivery in early 2018, and if you want to try it out before the paint has fully dried, we have it right here for your Jeepin’ pleasure!
Eleven years have passed since Jeep launched the outgoing JK Wrangler, which should tell you something about how popular the JK was. And while the 2018 JL Wrangler is “all-new,” it looks pretty much the same as the last version, and the version before that. Why would Jeep mix up the recipe for its defining model? With its rugged simplicity, go-anywhere attitude, and unmistakable style, the Wrangler has long been an American icon.
The Wrangler is an anomaly. It has no true competition in the market. Its classic WWII-inspired design, a sacred symbol of freedom to some, has barely changed. With sturdy body-on-frame construction, solid axles, and removable top, the JL retains the Wrangler’s unabashed focus on trail and offroad capability. However, it’s important to remember that driving Turo vehicles on unpaved surfaces is prohibited, even with Jeeps (sorry).
On the surface it seems like the same Wrangler, but look closely and you’ll see that nearly everything has in fact changed. For starters, it’s noticeably bigger. The two-door variant has been lengthened by 2.5 inches, and the four-door by 3.5 inches. Among the many small evolutions in the exterior, the most noticeable elements are the front grill, fender lights, tail lights, and the hood bump.
The doors, hood, hinges, fenders, and windshield frame are all aluminum (lighter) now. There’s a new transmission, electro-hydraulic steering, revised interior, lighter frame, and much more intuitive roof panels. Simply put, Jeep has taken every piece of the Wrangler, made it better, and put it all back together in an instantly recognizable package.
If you’ve driven a Wrangler, you know it’s not the most refined vehicle on the road. The box shape creates wind noise, the steering is vague, and pieces rattle around in older models. The super soft suspension is unmatched on the Rubicon Trail but makes for significant body roll on the road. All these concerns remain, but everything with the new JL is tightened up and polished to a degree never seen with the Wrangler.
There’s no way around it: the Wrangler is slow. The two-door weighs at least 3,970 pounds, and the four-door sits at a corpulent 4,485 pounds — bone-dry and all the way stock. The 3.6L Pentastar V6 used by the outgoing JK has been upgraded to make 285 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque, which can be described as adequate. Expect a combined 20 mpg.
The forthcoming diesel V6 option will boost torque to 442 lb-ft, and will only be available in the four-door. But more notably, there’s a new mild hybrid 2.0L turbocharged inline-four on offer for the efficiency-minded. The hybridized I4 makes around the same power as the V6 (268 hp, 295 lb-ft), but likely won’t be available until summer 2018.
Manual is only available paired with the Pentastar V6. Jeep has mercifully done away with the violent vibrations that the JK’s shifter was prone to, and with 50 percent shorter throws, the manual is much more manageable than before. The eight-speed automatic will put your mind at ease, but a Wrangler with three pedals is still the driver’s choice.
Ground clearance is still excellent. The Wrangler’s industry-leading departure and approach angles have incredibly improved further. Together with updated gearing, good brakes, and stronger suspension components, the Wrangler’s improvements make it even more of a beast when the road is less than smooth.
Compared to the utilitarian Jeeps of the past, the JL Wrangler feels like a Rolls-Royce inside. There’s an infotainment system with increasingly large optional touch screens, and most of the buttons and features a reasonable person would want in their car. The gadgetry can be optioned up to a fairly luxurious level, but air conditioning still isn’t standard for the base-level Sport trim. So for most people stepping into a Wrangler for the first time, the JL probably just meets expectations.
Passengers will be much more comfortable here than in the old model. The rear seat back is no longer stuck in a vertical position, so the kids can finally relax back there. The rear headrests fold down for better visibility and the air conditioning vents finally do their job. It’s just a much nicer place to be.
Traditional Jeep die-hards may grind their teeth at the continual softening of the Wrangler, but the vast majority of drivers want to pair its 4×4 capabilities with this level of cabin comfort. Besides, the new JL Wrangler is better at handling dirty, snowy, sandy, and wet conditions than any before it.
Safety is another area of significant improvement. The headlights are miles better than the anemic flashlights on the outgoing Wrangler. And you get standard features like blind spot monitoring, push button start, and a backup camera. Plus, the windshield is much easier to fold down flat and the doors are simple and quick to remove, if you’re into that sort of thing.
And at last, the roof top system has been redesigned for easy topless conversion. This is a big deal for Wrangler owners. The soft top is now completely free of zippers, and the modular “Freedom Top” panels are a cinch to take out. If you’re looking to spend even less effort, the Sky One-Touch power-top option is an electric full-length canvas roof that slides rearward to turn 90 percent of the roof area to blue sky. This new easy-mode roof removal is great news for all, for driving an open-air Jeep is truly living.
If you’re trying to sort out which version is which, the JL Wrangler comes in four trim levels: Sport, Sport S, Sahara, and Rubicon (Sahara is only offered in four-door flavor). The Rubicon is top dog. The stock four-door Wrangler Rubicon featured here has 33-inch tires and rock sliders, along with leather seats and all the fixins inside. It’s the complete package.
Base MSRP for the two-door in Sport trim is around $27,000, which fits squarely in the “affordable” category. But Jeep is known for extensive add-ons and feature packages. With all the options, the four-door Rubicon approaches $60,000, and is a comfy weather-blasting fortress of a Jeep. If you think you know the Wrangler, try out the new JL and see if you’re not impressed.