2018 Jeep Wrangler (JL) First Review: Better Off and On the Road
Price Range: $26,000-$40,000 (est.)
Engines: 268-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder, 285-horsepower 3.6-liter V6
Warranty: 5-years or 60,000 miles
Maximum Towing Capacity: 2,000 lb (2-door), 3,500 lb (4-door)
Shopping Note: The all-new Wrangler (JL) will be sold alongside the Wrangler (JK) as 2018 models
First rule of business: Don’t mess with success. With Jeep brand sales quintupling over the last eight years, and Jeep Wrangler sales doubling in that timeframe, it’s safe to say the Jeep Wrangler is one of the most successful SUVs on the market.
Starting in early 2018 Jeep will begin selling an all-new Wrangler. The new version has been redesigned from the ground up, with everything from its chassis to its drivetrain to its interior re-engineered in an effort improve the world’s most iconic SUV. That’s exciting for consumers, but as an automaker there’s always the specter of concern hanging over your shoulder.
Consider this -- if the outgoing Wrangler has doubled in sales, enjoys a loyal following, and remains one of Kelley Blue Book’s best SUVs in terms of residual value, does it really need a redesign? Is there more risk than reward to be found in messing with the Wrangler’s success?
The obvious answer is yes, but Jeep knows it can’t rest on the Wrangler’s plentiful laurels forever. The SUV segment never stops evolving. Leave the Wrangler alone and it will be left behind. Thus, Jeep’s goal for the all-new 2018 Wrangler is to improve it in every way without losing what’s kept the Wrangler so compelling for over 70 years. That means retaining the classic Jeep’s style and supreme off-road proficiency while improving its functionality and refinement.
After spending several days driving the new Wrangler in New Zealand’s South Island mountains we can confirm Jeep’s success: Mission Accomplished. The 2018 Wrangler has a more advanced drivetrain, increased interior space, greater refinement, and improved functionality. The SUV’s off-road capabilities were also upgraded, keeping it true to the spirit that made the Jeep Wrangler an icon in the first place.
Still the Best Off-Road SUV
Rumors of an all-aluminum 2018 Wrangler proved false, as Jeep wanted to ensure the compact SUV could withstand extreme off-road demands. Jeep stuck with a steel, fully-boxed, body-on-frame design for the new Wrangler’s chassis, but upgraded the hood, fender flares and doors to aluminum and the rear swing gate to magnesium. These lightweight materials not only benefit performance and fuel efficiency, but make removing and carrying the doors much easier. The doors also include a new notch below the armrest to aid handling, while clearly-labeled Torx hinge bolts let you know which Torx bit size you need without trial-and-error (#40 and #50, if you’re curious).
The 2018 Wrangler rides on a 5-link suspension for improved on-road manners without compromising off-road prowess. Solid front and rear axles, with available locking differentials and an electronically disconnecting front sway bar, let the Wrangler transition from pavement duty to off-road aficionado in seconds. With industry-leading approach (44 degrees), breakover (27.8 degrees), and departure (37 degrees) angles, plus 10.8 inches of ground clearance available, the Jeep Wrangler remains the benchmark for rock crawling. It’s also certified for up to 30 inches of water fording. Four underbody skid plates protect critical drivetrain components from hard impacts, and Rubicon models feature heavy-gauge tubular-steel rock rails to protect the body during aggressive adventuring.
New Engines and Transmissions
For 2018 the Jeep Wrangler is powered by either a 3.6-liter V6 or a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder. The standard V6 makes 285 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque, and is offered with a new 6-speed manual transmission (standard) or a new 8-speed automatic (optional). The optional 2.0-liter turbo, available on all Wranglers, produces 268 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque, but it only comes with the 8-speed auto. Buyers wanting even more torque can wait until 2019, when a 3.0-liter EcoDiesel V6 will be added to the Wrangler’s drivetrain menu. This engine will offer 260 horsepower and 442 lb-ft of torque. Both the 3.6-liter gasoline V6 and 3.0-liter diesel V6 come standard with Engine Start Stop technology, shutting off the engine when stopped for reduced fuel consumption.
