At some renewals of established models we find ourselves squinting as we strive to perceive the connection of the new with the preceding version. That phenomenon does not occur with this vehicle. Unveiled at the Los Angeles Auto show, the all-new 2018 model can’t be mistaken for anything but a Jeep Wrangler, the go anywhere, do anything vehicle that traces its lineage to the heroic World War II original.

It looks like a Wrangler, and, we presume, will drive like a Wrangler, only better, according to Jeep. But In fact, there is some squinting involved. Not to discern a connection with the previous generation, but to perceive the changes between the current generation—JK—and the new JL.

Square headlight lesson

There’s a good reason for this. Stylists tamper with the appearance of this most iconic of all vehicles at their peril, a lesson a dismayed design team absorbed in 1986, when a new YJ Wrangler rolled out with square headlights, provoking a prolonged and vehement outcry from Jeep faithful.

The square headlamps persisted through the sale of the Jeep brand by AMC to Chrysler, and through Chrysler’s ill-starred merger with Daimler Benz. But you can bet they’ll never be seen on another Wrangler.

Similarly, the seven-slot grille, rectilinear styling, square-topped fenders, hinged windshield, and exposed door hinges persist. The look is dictated by heritage, of course, but there’s also a form-follows-function component. Those exposed door hinges, for example, allow owners to remove the doors when so moved.

The windshield hinges allow the shield to be folded forward after undoing just four bolts, far fewer than on the current Wrangler. Undo two more bolts and the windshield can be removed entirely. And those square fenders allow plenty of clearance between fender top and tire when the Jeep is negotiating particularly lumpy terrain, an inch more clearance than on the current Wrangler Rubicon.

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Same look, big differences

In sum, at a glance the 2018 Wrangler looks like the current version. But that’s at a glance. On closer inspection, and studying the specs, there are myriad differences.

This is a slightly bigger Wrangler. The wheelbase has been lengthened 1.4 inches, and overall length stretches 2.4 inches. The track is an inch wider, as are the fender flares, and static ride height gains an inch, increasing ground clearance.

It’s also a slightly lighter Wrangler. As an exceptionally rugged body-on-frame design, the Wrangler has always been hefty for its size, making weight reduction a key target in development of the new Wrangler JL. Aluminum doors, hinges, hood, fenders, windshield frame, and magnesium-intensive tailgate conspire to pare about 200 pounds from the curbside mass of the two body styles, 2-door and 4-door. Curb weights are under 4,000 pounds, depending on trim.

In the same vein (fuel efficiency), Jeep publicity materials also cite improved aerodynamics, thanks primarily to increased windshield rake, though aero efficiency is not something that comes to mind when one contemplates the Wrangler.

Power diversity

Wrangler’s familiar 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 (285 horsepower, 260 pound-feet of torque) will continue to be the sole power source when the new Jeeps begin reaching showrooms in January, but will feature stop-start technology, and send its thrust to the 4-wheel drive system via two new transmissions: a 6-speed manual or 8-speed automatic.

There are more engine choices in the pipeline: a mild hybrid 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder, with a 48-volt electrical system, is due shortly after launch, delivering 270 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque.  And, in 2019, a 3.0-liter turbodiesel V6 will join the 4-door powertrain menu, churning up 260 hp and a massive 442 lb-ft of torque. Both the 2.0-liter turbo and 3.0-liter turbodiesel will be paired with the new 8-speed automatic. Towing capacity at launch is 3,500 pounds. Whether that capability might increase with the turbodiesel remains to be seen.

There are two 4-wheel drive systems—Command Trac, with a 2-speed transfer case and Dana axles front and rear, and, for Rubicon models, Rock Track, featuring heavy duty Dana axles with locking differentials.

As you’d expect, Rubicon editions are heavily armored underneath, with skid plates beneath vulnerable points. Approach and departure angles—44 degrees front, 37 degrees rear—are industry best, according to Jeep. Available 33-inch off road tires (previously a Jeep Performance Parts and Mopar accessory) increase ground clearance even further, and water-fording depth is up to 30 inches.

Other new exterior elements include a power-folding hardtop; a convertible top for the 4-door Wrangler; a subtle little aero kickup at the rear of the roof on hardtop models; and a clever accommodation for the standard rear-view camera, which resides within the tailgate-mounted spare tire.

Also: Check out all of the latest news from the LA Auto Show

All-new interior

Like the exterior, everything inside the Wranglers has been redesigned. This includes a broader dashboard, new seats, more small object storage, and of course updated infotainment and connectivity, with the fourth generation of the FCA Uconnect system. Push-button start is new and there are multiple 12-volt outlets, a single 115-volt outlet, and four USB ports.

The new instrument package includes a 3.5-inch TFT info screen between tach and speedometer, 7.0 inches on higher trims. Similarly, the center dash touch screen is 7.0 inches, 8.4 inches in higher spec models.

The 2018 Wrangler has seven trims—S and SL, available in 2- and 4-door models, Sahara (exclusive to the 4-door), and the rugged Rubicons, offered in 2- and 4-door body styles. All Wranglers will be Trail Rated, but the Rubicons are the off-road champs.

During the production ramp up, the current JK Wrangler will be sold alongside its replacement. While initial production will be dedicated to the U.S., the Wrangler is destined for a number of global markets.

At one point FCA boss Sergio Marchionne floated the possibility of moving Wrangler production to Italy, an idea that resonated with Jeep faithful about the same as those square headlights back in 1986. But that idea has long since been hooted down, and Wranglers will continue to roll out of their historic home in Toledo, Ohio. 

Check out our full review of the 2018 Jeep Wrangler

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