The iconic Jeep Wrangler is finally losing its lone wolf status among the brand’s vehicle lineup.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) confirmed Friday that the 2017 Wrangler redesign (JL) will remove solid front and rear axles, and replace with independent front suspension.
The move comes, the company explained during a conference call, as increasingly strict Federal fuel regulations forced FCA engineers to seek ways to reduce the Wrangler’s weight.
“This was not a decision we took lightly, nor one we accepted easily,” said Henry Ryder, lead Jeep brand engineer. “We understand the significance of a solid axle vehicle for the Jeep brand. We just could not continue on that path in the current environment.”
Ryder said FCA engineers believe they can shave off nearly 600 pounds by swapping suspension systems and they could not ignore that difference.
Currently, all FCA Jeep-branded vehicles (except Wrangler) have an independent front suspension (IFS) – which simply means a system that allows each wheel on the same axle to move vertically and independent of each other.
Most modern vehicles utilize this type of suspension for its comfort and predictable handling at nearly any speed.
However, the complexity of IFS can lead to difficult and costly repair bills should a part fail.
Wrangler owners have long loved the vehicle’s solid axle system because of its simplicity and ease of modification – such as adding lift kits - as well as its proven off-road capability.
“Surprised? I’m not sure that is the right word,” said Alex Hart, lead mechanic at Jeff D’Ambrosio Jeep in Downingtown, Pa. “Stunned is more like it. You can understand putting that type of suspension in other vehicles, but messing with the Wrangler like that is like rewriting the Constitution.”
“You just don’t do it.”
For its part, FCA says it knows how beloved solid axles are for Wrangler fans, but hopes they eventually take to IFS like they did when Jeep moved from leaf to coil springs.
“We understand it will shake up many of our more hardcore customers,” Ryder said. “We just hope they understand the Wrangler will still be the most capable vehicle in its class.”
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