An in-depth look at the redesigned 2018 Wrangler
After a development process with more leaks than the Titanic, the all-new 2018 Jeep Wrangler is finally here, and we can finally spill the beans on the original SUV. Get a drink, get comfortable, and strap in, because there are a lot of beans to spill.
Let’s start with the bones. It’s still a boxed ladder frame, and it still rides on solid axles at both ends, but that frame has been augmented with judicious applications of high-strength steels. The updates are said to have taken 100 pounds (45 kg) out of the frame alone. Even still, two-door Wranglers get a 1.4-inch wheelbase stretch, and the four-doors pick up 2.4 inches between the wheels, all of which goes to rear-seat room.
Sitting on top of the new frame is a conservatively but artfully updated body with a number of historical callbacks. We can finally put to rest rumors of an all-aluminum body because that’s not the case. Jeep studied it and decided that using aluminum for the hood, doors, and windshield frame and magnesium for the tailgate was the right approach while making the main body shell out of high-strength steel. The fenders, such as they are, are plastic, so you won’t feel bad about bashing them on rocks. In total, the new Wrangler is as much as 200 pounds (90 kg) lighter than the old model.
Up top, the “sports bars,” as Jeep calls them (you and I would call them roll bars), are completely redesigned. Rather than a collection of tubes, they’re now one piece of hydroformed ultra-high-strength steel and painted the body color for the first time. Don’t worry, though. They’re still bolted to the frame rather than welded if you want to take them off and install a custom cage.
Moving to the muscles, the standard engine is the 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 you know but also with internal updates meant to improve fuel economy, which is up 1–2 mpg city, 2–3 mpg highway, and 2 mpg combined on the four-door Unlimited model, depending on transmission. The automatic option is Fiat Chrysler’s eight-speed, and the manual is a new Aisin six-speed with reverse relocated next to first for quick shifts when rocking the vehicle. Peak power and torque are unchanged at 285 hp and 260 lb-ft, but Jeep says low-end torque has improved.
Your first available option, coming shortly after the V-6 launches, is an all-new 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder. It makes 270 hp and 295 lb-ft and, we expect, significantly better fuel economy, thanks in part to a belt alternator starter system. Jeep won’t say it, but it’s a variant of the new Alfa Romeo engine using dual overhead cams rather than the MultiAir valve system. Unfortunately, you can only get it with the automatic.
Your other option, currently scheduled for the 2019 model year once the last legal hurdles are cleared, is the 3.0-liter EcoDiesel V-6. That engine makes an improved 240 hp and, more importantly, 442 lb-ft. It also makes Jeep guys and girls weak in the knees, but there’s no standard rating system for that. They’ll be less pleased to hear it’ll only be available with the automatic and only in four-door Unlimiteds. All three engines get automatic stop/start.
Making Jeepers swoon was mission one back in Michigan and Ohio. Soliciting input early on from hardcore fans and off-road journalists, Jeep’s made a wish list of changes to the Wrangler. Everything from taking the Jeep badge off the grille and putting it back behind the front wheels where it belongs to vastly simplifying the folding windshield—now just the windshield wipers, four bolts, and a latch behind the sunvisors all easily removed with the supplied toolkit (which also comes with a tie-down strap). Also in the kit: the Torx T-50 bit you need to pull the doors off (“T-50” is also stamped on the door hinges in case you need to buy another). The tools will also help you completely remove the hard top or folding soft top, but the power rollback top doesn’t come off. Regardless of roof choice, there are now drip rails where you can mount a cargo rack (which Mopar will sell you for $295 USD), and they can support 100 pounds (45 kg).
The tops are their own story. Folding the soft top used to take nearly as long as folding the windshield and required a monk’s patience and Elon Musk’s engineering chops. No more. Pop two latches behind the sunvisors, and the top folds back. Pop out the rails holding the side and rear windows on, slide them out (no more zippers), and grab the central release lever, and the whole top folds right back. Putting it up is just as easy. It’s barely more difficult than a Miata roof.
If you prefer a hard roof, you’ll be happy to know it’s now made of a lighter composite material. The removable “Freedom Panels” up front are also lighter and held on by four simple latches each rather than knobs you have to turn a billion times.
