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2018 Jeep Wrangler Confidently Drives a Tightrope

Modern and capable JL gets a turbo-four with 48 volts and a diesel in ’19 to help meet 2025 CAFE targets

Todd LassawriterThe Manufacturerphotographer

LOS ANGELES, California — Jeep looks to keep all but its most jaded hardcore off-road enthusiasts satisfied while widening the Wrangler's mainstream appeal with modern updates and 200 pounds-worth of weight-saving aluminum in the JL, the new-for-2018 version of its World War II icon. The 2018 Jeep Wrangler goes on sale in January with its familiar 3.6-liter V-6 and an optional 2.0-liter turbo-four and a 48-volt "light hybrid" system. A 3.0-liter EcoDiesel V-6 will be available a year later.

Hinges are still exposed outside the sheetmetal and the windshield is raked back more steeply than in any previous Wrangler derivative, contributing to aerodynamic tweaks that cleaned up the coefficient of drag, though the windshield can easily be unlocked and folded forward onto the hood—or detached completely by removing just two bolts. The seven-slat grille is redesigned to pay homage to the CJ Wrangler's, with daytime running lights in the front fenders and the "Jeep" name badge "back on the sides, where God intended it to be," according to the brand's design chief, Mark Allen.

The center high-mounted stoplight (CHMSL) on top of the spare tire in back adjusts up and down for different-sized aftermarket tires, and a rear backup camera placed in the center of the spare stays in place—the owner removes a black clip around the lens in order to remove the spare. Blind spot monitor cameras are mounted on the outer edges of the square taillamps.

Construction is still body-on-frame, and the "sport bar"—don't call it a "roll bar"—is no longer covered, but rather is aluminum, and painted the same color as the body. It connects the a-pillars together, and the a-pillars to b-pillars. Body panels all are aluminum, save for the rear quarter-panels, b-pillars, and magnesium swing-gate. The doors shut themselves for the first time in a traditional Jeep.

"Donut" doors are available on softtop models. They come with a filler plug for cold weather and security, and require a drop-in clear plastic cassette, which is a sort of modern side-curtain, because this optional door does not allow for roll-up glass. Distinctive scallops in the front fenders lead to a profile with a fairly subtle bone line from the top of the front doors down to the lower body. Designers moved the JL's beltline lower on the body, while the windshield is 1.5-inches taller than the JK's.

The two-door will be available in Sport, Sport S and Rubicon trim, while the four-door Unlimited adds a Sahara variant. Softtop Unlimiteds come with the Sky One-Touch power-folding top, and all ragtops are available in vinyl or premium canvas. The rear of the sport bar on Unlimiteds rakes downward after the c-pillar to mount to the frame before it reaches the d-pillar point.

Hardtops use canards to remove rear side windows and rear windows instead of snaps, latches, or Velcro, which Jeep notes, wears out. One of the two hardtops available for Unlimited adds a power-folding soft panoramic sunroof, and the removable hardtop panels are lighter than before. The idea is that no matter which top you choose, opening it to the outdoors is no longer part of the Jeep Wrangler's toughness.

As for Moab-crushing hardware, the 2018 Wrangler comes with either the Command-Trac or the Rock-Trac four-wheel-drive system, next-generation Dana axles, a Selec-Trac full-time two-speed transfer case, Tru-Lock electric axle lockers front and rear, and a Trac-Lok limited slip differential. And the hood is flat as possible.

For the purists' Jeep Wrangler Rubicon, there are vents in the hood, higher flat fenders compared with other Wrangler JLs and 33-inch outer-diameter tires, with enough clearance for 35-inch aftermarket rubber. And yes, across the Jeep Wrangler board, whether two-door or Unlimited, there still is no independent front suspension.

Wheelbase is up 1.4 inches in the two-door JL Wrangler and 2.4 inches in the Unlimited four-door in addition to a 0.1-inch longer overhang, for a 1.5-inch and 2.5-inch overall length increase total, respectively. Jeep says that wider front and rear tracks, a one-foot-narrower turning radius, and electro-hydraulic power steering makes the JL Wrangler more comfortable and a better handler on-road, while its off-road capabilities are even higher than the JK's.

The launch engine is the familiar 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6, rated 280 horsepower and 260 pound-feet in the JL, with port-injection and a standard start/stop system. Customers have a choice of an eight-speed automatic or a six-speed manual, the latter with throws shortened by about 50 percent and, Jeep says, far less shake and wiggle than the JK's manual.

Some time after launch, Jeep will add a version of the 2.0-liter turbo-four along with a 48-volt system, making it the "mild hybrid" powertrain in a Fiat Chrysler product. The gas direct-injection I-4 features a twin-scroll turbo for minimal lag and is rated at 265 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. While you might argue the cylinder count hearkens back to the original Jeep's WWII roots, the engine will be available only with an eight-speed automatic. Hard-core off-roaders who prefer three pedals must choose the V-6.

Fiat Chrysler's 3.0-liter EcoDiesel V-6, which makes 240 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque in the Jeep Grand Cherokee, will be added to the JL lineup some time in the 2019 model year.

A full-time transfer case with 4Hi, 2Hi, 2Lo and 4Lo will be available on the JL Sahara, while the Rubicon gets the next-generation Dana 44 axles with front- and rear-lockers.

Interior trims range from the basic rugged look of the Heritage, through the Redical interior with its red dashboard matching the tow hooks, to Grillz and its authentic plated silver-colored metal on up to the Premium interior, which offers hand-wrapped leathers and vinyls. All these interiors come with clean and simple, round gauges and rubber over molded touch points, including the surround for the radio head unit. Nevertheless, there's available UConnect with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and the choice of 5.0-, 7.0- and 8.4-inch touchscreens.

If this long list of cool features and specs isn't enough to confuse you, be aware that there is a 2018 model-year edition of the outgoing Jeep Wrangler JK being built in Toledo, Ohio, alongside the all-new 2018 Jeep Wrangler JL, so you might have to ask your Jeep dealer for it by name, beginning in January.

2018 Jeep Wrangler Specifications

ON SALE January 2018
PRICE $25,000/$30,000 (base, est; regular/Unlimited)
ENGINE 3.6L DOHC 24-valve V-6/285 hp @ 6,400 rpm, 260 lb-ft @ 4,800 rpm
2.0L turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4/270 hp @ 5,250 rpm, 295 lb-ft @ 3,000 rpm
TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic, 6-speed manual
LAYOUT 2-4-door, 4-passenger, front-engine, 4WD SUV
EPA MILEAGE 17-18/23 mpg (V-6, city/hwy); N/A (I-4)
L x W x H 166.8/188.4 x 73.8 x 73.6 in
WHEELBASE 96.8/118.4 in (regular/Unlimited)
WEIGHT 3,970-4,175/4,200-4,485 lb (regular/Unlimited)
0-60 MPH N/A