Don’t Mess With a Good Thing
By Randy Lioz, Editor, Car-ED.com | January 2018
The Jeep Wrangler is hitting showrooms with a major redesign, and enthusiasts are stoked. Without losing its legendary capability, the Wrangler will be more refined, with better fuel economy and more technology. With either two or four doors and a choice of 3 different roof types, plus its first ever full-time 4WD system, there’s a Wrangler for…well, not everyone, but more people than ever.
What is this vehicle?
It’s exactly what you think: a rugged, go-anywhere, do-anything off-roader, with unmatched rock-crawling abilities and a whole host of removable parts, from roof to doors to its fold-down windshield.
There were rumors that some of these details would go away, and that Fiat-Chrysler would go heavily aluminum with the structure, but the traditionalists have won out mostly, with only some body panels being made of soda can metal, and much more use of high-strength steel to achieve the needed weight reductions. The rear “swing gate” is actually made out of magnesium, which is even lighter than aluminum.
Who is this vehicle for?
Wrangler buyers tend to be a fairly diverse bunch, and its cross-shopping list would drop your jaw. That’s because for many shoppers it’s about the vehicle’s image and lifestyle statement, especially those drawn to its status as a rare four-door convertible—currently the only one on the market.
But Wrangler’s owners are also the most likely to take their vehicle off the pavement, and Jeep appreciates and nurtures its iconic status, with an ever-improving mechanical package that can take you through hell and back, no modifications required.
Why is this vehicle important to you, the buyer?
This is the first new Wrangler since the 2007 model, and any redesign of this icon is a big deal. Now you can get the Wrangler’s unparalleled off-road chops in combination with better fuel economy and more technology for both connectivity and safety.
Interesting facts about Wrangler!
- Not only is it the only 4-door convertible sold in the market, but it comes complete with the ability to lose its doors and fold down its windshield, so you can feel at one with nature. These have been Wrangler features from the start—the Civilian Jeeps (CJ) that preceded the Wrangler didn’t even offer doors until the ‘70s.
- It happens to be one of the few vehicles you can buy in the States with the steering wheel on the right side. These Wranglers are intended for rural mail carriers, who often use their own vehicle rather than one provided by the USPS. You might have to wait until June to get a right-hand drive version of the new JL model.
- The Unlimited model was originally a long-wheelbase version, but still with two doors. The four-door was only introduced with the previous generation, the JK model, and it helped to propel Wrangler sales into six figures.
While Jeep is now owned by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), the brand has gone through a few different owners. It was of course part of Chrysler during the company’s tie-up with Daimler, but before the Pentastar era it was owned by American Motors. In the ‘50s and ‘60s it was part of the Kaiser-Jeep company, after having been taken from military to civilian spec by Willys-Overland. During WWII, the original Jeep was built by three different companies: Bantam, which designed it; and Willys and Ford, which built the vast majority.
- Next year, Jeep plans to introduce a pickup truck version of the Wrangler, probably called the Scrambler, in homage to long-wheelbase pickup version of the CJ that was built in the 1980s.
What Excites Us / Top Likes:
1 – The Wrangler will retain all of its legendary off-roading prowess—and then some. For the technically inclined, this means the standard driveline configuration has a higher axle ratio, with 3rd-gen Dana axles, and the highest ratio now comes standard on the Rubicon with automatic trans. The Rubicon suspension is even more capable, with better articulation and travel thanks to a new electronically disconnecting sway bar. The standard Command-Trac and Rubicon-spec Rock-Trac part-time 4WD systems are pretty close to the outgoing model’s, but the Wrangler now has an available full-time 4WD system, which could be a better option for those used to AWD crossovers, where the vehicle takes care of its own adjustments. Unfortunately it’s only available on the Sahara trim, which is exclusive to the 4-door Unlimited.
2 – The powertrain options may very well have the biggest impact on widening the Wrangler’s appeal. With an upgrade from a 5-speed to an 8-speed on the standard 3.6L V-6, the Wrangler has already gained 2 city mpg and 3 highway mpg. Jeep calls this transmission class-exclusive, but the Wrangler is largely in a class of its own. The 2.0L turbo engine will certainly add further mileage gains, especially with its eTorque mild hybrid system that allows for regenerative braking and Engine Stop-Start (ESS). And this engine will be available across the lineup. It’s rated at 270 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. The V-6 has 285 hp, but only 260 lb-ft of torque.