Should you be caught out in the rain with the roof open, testing the 30-inch fording depth with the doors off, or just hosing out your interior as Jeepers do, the interior remains waterproof—even the fancy new 8.4-inch Uconnect infotainment screen (5.0 inches is standard, and a 7.0-inch screen is available). The interior went through multiple 24-hour rain tests with the roof and windshield down to be sure.
The infotainment screens were pushed as far back as possible to help create a flat dash look like classic Jeeps. The fully redesigned interior features a host of modern conveniences with a rugged, retro-informed look. Jeep designers tell us they had to fight for the money to jazz up the interior with bits such as the metal and rubber shift knob with real exposed bolts and the burly knobs for the volume, tuning, and the fan, and it’s money well spent. The instrument cluster now gets a full-color video screen, and on the opposite side, the factory “oh-lordy” handle remains. All models get push-button engine start/stop and a handy holder for the key fob between the cupholders. Handles on the A-pillars are designed to blend in with the pillars from the driver’s vantage point so they don’t distract. A “media center” with a USB 2.0 and Micro USB port is standard on the dash, with two more of each on the back of the center console for the rear seat. A 110-volt three-prong outlet is optional in the rear seat. Also optional: a bank of four auxiliary switches at the base of the center stack for accessories such as lights and air compressors (part of the towing package, which also gets you a 240-amp alternator and a Class II hitch able to tow 3,500 pounds (1,587 kg) regardless of the model).
Other handy interior features include optional heated front seats and a heated steering wheel and a standard armrest for rear-seat passengers in four-door models. The front seat backs on Rubicons get a military style MOLLE (Modular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment) nylon grid to hang gear from, and the rear-seat headrests fold down for better rear visibility. Also improving outward visibility are larger windows all around, a wider rear window, a relocated rear wiper motor on hard tops, and a lower spare tire mount (which required a redesign of the rear bumper and relocation of the rear license plate mount). Also in the way back, the optional subwoofer remains in the floor of two-door Wranglers but has been relocated in four-door models to make more space. Four-door models also get covers for the rear-seat hinges when the seats are folded, so there’s no gap for gear to fall into. An engraved plaque on the inside of the tailgate reminds you of key facts such as the fording depth, and the nearby cupholder remains.
Three color schemes further spice up the new interior. At launch, you can get black with red accents and tan with gray accents. A black interior with gray accents will follow shortly. Making a return for 2018 is the option of a tan soft top in addition to the standard black.
If you prefer your driving al fresco, you’ll be happy to hear the front doors are now 18 pounds (8 kg) lighter and the rear doors, if equipped, are 15 pounds (7 kg) lighter. Jeep has also molded a handle into the bottom of the armrests to grab when lifting the doors off. If you prefer, Mopar will sell you half doors with cutouts for minimal protection but easy obstacle visibility on the trail. Removing the doors takes an extra step now, thanks to a first-ever check strap, which pulls the doors closed for the first time on a Wrangler. (You can unbolt it if you want that old-school feeling of the doors swinging wherever they please when open.) Free of the check strap, the doors will no longer impact the body when flung open.
You’ll have slightly more trouble getting the interior dirty on this new one, thanks to the 33-inch BFGoodrich All-Terrain KO2 tires now standard on the Rubicon. An inch taller than the old Mud Terrains, they help up the ground clearance to 10.9 inches and provide better traction on every surface except for deep, deep mud. What’s more, the new Wrangler’s been designed to accept 35-inch tires as is, and with a 2-inch lift (which Mopar is happy to sell you for $1,495 USD), you’ll regain full articulation. You’ll even be able to mount your larger tires on the spare tire rack—the center brake light is height-adjustable to clear larger tires.
That’s just the start. From the factory, the Wrangler’s breakover angle has improved by 2 degrees and the departure angle by nearly 5 degrees. Sport and Sahara models get a Dana 30 front axle and Dana 35 rear with a 3.75:1 rear axle ratio and optional limited-slip differential.
The Rubicon, meanwhile, gets Dana 44s front and rear with electronically locking differentials and electronically disconnecting anti-roll bars. Its crawl ratio has also jumped up to 84:1 on the manual transmission (from 73:1) and 77:1 on the automatic (from 55:1). Part of that is thanks to a shorter 4.10:1 rear axle ratio. If all of that isn’t enough to get you out, the Rubicon is still offered with a winch-ready steel bumper. The lockers and anti-roll bars are carried over from the last generation and are still mode-dependent. That is, the front locker will only engage in 4Lo, and although it won’t automatically disengage, you’re still limited to 30 mph (48 km/h)by the gearing. The axles themselves feature thicker tubes with a larger diameter along with stronger C-joints. The ring and pinion gears have also been updated, and older parts won’t fit.