During our off-road odyssey in New Zealand’s mountains we drove the new Wrangler over boulder fields, through fast-moving rivers, and across deeply rutted and muddy fields. The new Tru-Lok front and rear locking differentials gave our Wrangler Rubicon test vehicles all the traction we needed, and both the V6 and turbo-4 provided excellent torque when scampering over rain-slicked rocks or plowing through deep, rushing water. All Wrangler Rubicon models include the aforementioned locking differentials and disconnecting front sway bar, plus a 4.10 axle ratio and Rock-Trac transfer case with a 4:1 low gear ratio. Wrangler Sport and Sahara models feature Jeep’s Command-Trac 4x4 system with a 2.72 low-range gear and 3.45 axle ratio. A new Selec-Trac 2-speed transfer case with full-time 4-wheel-drive mode, is optional on Sahara models.
Better Driving Manners On Road, Too
We’ve never heard anyone complain about their Jeep Wrangler’s off-road capabilities, but more than a few of us have wished for more on-road refinement and comfort. Jeep must have heard us, because the 2018 Wrangler includes a long list of engineering upgrades to improve on-pavement pounding.
Both new transmissions widen the Wrangler’s overall gear ratios, meaning a lower first gear for better rock-crawling torque and low-speed acceleration, plus a higher final-gear ratio for reduced cruising rpm, lower engine noise, and improved fuel efficiency at highway speeds. Whether a buyer chooses the 6-speed manual or 8-speed automatic, both transmissions provide effective throttle response and quick, smooth shifts on par with today’s pavement-oriented SUVs.
All 2018 Jeep Wranglers also feature electro-hydraulic power steering that varies the ratio based on vehicle speed, meaning a higher ratio during low-speed maneuvers (i.e. parking) and a lower ratio to improve high-speed stability. The new system also offers better steering feel and a smaller turning radius. Ride quality is similarly improved through the new, more advanced 5-link suspension, retuned shocks and upgraded body mounts.
These upgrades, along with larger brake rotors, a larger master cylinder and recalibrated ABS and ESC systems, greatly improve the Wrangler’s on-road confidence, and were immediately appreciated when we left the dirt and drove along Queenstown’s streets and surrounding highways. They also give the 2018 Wrangler increased stability, allowing it to tow up to 3,500 pounds.
Classic Wrangler Styling, Modern Day Convenience
Despite a comprehensive redesign the 2018 Jeep Wrangler retains its classic style. The 7-slot grille, round headlights, short overhangs and pronounced fender flares enjoy a 7-decade heritage, making the Wrangler the most recognizable SUV on the planet. Jeep would never toss those trademarks aside, but the automaker did improve the new Wrangler’s aerodynamics with subtle changes to the grille and windshield angles.
The company also added convenience features, like a 4-bolt (versus the previous 28-bolt) system for dropping the windshield. When the windshield rotates down the header bar above it remains, improving safety while keeping the rearview mirror in place. Optional LED headlights, taillights, turn signals and fog lights are a nod to modern convenience, as is the larger side glass and repositioned spare tire for improved visibility.
The Wrangler’s tradition of open-air adventure remains, with a variety of hard and soft-top options available. The new Sunrider premium canvas top uses clock springs to quickly raise or lower the Wrangler’s roof. It also replaces those fussy zippers with quick and easy sliding window panels. We’re confident owners will surely appreciate this new system when the rain starts. A variety of hardtops, some with retracting canvas roof panels, others with fully removable roof panels and removable side glass, further expand the Wrangler’s configuration options.
All-New Interior with More Space, More Technology
It’s not obvious at first glance, but the new Wrangler is a bit longer and wider than the outgoing model. The track increased by 2.5 inches, adding to the Wrangler’s stability, and the wheelbase grew by 1.4 inches on 2-door models and 2.4 inches on 4-door models, aka the Unlimited. That extra reach between the front and rear wheels provides additional rear-seat legroom. Throw in the more reclined rear seat angle for 2018 and you have a Wrangler with truly functional rear-seat space, even for adults.
