ST. GEORGE, UT – Arguably, the Wrangler constitutes the core of the universally recognized Jeep brand, and first in a class of one for decades.
But the rugged, purpose-built SUV is feeling the heat from another off-road icon, the recently resurrected Ford Bronco. In its first full year in the segment in 2022, Bronco sales hit 117,057, while the Wrangler’s dropped to 181,409, according to Wards Intelligence data.
With an eye on the fast-galloping Bronco, the ’24 Wrangler gets its first significant update since the current-generation JL version was introduced for the ’19 model year, adding two new trim levels, a refreshed grille, updates to its infotainment and safety tech, extra comfort features and a higher maximum tow rating.
This year, the Wrangler covers the waterfront with 13 different models. It remains available with a choice of 2-door or 4-door body styles. Powertrains all carryover from ’23: the 3.6L V-6, a 2.0L turbocharged 4-cyl. and a 6.4L Hemi V-8.
Also continuing for ’24 is the 4xe plug-in hybrid variant that mates two electric motors with the 2.0L, a powertrain that is a two-time Wards 10 Best Engines & Propulsion Systems winner. According to Jeep, the Wrangler 4xe is the best-selling PHEV in the U.S. Jeep parent Stellantis says second-quarter 2023 sales of the 4xe constituted 36% of Wrangler’s U.S. total.
Base prices run from the low $30,000s for a basic stick-shift Wrangler S 2-door V-6 to the all-boxes-checked high $80,000s for the Hemi-powered 4-door Rubicon 392.
New to the ’24 Wrangler lineup is a lower-cost Sport S 4xe 4-door model buyers have been asking for, with a base price of $49,995 not including the $1,795 destination charge.
At the higher end of the Wrangler lineup is the new Rubicon X, available with a choice of 2-door and 4-door body styles and all but the Hemi as available powertrains. The Rubicon X adds leather seats, premium Alpine audio, a Rock-Trac full-time transfer case, front and rear locking differentials, electronic front sway-bar disconnect, steel bumpers, a front off-road camera and much more.
The ’24 model is easy to spot thanks a revised grille that retains the trademarked seven vertical slots but is shorter and more horizontal (on all but the base Wrangler Sport and Sport S non-hybrid models). The shorter grille makes room for a more robust bumper which, on Rubicon models, is available with the Wrangler’s first factory-installed winch. The Warn winch has an 8,000-lb. (3,629-kg) capacity and at the drive event here was used to reel in an off-road buggy up a near-vertical, 70-ft. (21.3-m) sheer rock face.
Inside, all Wranglers get a revised dashboard with a new standard 12.3-in. (31.2-cm) infotainment screen (pictured, below). Larger than the screen in the Bronco, the new Wrangler setup also upgrades to the much faster Uconnect 5 operating system with enhanced voice control that comprehends natural speech, and allows wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto cellphone mirroring.
Jeep wisely maintains analog rotary knobs for volume and tuning for easy, on-the-fly adjustments. Full LED screen backlighting makes the screen easier to view when the top’s down.
Starting later this year, the Wrangler will come with preloaded maps of 62 top-rated Trails Offroad trail guides that not only offer detailed maps but also provide geological and historical commentary. Wrangler owners also will be able to subscribe to an expanded portfolio of more than 3,000 rated trails.
Wrangler 4xe buyers can also purchase a new Powerbox accessory equipped with four 120V AC outlets and combined 30-amp output. While that’s not in the same league as systems available for full battery-electric vehicles, the 4xe’s 17.3-kWh lithium-ion battery is sufficient to power campsite lights and small appliances such as coffeemakers.
For the first time, upper Wrangler trims this year can be equipped with power-adjustable front seats. Jeep engineers waterproofed the electric seat controls to enable the Wrangler to maintain its 34-in. (864-mm) water-fording capability without electrical mishaps.
Safety and driver-assist technology is upgraded. Side-curtain airbags for both seat rows are now integrated into the overhead sport bars. Also, a forward collision-warning system and adaptive cruise control are now standard on all but the base trims.
A new full-float heavy-duty Dana 44 rear axle in Rubicon, Rubicon 4xe, Rubicon X and Rubicon 392 models allows owners to fit larger wheels and tires. In non-hybrid Rubicons, maximum towing capacity increases to 5,000 lbs. (2,268 kg), a 1,500-lb. (680-kg) increase.
Jeep wheeled out its entire ’24 Wrangler lineup for on- and off-road evaluations here in red rock country.
Hopping first into the plucky Wrangler Willys 2-door, we immediately channel memories of earlier CJ Jeeps. With the fabric roof pulled back and accessory tubular doors installed in place of the standard ones, this back-to-basics, open-air Jeep is highly maneuverable and makes its passengers one with the sights, sounds, and smells of the backcountry.
The Willys’ available 270-hp, 295-lb.-ft. (400-Nm) 2.0L and 8-speed automatic powertrain offers ample performance. If you want a throwback-worthy 6-speed manual gearbox you’ll have to go with the standard 285-hp, 260-lb.-ft. (353-Nm) 3.6L Pentastar V-6. Larger, standard 33-in. all-terrain tires, added ground clearance and a Tru-Lok rear differential ratchet up the Willys’ capabilities. Its steel rock rails and high-clearance fender flares look like they can take a punch off-road, too.
For a Wrangler you’d want to hit the highways with, it’s hard to beat any of the Rubicon 4-door hardtop models. We bookend our Willys off-road experience with the most powerful of all Wranglers, the Rubicon 392, powered by a 470-hp, 470-lb.-ft. (637-Nm) 6.4L Hemi V-8.
Hot rod fans will love the often-talkative dual-mode exhaust rumble that can get brassy under a heavy right foot. Pin the throttle and this Wrangler really jumps. We’ll see how long the V-8 coexists with the company’s move to greater electrification, but for now let’s enjoy it while we can.
With the acoustic windshield and added soundproofing Jeep added to all Rubicons this year, and keeping in mind the Wrangler is still a square box riding high on big wheels, wind rush and road noise are down a bit this year as well. The elimination of the mast antenna helps in that regard.
What’s a Wrangler excursion without some serious off-roading? We next drove a 4xe-powered Rubicon X 4-door on a rock-climbing trail at a nearby off-road park. While the model’s 21-mi. (34-km) electric range isn’t that impressive compared with many other plug-in hybrids, where and how the 4xe can use that range is special.
In EV mode, the Rubicon 4xe silently and securely motors over uneven terrain as if hooked to an unseen winch cable. The electric traction motor provides instant torque, turning the accelerator into a precision instrument for placing the Jeep exactly where it needs to be to navigate the course. Turns out when you are creeping over tricky terrain at 5 mph (8 km/h) or less, that 21-mi. range can last a while.
With a revamped Toyota Land Cruiser in the wings and Ford’s Bronco continuing its sales success, the competition for top 4WD midsize utility bragging rights is on – and the developers of the ’24 Jeep Wrangler have noticed.
Whether your tastes run to the plucky Willys that evokes the more basic character of earlier CJs, or to the hot-rod roar of the Rubicon 392, or to the silent, torque-rich off-roading and all-electric cruising of the 4xe PHEV, Jeep offers a Wrangler for nearly any purse or purpose.