Getting into crawl modes is the same as ever, with a manually shifted transfer case standard on all models. Saharas, however, get a new transfer case with a 4Auto mode in addition the usual 2Hi, 4Hi, Neutral, and 4Lo. Described as “set it and forget it,” 4Auto is meant for customers who daily driver their Wranglers in the wet and snow. An electronically controlled clutch pack can divert up to 50 percent of the engine’s power to the front wheels if the rears begin to slip. Otherwise, it defaults to rear-wheel drive for fuel economy. Jeep says the CV joints on the 4Auto driveline are 95 percent as strong as those on models with the manual transfer case.
Outboard, Jeep has made a few welcome adjustments to the suspension. It’s still a five-link design on both ends, but all the mounting points have been hardened. The trailing arm mounts on the frame have also been redesigned in an angular configuration rather than round, so you won’t get hung up on them when dragging the frame over a boulder. At the rear, the shocks have been pushed outboard and the roll center raised to improve on-road ride quality and reduce head toss. Both Sahara and Rubicon models get monotube shocks all around (Sports get twin-tubes), and spring rates are up at all corners. Up front, the power steering has been completely revised and now features an electric pump for the hydraulic assist, as well as a new rack with less slop, a smaller turning radius, and a stronger steering ram that can better stand up to rock bashing on the trail. On the corners, the Wrangler now features brakes 1-inch larger all around with two-piston calipers in front and one-piston calipers in the rear. Some changes have been made to the hubs, as well, including larger, stronger wheel studs and a slightly wider track width, but old wheels will still bolt up.
Above the tires, Jeep has made a number of carefully considered body modifications to bring the Wrangler into the modern age. LED headlights and taillights are now available, and LED halo daytime running lights and fender-mounted LED turn signals are standard. The fenders, like the bumpers, are narrower for better clearance off-road, and fenders on Rubicons are mounted higher. Vents behind the front fenders are not there to look cool but actually vent air pressure under the hood to eliminate the hood flutter Wranglers are known for. Vents up on the hood are also functional and designed to be hogged out for those who need more cooling. The hood itself is flat, not sloped, in a historical nod. Likewise, the headlights intrude on the grille openings just the way they did on the first CJ back in the ’40s.
Other changes are more functional. The windshield was made flatter so it doesn’t look like a bowl when folded down, but it was also raked back 7 degrees for better aerodynamics. Likewise, a small lip was molded into the top trailing edge of the hard top to improve airflow. A standard reverse camera mounts in the center of the spare tire and is removed with tools from the previously mentioned toolkit when you need to get the spare tire off. Exposed bolts below the windshield and below the A-pillars remain but are no longer part of the windshield folding process. Now, they’re just there so Jeepers can mount lights and other accessories without having to drill holes in the body. The old-school whip antenna remains not just so you know if you’ll clear the roof of the parking garage but also because it gets better AM reception, and they couldn’t integrate it into the removable windshield and rear window without losing radio reception when those windows are removed.
The new Wrangler also picks up a number of modern safety features. Seat-mounted front side airbags are now standard, and rear parking sensors with cross-path detection are optional. Also optional is a blind-spot monitoring system in the mirrors. Hill-start assistance is standard, and hill-descent control is optional on automatic transmission models.
Because it’s a Wrangler, some features you’d think are standard aren’t. For example, you can get a base Sport model with manual door lock, manual mirrors, no air conditioning, and even manual windows. The base model is actually designed with serious customizers in mind and meant to be as inexpensive and stripped-down as possible for the Jeepers who plan to tear apart their brand-new rig and make major modifications.
That’s really the story of the new Wrangler. Although it is very much a modernized Jeep with the sorts of features and technology most buyers expect, it’s also designed by and for Jeepers, so much so that editors from leading off-road magazines were consulted early on to make sure it stayed true to Jeep heritage. It’s a tough balance to strike, but if they did it right, the average car buyer will be just as happy with the new Wrangler as the hardcore off-roaders who’ve helped make it the legend it is.