When it comes to change, we all know how Jeep enthusiasts react - usually poorly. Remember square headlights? Coil springs? Refined JK interior? So when Fiat Chrysler announced they were planning on an entire redesign of the Wrangler for 2018, you could almost hear David Bowie in the background mumbling 'Turn and face the strange....ch-ch-changes.' Maybe even something like 'Dogs and Cats living together - mass hysteria' type of thing. And yet nearly every FCA executive grilled about the new Wrangler's design said there was no way they would stray from what has made Wrangler a success since its 1987 inception.
So here it is:
The 2018 Jeep JL Wrangler is perhaps as anticipated a vehicle as the brand has ever created. It is not just a simple refresh, mind you. This model is a full-on redesign – only the third in Wrangler history - with all new bells, whistles, tops, axles, hinges, bumpers, buttons (and a camera) that seek to continue the legendary Jeep’s 4x4 capability, while balancing the requirements of modern day driving. It is not an easy feat for designers, mind you. Not with legions of hardcore Jeep enthusiasts ready to pick apart the smallest thing. But as the vehicle rolled out, and began the test drive circuit in early December 2017, it quickly became apparent Jeep seemingly has accomplished this goal.
Perhaps the biggest news regarding the 2018 Wrangler launch is something Jeep didn’t do. Jeep designers thankfully did not change out solid axles for an independent suspension. Rest assured, this vehicle keeps the same ladder on frame, solid axle design it has always used. However, some of the meatier changes for the JL are weight related. Specifically, an all-aluminum hood as well as aluminum doors. Plus, aluminum in the windshield, hinges and tailgate (mixed with magnesium). All these design changes help shave around 200 pounds off the JL's gross vehicle weight which should also help fuel economy. But adding aluminum to the vehicle is not the only interesting design overhaul. New lighter and stronger Dana axles, cleaned up interior dash design, multiple engine choices, upgraded safety features, re-engineered tops, aerodynamic front grill and windshield design, and more, are all cooked into the 2018 Jeep Wrangler as well. Not to mention a whole slew of optional accessories that can be added to customize this new redesign exactly how you want.
Overall, most of us already knew from spy photography and Jeep executive quotes that the new Wrangler's body design was not changing much. Yet even with all that, you never really know until you see the final product live. Which is why so many were actually interested in the vehicle's reveal. And, yes, what you are getting in the JL is that time-tested Wrangler appearance (both 2- and 4-door) that - at first glance - doesn't seem different at all from the previous JK version. But looking deeper, is something that has some visual and performance tweaks here and there. For example, the Wrangler JL's hood is slightly longer than the current generation in order to fit its larger 8-speed automatic transmission. It will also incorporate cowl vents (Rubicon version) to help accommodate airflow into the engine bay to keep those engine temperatures down. The JL's flares are redesigned as well with some contouring to help airflow, and engineers have placed functional vents right behind the front flares to aid in aerodynamics while providing another area to assist with engine cooling.
Looking at the windshield highlights another exterior structural change, as designers increased its rake 15 degrees which will help reduce drag. In addition, Jeep has made the frame much easier to fold down than past editions, and made it a two-piece design where the windshield shell section folds while another frame section remains in place to add strength. Additionally, the new front grill has more of a ‘kinked’ angle in the top portion similar to the older YJ Wrangler, while turn signal lights have been relocated into the fender flares as large, clear LED turn signal light strips. The new Wrangler will also hit dealerships with redesigned LED taillight that vary a bit in design according to the vehicle trip level.
Rounding out some other exterior features are redesigned hood catches to strengthen connection and reduce hood flutter, new door hinges which compliment those lighter doors, a front bumper with removable end caps, and new door and tailgate handles that work with the vehicle's keyless entry system.
Like we mentioned before, the 2018 Jeep Wrangler will continue using the long-standing front and rear floating solid axles, but this edition will incorporate Dana's new aluminum-based AdvanTEK technology for stronger, and lighter axles. Sport and Sahara editions will employ Dana 30 front and 35 rear axles straight from the factory, but don't let those designations fool you. These are quite a bit stronger than Dana's old 30/35 combination and are ready to stand up to more severe trail action. These are also paired with Jeeps' newly redesigned Command-Trac two-speed transfer case. Sahara owners can also opt-in to a full-time Selec-Trac two-speed transfer case which is a first for the Jeep line. Wrangler's Rubicon trim receives heavy-duty front and rear next generation Dana 44 axles which are mated with a Rock-Trac 4:1 transfer case - making the vehicle capable of an improved crawl ration of 84:1.
Since 2012, Jeep has utilized the award-winning 3.6L Pentastar engine that pushes out 285-hp and 260 lb-ft of torque while also boosting fuel economy over previous Wrangler editions. That Pentastar design will return for the 2018 Wrangler as a standard option engine on all trim levels, but will arrive somewhat upgraded to mate with the newer transmissions, as well as boosting fuel economy once again. The engine's horsepower rating and torque remains stable at 285/260, but now averages out to 19 mpg for the manual and 20 for automatic.
