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FIRST DRIVE: 2018 Jeep Wrangler

Like many of you, I often quip about the “new and improved” marketing line. I mean, is it new or is it improved? For the first time, I’ve found something that is both new and improved. The 2018 Jeep Wrangler is improved in the sense that, although it looks very much like the previous truck both inside and out, it has been thoroughly revised.

2018 Jeep Wrangler

By the same token, the changes are so considerable that the 2018 Wrangler is in fact a very new Jeep JL. Technology, powertrains and styling have all received a serious once over and have created the most well-rounded, all-encompassing Wrangler of all time.

The new 2018 Jeep Wrangler has matured to a level that was unthinkable only a generation ago. The main drive behind this is more sales. 2016 marked a record year in deliveries with over 1.4-million new Jeep roaming the planet. This trend is sure to continue and to help out, the JEEP is now ready for a bigger crowd.

Old can be made new

While the new Jeep Wrangler may be more refined overall, it remains incredibly authentic – FCA would not swap potential new buyers for its hordes of loyal fans and diehards. Traditions are strongly represented while some new elements are inspired by previous generations.

To park a JK alongside a new JL would reveal few changes to a layman. To a Jeep person, items like the revised keystone grille, raked back windshield, new headlights, integrated turn signals, longer wheelbase, character lines and updated greenhouse are only a few that would jump out at him of her. What is not obvious however is the fact that the 2018 JL is 200 lbs. (90kg) lighter than the old.

The use of loads of high-strength steel and aluminum has firmed up the body on frame construction and is largely responsible for the JL’s drive and ride quality. Truth be told, no other Wrangler has ever been this good. I’ve been saying how much I love the Wrangler, for a week at a time, for nearly 20 years. I’m about to change my mind.

Road polished

On-road performance has reached a level of civility that is sure to entice more potential buyers to sign on the dotted line. No longer does the Wrangler bounce and shudder about on the road. I drove a Sahara Unlimited and a 2-door Sport and both impressed. The Sahara’s road-biased Bridgestone tires have an impact on steering response but the new electro-hydraulic steering is good nonetheless. Mind you, there’s little on-center feel or response but assistance builds up nicely afterwards.

It just keeps on getting better from here. The redesigned braking system, outward visibility and uprated powertrains are icing on the muddy, rock and sand covered cake. The kicker is the arrival of the Alfa Romeo Giulia derived 2.0-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder. This one punches out 270 horsepower and 295 lb.-ft. of torque on tap at very low rpm.

Still an off-road master

The 2018 Jeep Wrangler may be an on-road gentleman today but there’s no denying that its off-road abilities are unmatched by any production vehicle. There’s nothing new here.

What is new is the availability of Jeep’s Select-Trac full-time AWD in the Sahara with locking 4-HI and 4-LOW when things get rougher. The new Jeep features higher crawl ratios (especially with the manual gearbox), new heavy-duty Dana 44 axles on the Rubicon, and much more.

To match the new hardware, the 2018 Wrangler JL is provided with more ground clearance, greater approach and departure angles, a tighter turning radius and up to 76cm of water foraging.
Efficient power

Mated solely to an 8-speed automatic, this mill transforms the Wrangler into a 4X4 rocket. The powerband is flat and the autobox is perfectly geared for the job. As a sidenote, the start/stop function, as part of the eTorque system, is one of the most seamless ever. In a nutshell, this setup works as a small battery that keeps its charge through intelligent battery charging and regenerative braking. It maintains accessories while the engine is off. It can even turn off the engine when coasting or when the engine is decelerating. Fuel economy numbers are not yet available but they are expected to be significantly better than the V6’s.

About the latter, it returns for duty with the new 2018 JL Wrangler with 285 horsepower and 260 lb.-ft. of torque. The big news is that it too gets the 8-speed automatic (6-speed manual still available) which has a direct impact of fuel numbers. A 3.0-litre EcoDiesel V6 will arrive in 2019 and should do further wonders for this truck.

Friendlier environment

Updates to the 2018 Jeep Wrangler JL’s cabin are considerable as well. From the easier to handle and operate roof panels, manual or electric, more technology finds its way into a new instrument panel that is heavily stimulated by some of Jeep’s most iconic Wranglers of old.

By all accounts, and depending on trim, the dashboard is practically high-end. The instrument cluster features 3.5” or 7” screen, nicely matched by 5”, 7” and 8.4” screens that all include Gen4 Uconnect on the center stack. The materials (stitched leather available) are new while the dash is dotted by many round vents and chamfered knobs unique to the Wrangler. Every bolt you see here is authentic and for an extra conversation piece, the cabin can be draped in Redical red highlights.

The new more supportive seats are appreciated. After a while however, the absence of adjustable lumbar support on the passenger side (standard for the driver) forced me to wiggle in my seat for a better position.

Pricing for this new champion begins just under $34k for a 2-door Sport. The volume model will be the Sahara Unlimited at $45,745. Over a V6 with the manual transmission, the 2.0T requires a $2,590 supplement that includes the 8-speed auto. A loaded Rubicon with the 2.0T will back you up nearly $52,000. For this money, you will be invincible.

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