TUCSON, AZ – Even the guides are having trouble finding good traction on the rocky terrain as our all-new Jeep Wrangler – leaning 26 degrees to the driver’s side and ascending an impossibly steep incline – digs for purchase amid a virtual terrace of metal-bending boulders.
But with light goading on the accelerator pedal and clear steering direction from the handlers, the Wrangler hauls itself up the technically difficult climb and down the other side undamaged and ready for another challenge.
Though this kind of off-road prowess is what we’d expect from America’s premier 4x4, it’s still exhilarating to discover that any vehicle is this capable straight from the factory. When new-found on-road manners are added to the equation, it’s safe to say the latest iteration of Jeep’s go-anywhere Wrangler SUV meets and exceeds expectations.
Designated “JL,” the ’18 Wrangler is the first complete makeover of the model since 2007 when the predecessor “JK” arrived along with the popular 4-door Unlimited option. The new Wrangler sticks to a tried-and-true formula dating back to its 1941 origins with its upright stance, utilitarian interior design and solid front and rear axles doing the grunt work.
At the same time, the JL brings dramatic change with lighter aluminum body panels replacing steel, interior functionality and comfort taking priority, and powertrain options growing to include a 2.0L turbocharged 4-cyl. engine hooked to a 48V mild hybrid system dubbed eTorque. Both the 4 cyl. and carryover 3.6L V-6 are offered with an all-new 8-speed automatic transmission; a 6-speed manual is standard with the V-6.
We spent most of our test day driving the 2.0L turbocharged I-4, appreciating its juicy torque band, silent stop/start system and an observed 21 mpg (11.2 L/100 km) average fuel economy (but as high as 27 mpg [8.7 L/100 km]) in combined driving.
The hybrid powertrain produces 270 hp and 295 lb.-ft. (400 Nm) of torque starting at just 3,000 rpm, which comes in handy for off-road maneuvers requiring maximum twist at low engine speeds. In 4WD LO mode, the throttle and turbo response are reduced, which we note makes power delivery much easier to manage when employing the Rubicon’s 77.2:1 crawl ratio through tough terrain.
The unobtrusive stop/start operation powered by the eTorque’s belt alternator-starter brings the engine online so quietly we doubt most drivers would bother switching off the fuel-saving system.
The restart also is quick, assisting in a 7.5-second 0-60 mph (97 km/h) run in a 4-door from a truly “dead” stop. That’s 1.5 seconds quicker than we observed with the engine at rest in the V-6 4-door equipped with FCA’s standard starter-motor-actuated stop-start system.
Most surprising are the Wrangler’s on-road manners. Shedding 200 lbs. (91 kg) through the use of aluminum in the doors, hood and windshield frame, and the addition of high-strength steel in the frame that boosts torsional rigidity 18%, help the suspension manage dips and corners with little drama. That said, there’s still a distinct top-heavy “Jeep” feel we’d expect in any high-strung vehicle with 10.9 ins. (277 mm) of ground clearance and the ability to ford 30 ins. (762 mm) of water.
The new electrohydraulic power steering keeps the Jeep on the path without the constant corrections necessary in Wranglers past. There remains a noticeable on-center dead zone which engineers say is necessary to prevent severe steering-wheel bucking in off-road driving. Despite an increase in wheelbase, track width and overall length, the turning circle is 1 ft. (305 mm) tighter thanks to sharper steering angle.
Wind, road and engine noise are minimal, even in models equipped with the sliding soft top. Off-road, we hear cooling system fans working overtime – “fans” plural because the turbo model is equipped with two cooling systems, one for the engine and a separate system to manage turbo, throttle body and eTorque temperatures.
Even though Wrangler owners typically aren’t a demanding lot when it comes to interior amenities, buyers of the new model will find little to carp about. Attention to details like floor and console climate control for the second row, myriad USBs and power sources scattered throughout, and even usable door armrests make the vehicle truly civilized. A small console-mounted kit provides tools necessary to remove doors and lower the windshield.
Three different Uconnect systems, fitted with three different screen sizes depending on the buyer, display everything from routes, vehicle angles, powertrain information and a clear view out back via Wrangler’s first-ever backup camera.
Anyone who has ever wrestled with a Wrangler soft-top roof will appreciate the attention to functionality built into the new one. Gone are window zippers, replaced by easy to-use sliding retainers, with rear pillars integrated into the window panels. Clock springs aid in raising and lowering the manually operated roof.
The all-new Sky One-Touch power-sliding top gives the Wrangler simple-to-access open-air capability, allowing full-length roof retraction. The thick canvas top provides enough sound insulation that many buyers could skip the removable hardtop option.
The Wrangler JL goes on sale in first-quarter 2018, priced at $26,995 for the 2-door Sport and $36,995 for Rubicon, while pricing for the 4-door starts at $30,495 (Sport), $37,345 (Sahara) and $40,495 (Rubicon). Prices do not include $1,195 for handling and delivery. The added cost for the 2.0L turbo is not yet available.
[email protected] @bobgritzinger
'18 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 4-Door Specifications
|Vehicle type||5-passenger, 4-door SUV|
|Engine||2.0L all-aluminum DOHC twin-scroll turbocharged direct-injected 4-cyl.|
|Power (SAE net)||270 hp @ 5,250 rpm|
|Torque||295 lb.-ft. (400 Nm) @ 3,000 rpm|
|Bore x stroke (mm)||84.0 x 90.0|
|Wheelbase||118 ins. (3,008 mm)|
|Overall length||188.4 ins. (4,785 mm)|
|Overall width||73.8 ins. (1,875 mm)|
|Overall height||73.6 ins. (1,868 mm)|
|Curb weight||4,485 lbs. (2,034 kg)|
|Base price||$40,495 (Rubicon 4-door, not including $1,195 destination and handling charge)|
|Fuel economy||21-27 mpg (11.2-8.7 L/100 km) combined (observed)|
|Competition||Toyota 4Runner, Ford Raptor, Land Rover Discovery|
|Still the off-road king||Rubicon carries hefty price tag|
|Hybrid powertrain rocks||Complexity not an off-roader’s friend|
|Numerous improvements since JK||10-year model cycle way too long|