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2018 Jeep Wrangler: The iconic off-roader, with new innovations

1 December 2017 - Autoblog

2018 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon

The Jeep Wrangler has a spirit, and Mark Allen is one of its keepers. That's why the 2018 edition still has a fold-down windshield, despite the reality that even the most die-hard Wrangler owners seldom use it anymore.

The folding screen dates to the origins of the Wrangler, when Willys were sent to Europe during World War II. The reasons: "The windshields folded down for shipping — and the guy in the back with the howitzer," says Allen, the longtime Jeep design boss.

Delivered in 2017 in the FCA Design Dome, the line comes across as a quip, but it's historically dead on. It's through this lens that Allen and the rest of the Jeep designers and engineers devised the modern successor to a primitive military vehicle.

The windshield folds down in minutes with the turn of four bolts on this new generation, the JL. It takes about 90 minutes and 28 bolts to do the same on the outgoing JK. Needed or not, the windshield is better and more functional for 2018, even if it looks about the same. This aptly sums up the new model.

Get closer and get inside. Look under the hood. There's much more going on than is evident at first glance. Allen says the broad strokes of the current design didn't change because he wanted to remain true to the Wrangler's identity, which lights the path for the entire brand. Crazier ideas were considered, but ultimately, this evolutionary approach was deemed the best. "The Wrangler is instantly recognizable around the world," says Jeep boss Mike Manley. "It has been and remains the absolute icon of the brand."

But it is different, and by using any objective metrics, better. The JL is lighter than the JK. It offers a new engine with a mild hybrid function – more on that later. Fuel economy is improved. The interior is nicer, yet still rugged. The on-road ride quality is upgraded, but you can still scale mountains and conquer the jungle.

Still, it looks about the same. Let's start there. The round headlights are all-LED, with a horizontal projector sandwiched between the high beams. The taillights are square and have available LEDs. The grille has been massaged to a "keystone" design that recalls the CJ, Allen says. The front wheels are pulled slightly forward, and the beltline is lowered. The vehicle also is longer (how much depends on the version), which creates a better stance. Half doors will be offered on the Rubicon model in 2019 and then will be available across the Wrangler lineup. They're exactly what they sound like – half doors to create a more open experience.

The JL debuts this week at the Los Angeles Auto Show and arrives in showrooms in January. Initially, it will be sold concurrently with the JK as that model is phased out in '18.

The Wrangler rides on a new body-on-frame platform, which is about 100 pounds lighter than its predecessor. Aluminum is used for the hood, windshield frame, doors and front fenders. Steel or high-strength steel is used for the B-pillars, rear quarter panels and sport bar, while the swing gate is magnesium. The new materials help shave another 100 pounds from the Wrangler, and it all rolls on next-generation Dana axles.

Under the hood, the Wrangler gets FCA's turbo 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, which will make 270 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. It features technology that FCA calls eTorque and is billing as a type of hybrid system. It includes electric power assist, stop/start functionality and regenerative braking and can totally turn off the engine and fuel flow during stops or when coasting. FCA says eTorque helps with launches and fuel economy. It teams with an eight-speed automatic transmission.

The Pentastar 3.6-liter V6 continues and is rated at 285 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque. The turbo four puts out more torque, but Jeep says some buyers will like the naturally aspirated V6's low-range capability for the trail. The engine comes standard with a new six-speed manual transmission, and an eight-speed automatic replaces the old five-speed auto. Stop/start is also standard on the V6.

A diesel — yes, a diesel — is also coming in 2019 on four-door versions, so you'll have to wait a bit if this is your engine of choice. This is the 3.0-liter EcoDiesel already available in the Grand Cherokee and the Ram, and it puts out 260 hp and an impressive 442 lb-ft in the Wrangler. The diesel also uses start/stop and pairs with an eight-speed automatic.

Naturally, the Wrangler will continue to be incredibly capable off-road, offering two four-wheel-drive systems: Command-Trac (which has a two-speed transfer case) and Rock-Trac. The Wrangler can ford water up to 30 inches deep, has an approach angle of 44 degrees, a departure angle of 37 degrees and a breakover angle of 27.8 degrees. The Rubicon has monster 33-inch tires standard, which will offer unyielding prowess in the mud and muck, and also look pretty sick. Skid plates, trail hooks and plenty of ground clearance are all part of the Trail-Rated items, too. If you want to put your own stamp on the JL, more than 200 Mopar parts will be available to order when the new Jeep launches, with everything from trail lights to an auxiliary bank for switches.

As with the exterior, the new Wrangler's cabin has an evolutionary approach to change. It definitely still feels like a Wrangler, but the JL has the latest versions of FCA's Uconnect infotainment, with an 8.4-inch touch screen as an option. There are new and nicer materials offered with more soft-touch surfaces and accents, and the center console is redone. There's also an available Sky One-Touch power top that retracts the canvass roof, just like a conventional sunroof.

"It all comes together in a way that builds on Jeep's heritage but in a completely new aesthetic," says Ryan Patrick Joyce, design manager for Jeep interiors. He also characterizes the back-seat comfort as "insanely improved" while pointing to the Willys silhouette on the shifter and the steering wheel, which has a vague Y-shape as on the old military Jeeps, as purists will like. There are also lift assist handles under the armrests to make it easier to pick up and take off the doors. (Funny story: The first time Joyce did the Rubicon Trail with Allen, the veteran Jeep designer, Joyce dropped one of the doors, and a moment of embarrassment led to innovation.) And for the first time ever, there's an original equipment camera on a Wrangler, mandated as part of federal requirements for back-up vision. You'll hardly notice the camera (it's in the back on the spare tire carrier), but it has a purpose. It makes the Wrangler a safer, more modern vehicle, and it doesn't compromise the Jeep's heritage.

At the end of the day, Allen, Manley, Joyce and lots of other enthusiasts running the Jeep brand wouldn't compromise on the Wrangler. The JL lives up to the tradition of its predecessors, but is enhanced with features that don't detract from its mission as the definitive off-roader. Yes, it has more aluminum, some new powertrain choices and the interior is nicer. It changed to stay relevant. But just as in 1941, you can still fold down the windshield for that open-air experience – minus the howitzer.

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