Besides the Pentastar, Jeep will offer two other power plants as options for the 2018 Wrangler, although neither will be immediately available. Coming this February will be a 2.0L eTorque I-4 Turbo Engine option that incorporates Belt Starter Generator technology - which employs an additional small battery to help store energy while braking. This energy is then released upon acceleration to help add a bit more power and help reduce fuel need. The 2.0L turbo tosses out 270 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque and will not be available in manual transmission. Nor have fuel specs been released. Coming in 2019, Jeep will begin offering its 3.0L EcoDiesel which is said to be based off the Grand Cherokee and Dodge Ram 1500 engine. Jeep enthusiasts have long clamored for a production diesel engine which would be perfect for many in the off-road crowd because of its low-end torque, as well as the daily driver crowd because of its boosted fuel economy. In fact, this diesel will offer 260 horsepower and an astonishing 442 lb-ft of torque. Like that 2.0L I-4 turbo, the diesel engine fuel ratings have not been released. In addition, both Pentastar and Ecodiesel will have Start/Stop technology - which can be disabled and will shut off when the vehicle is placed into 4-low.
Despite a few claims the JL Wrangler would only offer an automatic transmission, Jeep indeed has a six-speed manual as well as an eight-speed automatic as transmission options. Older Wrangler editions utilized a five-speed automatic, but Jeep turned to an eight-speed for better fuel economy, as well as off-road performance, for the JL Wrangler. Automatic will be an option for all power plants, but manual transmission looks to only be available in the 3.6L Pentastar.
Its distinctive tops, both hard and soft, have defined Jeep vehicles for generations. And for 2018 Jeep has made some interesting design changes to both. For the soft top, zippers have become a thing of the past as a new track system will secure the top and windows on the vehicle. By using these tracks, all three back windows can unhook and slide out much more quickly than the previous zippered editions. Also, maneuvering the top up and down is now easier than ever. The Sunrider top still latches to the windshield and can fold halfway back like JK tops did, but a new latch at the rear allows the top to smoothly slide down on a rail system. When reclined, new rear locking mechanisms on both sports bars will secure the top/hardware in place, and will also serve as a lift assist device to easily raise the top back into position.
For hard tops, the 2018 JL Wrangler offers a standard version that operated similar to the JK design - with front removable Freedom panels and a removable back section. However, the front Freedom panels are quite a bit lighter than earlier versions and can be easily carried to their storage place. This hardtop also now comes with rails so those interested can mount a hard storage rack on the roof without drilling. Later this spring, Jeep will also have a powered hard top option which will not be removable, but will have easily removable rear quarter windows. One simple switch on the windshield will control the center sliding mechanism, while anti-collision sensors will make sure the sliding section stops should anything (like little fingers) impede opening or closing.
Push button start, integrated windshield grab handles, digital driver instrument cluster, a new steering wheel, smaller climate controls and a cleaner dash design mark some of the interior changes Jeep has made in the 2018 JL Wrangler. Also new for 2018 will be a revamped infotainment system – the 4th generation Uconnect with 5-, 7-, and 8.4-inch options, which all have the traditional fare of options like radio, phone, navigation and climate control. All are touch screen and are interactive with either Apply Car Play or Android Auto. Upper-tiered selections include automatic collision notification, lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring, SOS emergency calling, stolen vehicle location service and a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hot spot. Using the Uconnect smartphone app, owners can remotely start the vehicle, operate the horn and lights, locate the vehicle, send a destination to the navigation system, and more. Incorporated into the 8.4-inch design will be a unique 'Off-Road Pages' option which helps monitor things like steering angle, pitch and roll, oil, coolant and transmission temps, sway bar status, transfer case mode and battery voltage. The Jeep's rear view camera will also display through the U-Connect system.
A new driver digital instrument cluster has a base edition sized at 3.5-inches, and will have an optional 7-inch design which provides a speedometer, compass, odometer and exterior temperature – while including standard fuel and oil temperature gauges on the left and right. It is also programmable from the vehicle’s steering wheel so you can change readings. The larger cluster also has those same features, while changing the fuel and oil temp to digital readings.
Other interior improvements include new USB ports behind the center console, a power inverter that can fuel things like cell phones, electronic games and other low power devices that require 150 watts or lower. However, anything requiring higher wattage will not work as the inverter automatically shuts off above 150 watts. Additionally, a rear seat fold down center section will now contain cup holders.
Color options for the 2018 JL Wrangler include Granite Crystal Metallic Clear Coat, Firecracker Red, Billet Silver Metallic Clear Coat, Bright White Clear Coat, Black Clear Coat, Hella Yella, Punk'n Metallic (darker orange), Mojito! (green), Ocean Blue and Sting-Gray. The first five colors: Granite Crystal, Firecracker Red, Billet Silver, Bright White and Black will all be immediately available. The others will filter in early next year as JL production continues.