2018 Jeep Wrangler, Better, Much Better - Review By Larry Nutson
Better, Much Better
By Larry Nutson
Senior Editor and Bureau Chief
The Auto Channel
Driving a Jeep Wrangler often brings to mind my time years ago developing product and marketing strategies for convertible models offered by a couple different car brands.
The Wrangler was often cross-shopped by buyers looking for a convertible. After all, first and foremost they want top-down driving enjoyment and the Wrangler delivers on that.
I believe that thinking has declined somewhat over the years. However, now with the new 2018 Jeep Wrangler that has been revamped from top to bottom it just may increase.
My most recent driving experiences in different Wranglers have been around Chicagoland. Plus, I’ve done a bit of off-road driving on trails at Road America and Autobahn Country Club, where I participate in events hosted by the Midwest Automotive Media Association. I’ve also driven a variety of Jeeps on the off-road course at the FCA Chelsea Michigan Proving Grounds.
Now just recently on an invite from Jeep I got a first hand look as well as on-road and off-road driving time in the newest iteration of the legendary Wrangler in the Saguaro National Park desert outside Tucson, Arizona.
On the outside the Wrangler still looks very much like a Wrangler. There’s a return to the past with a new trapezoidal or keystone shape to the seven-slot grille. The front end, which has been smoothed out a bit for better airflow, now sits taller as do the fenders. The beltline is lower and the windows are larger. LED headlights and taillights are available. The windshield is raked back more and folds flatter. It now can be folded by simply removing four bolts in the header.
For the first time ever, lightweight, high-strength aluminum doors, hinges, hood, fenders, windshield frame, and a magnesium swing gate help reduce weight.
On the inside the instrument panel has been redone. The Wrangler now has push-button start as well as an idle stop-start system. The gauge cluster features a pitch and roll angle display. There’s a big power sliding roof on the 4-door. The soft top folds much more easily and much quicker. A fourth-gen Uconnect system includes Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and you get the choice of 5.0, 7.0- or 8.4-inch touchscreens with pinch-and-zoom capability.
Two engines are offered. A Gen II 285-HP Pentastar 3.6-L V6 and an optional 270-HP turbo 2.0-L 4-cylinder that is a mild-hybrid featuring a 48-volt motor attached to the crankshaft. The V6 is comes with either a six-speed manual or an eight-speed automatic. The 2.0-L only comes with the automatic but take note that it makes more torque than the V6.
EPA test-cycle ratings for the V6 with automatic are 20 mpg combined, with 18 city mpg and 23 highway mpg. The manual is rated one mpg lower in the city at 19 mpg. Ratings for the 2.0-L are not yet finalized.
On the 4-door, a 3.0-L EcoDiesel with the eight-speed automatic will become available in 2019. And also in 2019 a new half-door design will be available.
The shorter wheelbase 4-seat 2-door is available in Sport, Sport S and Rubicon. The 5-seat 4-door is offered in Sport, Sport S, Sahara and Rubicon.
Wrangler Sport and Sahara models are equipped with the Command-Trac 4x4 system, featuring a part-time, two-speed transfer case with a 2.72:1 low-range gear ratio.
Rubicon models are equipped with the Rock-Trac 4x4 system, featuring a two-speed transfer case with a 4:1 low-range gear ratio, front and rear next-generation Dana 44 axles, Tru-Lok electric front- and rear-axle lockers, and electronic sway bar disconnect.
A new Selec-Trac two-speed transfer case with full-time four-wheel-drive (4WD) mode available on the Sahara model offers continuous power to the front and rear axles and is easy to use.
Available Trac-Lok limited-slip rear differential provides extra torque and grip during slippery, low-traction situations, such as driving over sand, gravel, snow or ice.
On the safety front, Blind-spot Monitoring and Rear Cross Path detection, and a ParkView rear backup camera are now offered.
My first venture in the new Wrangler took us on paved local roads, a highway, a dirt road and into the Old Tucson western-movie set. From my on-road experiences in Chicago I could immediately notice the significant improvements in ride and handling, as well as steering. The updated suspension, better tires and electro-hydraulic power steering make a world of difference.
We were in a 4-door soft top and I thought the interior noise level to be quite decent enabling easy conversation and good audio listening.
But make no mistake, the Wrangler is still very, very off-road capable. The Jeep folks had us drive some rough trails and then we crawled up a very steep rock- and boulder-covered hill. Thank goodness we were driving with automatics. I wouldn’t want to be working a clutch pedal while crawling slowly over boulders with frequent stops and restarts.
Starting prices range from $26,995 to $40,495 There’s a ton more information that you can find at www.jeep.com.
If I were shopping a 5-seat SUV, I might just give the 2018 4-door Wrangler Rubicon a serious look. It’s got the space. It’s got road manners. And, I’d buy the soft-top and have the added enjoyment of a warm weather convertible.
I’m sometimes a bit envious of FCA’s engineering and development teams. In the case of the Jeep, they are, for the most part, off-road enthusiasts who themselves are out on the mountain, forest and desert trails with others of like mind. I’ve also seen this in the SRT teams who are performance and motorsports enthusiasts too. What a fun job! Getting paid to do what you love which in the end makes for better vehicles from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.
Jeep has done a great job of giving its buyers lots of choice. We were told there are over 17,000 different build combinations for the all-new 2018 Wrangler which will be in Jeep showrooms in January 2018.
Jeep: still going strong after 75 years.
This report comes from an invitation-only Jeep launch event that allowed special access to the vehicle and executives. Jeep provided my overnight accommodations, meals, and transportation.
© 2017 Larry Nutson, the Chicago Car Guy
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