For 2018, Jeep refreshed the Wrangler and updated to the new JL platform. This all-new model features everything you love about the JK Jeep, but makes it all better. It makes a strong case for being the only car you could ever possibly need.
We attended a Jeep program outside of Chicago to off-road the new Wranglers in some gnarly (and unexpected) mud, and then we spent a few days on-road back at home with a manual transmission Rubicon Unlimited.
For the off-road bits, the Wrangler is as good as ever. A Rubicon still has the disconnecting sway bar from the cockpit, along with front and rear lockers. Of course, a low-range transfer case exists to help when rock crawling.
The major change in Rubicon land for 2018 is the changeover to BFGoodrich KO2 tires. In sand, mud, dirt, or anything that’s not solid, these tires have seemingly endless traction.
On our day off-roading in the extreme mud, every single Jeep got stuck except for the 2 Rubicons that were present. While we’d like to say our off-road experience helped avoid getting stuck, the truth of the matter is that the tires did most of the work.
To make a long story short, fans can rejoice that the new Wrangler is just as good as the old Wrangler.
Improvements in the JL that lots of Wrangler folks will care about is that the doors are 15 pounds lighter. They’re easier to remove. They will swing closed on their own so you don’t have to slam them.
The windshield folds down with 4 bolts instead of 24. That means you can have the wind in your face without spending all afternoon making it happen.
The Freedom Top panels are lighter than ever, and there are no more twisting screws used. It’s just a series of levers to move and the tops pop right off.
Heck, the soft top doesn’t even have zippers anymore, yet it’s just as functional as ever but easier to lower.
What really impresses about the new Wrangler is how Jeep engineers looked at how people use their Jeeps, and then made small changes to make each part of the ownership experience better. It all adds up to significantly better product for the owner.
Being a modern FCA product, Uconnect is now available with Android Auto and Apple Car Play. A premium stereo is also an option, which sounds pretty good with the speakers in the roll cage. Like before, you can completely hose out the interior and there are even drain plugs in the floor. It’s cool they found a way to make the Uconnect system water resistant while still maintaining functionality.
A Jeep first also includes blind spot monitoring. A backup camera is also on board and cleverly located the with locking bolt for the spare tire. Available LED headlights are actually usable at night, and worth the money on any Wrangler you purchase.
So the Jeep Wrangler is now a modern vehicle that’s still capable of doing Jeep things, but what’s it like on the road?
The Rubicon is probably the “worst-driving” of the new Jeeps because of the bigger axles and chunky tires, but it drives well enough. Compared to the outgoing model, it’s practically a sports car.
Steering is still dead on center, and it seems to hop around the road a bit, but that’s mostly tire causing it. But what we do like is that you can hit highway speeds anywhere in the country and not feel like you’re taking your life into your own hands.
At launch, the only engine available is the carryover 3.6L Pentastar V6. It’s a solid motor and performs well. During the off-road program, we sampled the 2.0L turbo with eTorque and were impressed, but didn’t have enough time to really draw many conclusions about it.
That 4-cylinder should be available this summer.
The 6-speed manual transmission is revised for 2018, and is only available on the V6 engine. It’s also what our loaner was equipped with for driving at home.
It’s a fine enough transmission. The throws are a hair shorter and the shifter feels more precise. But we’re going to be a bit sacrilegious here and say we prefer the ZF 8-speed automatic instead.
We didn’t care for the gearing all that much on the Rubicon, which has a 4.10 rear axle. Also, there was no place to rest your left foot when you weren’t shifting gears.
It’s probably fine for most die-hard manual enthusiasts, but in the case of the Wrangler we’d go for the automatic. It’s really good and doesn’t take away from the experience of driving or off-roading a Wrangler.
If you’re thinking about a new Wrangler and you’re coming from a previous generation, you’ll love the updates and changes. If you’re coming from another vehicle, the Wrangler still is a bit of compromise to have the off-road capability, but that compromise is far less than it ever has been.