An impressive list of standard and optional convenience features accompanies the Wrangler’s interior redesign. The updated dash is surrounded by higher-quality cabin materials, even on the base Wrangler Sport. Push-button engine start, steering wheel controls for audio, voice and cruise control, multiple USB ports and LED lighting are all standard features that feel transformative in the Wrangler’s previously stark interior. Options range from leather seating and dash materials to a 7- or 8.4-inch Uconnect touch screen with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. There’s also an available 7-inch digital display for the gauge cluster offering a variety of information on the audio, navigation and tire pressure systems. Or just set it to monitor yaw, pitch and roll angles (fun to watch when off-roading).
Improved driver comfort and compelling interior design elements accompany the 2018 Wrangler’s advanced feature set. Multiple cabin themes, some with tan or gray seats, contrasting stitching and a painted dash, are available. A newly standard tilt and telescoping steering wheel, with optional heating, along with improved seat designs and larger door armrests, enhance the Wrangler’s comfort for a wide range of drivers.
Compact SUVs Beware...
There are plenty of high-volume, street-oriented compact SUVs available to consumers, including the Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue and Toyota RAV4. These models can’t match the Jeep Wrangler’s off-road capabilities, but they have successfully leveraged superior on-road performance and refinement to appeal to a wider audience.
That strategy may be at risk when the 2018 Jeep Wrangler arrives in dealer showrooms. With this redesign Jeep has managed to retain, and even improve, the Wrangler’s legendary off-road proficiency while substantially increasing its on-road competence. The “cost” in comfort and convenience previously associated with buying a Jeep Wrangler has all but evaporated.
Jeep recently increased capacity at its plant in Toledo in expectation of higher sales for the 2018 Wrangler. That was a smart move; we’ll see if they can keep up with demand for this all-new model...
2018 Jeep Wrangler (JL) Exterior and Interior Pics
Numbers and Details
What’s the axle ratio on the Wrangler Rubicon? Which trim offers the 18-inch wheels? Does it really have Apple CarPlay? Some of those questions can be answered below, others will require further research.
Wrangler Sport 2-Door/4-Door
Price: $26,000-$30,000 est.
4- or 5-passenger capacity
285-horsepower 3.6-liter V6
6-speed manual transmission
3.45:1 axle ratio
Dana 30 solid front axle
Dana 35 solid rear axle
Command Trac shift-on-the-fly transfer case 4WD system
Fold-and-tumble, removable rear bench seat
Manual door locks
Single-zone climate control
One USB port fully integrated with audio system
SiriusXM Traffic Plus with 5-year subscription
Rear backup camera
17-inch full-face steel wheels with all-season 245/75R17 tires
Sunrider folding soft top with sunroof feature
Wrangler Sahara 4-Door
Price: $37,000 est.
18-inch aluminum wheels with all-season 255/70R18 tires
Dual-zone automatic climate control
Auxiliary power, 115-volt outlet in center console
8.4-inch Uconnect touch-screen display with navigation
Dual USB ports (one charge only, one fully integrated with audio system)
Wrangler Rubicon 2-Door/4-Door
4.10:1 Axle Ratio
Dana 44 heavy-duty solid front axle
Dana 44 heavy-duty solid rear axle
Tru-Lok front and rear, electronic remote locking differentials
Sway bar disconnect -- electronically controlled, front
Rock-Trac shift-on-the-fly transfer case; 4:1 low-gear ratio
Rock rails, black, painted steel, heavy-duty
17-inch aluminum Rubicon wheels with all-terrain 255/75R17 tires
2018 Jeep Wrangler Specs
Engine: 3.6-liter V6 or 2.0-liter Turbocharged 4-cylinder
Transmission: 6-speed manual or 8-speed automatic
Drivetrain: 4-wheel drive, 2-speed transfer case w/locking differentials
Horsepower: 285 hp (3.6-liter), 268 hp (2.0-liter)
Torque: 260 lb-ft (3.6-liter), 295 lb-ft (2.0-liter)
Max Towing: 2,000 lbs (2-door), 3,500 lbs (4-door)
Curb Weight: 3,970-4,380 lbs depending on drivetrain and 2 or 4 doors
Wheelbase: 96.8 inches (2-door), 118.4 inches (4-door)
Length: 166.8 inches (2-door), 188.4 inches (4-door)
Height: 73.6 inches
Width: 73.8 inches
Cargo Volume: 31.7 cu. ft. (rear seat upright), 72.4 cu. ft. (rear seat folded)