For many, the more exciting option will be the 3.0L diesel engine, which shows up in 2019. Off-roaders love diesel engines, with their gobs of torque to scale rocky inclines, and the EcoDiesel doesn’t disappoint; it has 442 lb-ft to go along with its 260 hp. This engine also comes with ESS.
3 – The styling keeps the best of Wrangler’s heritage, with some nice cosmetic updates. The LED lighting package on Sahara and Rubicon models upgrades the headlamps and tail lights, and even the fog lights. It would be nice to have these cosmetic tweaks as standard, though. Still, Jeep was able to make subtle tweaks that keep the look of the Wrangler intact, while improving the experience. The windshield now folds down while keeping the A-pillars in place, for example, allowing the rollover bar to cover the whole cabin. And that windshield and the grille are at different angles from the outgoing JK model, so the aero performance is improved, even though the changes aren’t very noticeable.
4 – The Wrangler has three great roof options, starting with the standard soft-top, which is much easier to use than previous models. It has easily removable side panels, that no longer require fussing with zippers, and you can retract the top to a variety of different points, and still drive on the highway. There’s also an available hard top with removable panels, so it can be converted for open-air motoring. The basic top is black, but you can get body-color roofs on the Sahara or Rubicon.
The power-retractable Sky One-Touch roof is mostly a hard-top, but with the top panel being fabric, and retracting all the way back with the touch of a button. With both of these upgraded roofs you can take out the rear cargo windows, so along with the removable doors, you can still open it wide to the world.
5 – The Wrangler’s interior gets a major tech upgrade, with the 8.4” Uconnect system now available for the higher trims, which also feature Android Auto and Apple CarPlay as standard. Unfortunately you can’t get these features on the Sport models. Lower models come with a 5” or 7” center screen. And the gauge cluster hasn’t been forgotten, getting full-color displays—either 3.5” or 7”.
Items to make better (Least Favorite things):
There’s not a whole lot lacking with this vehicle, since it stays true to its mission, but Jeep seems to have missed the boat a bit on the advanced driver assist systems that are being offered on many other vehicles currently being introduced. The Wrangler has always been a pretty analog vehicle, but even it can’t escape the digitization occurring within most cars, with its connectivity as an example. But its advanced safety equipment tops out at optional rear park assist and blind-spot monitoring, with no active safety measures, like auto emergency braking, at a time when companies like Toyota, Nissan and Honda are putting these as standard on most or all of their vehicles.
Segment and Competitors:
Since vehicles like the Toyota FJ Cruiser and Nissan Xterra have gone away, Wrangler is left to play pretty much in its own sandbox. Ford will be introducing a new Bronco, which will only be available as a 4-door, but should have removable roof panels like Wrangler. This may not hit the market for nearly three years, however.
The most immediate competition may be the Toyota 4Runner, one of the few mid-sized body-on-frame SUVs left in the market. Wrangler shoppers who want to do serious off-roading might also consider mid-sized pickups, like the Chevy Colorado and it’s hard-core ZR2 trim. The new GMC Acadia now has an off-road model, despite being a unibody design, testament to the fact that there are many different vehicles that can handle trails and even some rock crawling, given sufficient ground clearance, four driven wheels, and maybe some skid plates.
And of course there are luxury vehicles with capability to do 95% of what a Wrangler can conquer, like utilities from Land Rover and the rugged-looking G-Class from Mercedes. In fact, when Jeep first introduced the Wrangler’s body-color top option a few years ago, brand reps were overheard saying that they hoped their vehicle would be considered as an alternative to the Benz. Maybe with some of the new electronic goodies and increased comfort—with items like a heated steering wheel available—that’ll really be the case.
Pricing and Availability:
The new Wrangler is arriving in dealers, with sales starting soon, from ,190, including destination, for the Sport model, but quickly rising from there. Fully loaded Unlimited Rubicons can get close to ,000 with all of the accessories that Jeep owners love, including things like a headliner on their removable roof panels, and a “Trail Rated Kit” that includes a tow rope.
The 2.0L turbo model will follow a few months later, and the V-6 diesel will be added in early 2019. Enjoy them all!
For full specifications and equipment go to: