The Jeep Wrangler is an American icon and the core of the Jeep brand. When the company set out to create the next-generation Jeep Wrangler JL, they looked to improve all aspects of this off-roader. The Wrangler had to remain an off-road star and become a better around town commuter and daily driver. Did Jeep succeed on their quest to make the best and most refined Jeep Wrangler ever?
The JL starts with a fully redesigned frame. It’s now lighter and allows for a slightly longer wheelbase and a wider track. The curb weight of the JL is on average around 200 lbs lighter than the outgoing JK Wrangler thanks to the frame and aluminum body components (hood and doors).
Is the Jeep Wrangler JL Still a Great Off-Roader?
The maximum available ground clearance is 10.9 inches. Jeep equipped the Wrangler JL Rubicon with 33-inch BFGoodrich A/T KO2 tires (not the Mud Terrains as with the JK). The KO2 all-terrain tires are a solid choice as we have shown many times before by running them in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains on everything from a Chevy Silverado to a Ford Raptor.
Jeep setup one of the toughest off-road rock crawl trails for the first drive event of the new Wrangler JL in Tucson, AZ. Two-door and four-door Rubicons were running the trail all day with help from several spotters.
There is something reassuring about using the transfer case lever to shift the Jeep into 4-Low. Use the new switch to lock both front and rear lockers, push the button to disconnect the front sway bar for more articulation, throw the 8-speed transmission into manual gear select and into first, and set off up a rocky trail.
Jeep improved the turning circle of the JL (40.8 feet for four-door and 34.5 feet for the two-door), mostly due to the slightly wider track. The Rubicon Unlimited I drove ate up the difficult route. It was an eventful and exciting crawl. I did touch a few rocks with my front differential, skid plates, and side rock rails (rock sliders). The Rubicon took a couple of bumps and bruises, but kept moving and maneuvering on very tight switchbacks that still required multi-point turns.
Naturally, Jeep would not set up a trail that a Rubicon cannot do, but it was a great challenge. There was plenty of torque going to the wheels (crawl ratio is: 77.2:1 with the 8-speed automatic and 84.2:1 with the manual) and the throttle was easy to modulate. When I returned to the base camp after my trail run, I thought to myself – “The new Rubicon did very well.” I jumped out, opened the hood, and found a 2.0L turbo mild hybrid under the hood. It’s still weird to find a small turbo gas engine under the hood of a Wrangler, but the new drivetrain worked seamlessly during my drive.
Jeep Wrangler JL official pricing
The 2018 Wrangler Sport JL’s starting price is officially $26,995 before the $1,195 destination charge. Yes, it is $3,000 more than a starting price of 2018 JK Wrangler two-door. When asked for comment about the pricing, Jeep representative said that it’s not a direct comparison: the base equipment and powertrain selection is different between the JK and the JL. Whatever the reason, considering how popular the Wrangler is – the market will likely accept the price increase.
|(2 Door) Sport||$26,995|
|(2 Door) Sport S||$30,195|
|(2 Door) Rubicon||$36,995|
|(4 Door) Sport||$30,495|
|(4 Door) Sport S||$33,695|
|(4 Door) Sahara||$37,345|
|(4 Door) Rubicon||$40,495|
Detailed pricing for different roofs and options was not available at the time of this writing. However, Jeep said that the 8-speed automatic transmission is an additional $2,000 over the manual, if you are configuring a Wrangler with the 3.6-liter Pentastar V6.
Will we soon see a $60,000+ Jeep Wrangler JL on the showroom floor? There is no question about it, especially when you consider the Jeep Performance Parts (JPP) that offer a 2-inch lift with Fox shocks, lights, winches, snorkels, tube doors, and much more. All of these accessories and modifications could be rolled into the price of a brand-new JL with warranty and financing available.
The new Wrangler continues with solid axles front and rear. This is done to improve off-road articulation in the front, also with the help of an electrically disconnecting front sway bar. Jeep updated the suspension and evaluated many tire options to improve JL driving on pavement. Jeep’s research found that approximately 65-70% of Wrangler owners do not go off-road.
When driving a four-door Jeep Wrangler JL Sahara Unlimited, the ride quality is noticeably improved on the highway or on a washboard dirt road. The luxurious Sahara model is only available as a four-door. If you opt for this model, you can get Bridgestone Dueler HT/AT or Goodyear Wrangler Adventure AT tires.
Although Jeep increased the size of every piece of glass or window opening for better visibility, the JL driving experience is still undeniably Wrangler. Indeed, the visibility has been improved, especially out the rear window – but the driving position is still upright, the unique Wrangler hood stretches out in front of you, and the square windows are visible out the side mirrors. In a world of crossovers and SUVs that look and feel very similar, this is a refreshing and much welcomed experience.
Jeep Wrangler JL Engines
When the JL Wrangler goes on sale in the first quarter of 2018, it will be available with an upgraded 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 and a choice of an 8-speed automatic or a 6-speed manual. The 2.0-liter turbocharged I4 engine with a mild 48-volt electric eTorque hybrid system will arrive several months later. Jeep promises the upgraded 3.0-liter EcoDiesel V6 will go on sale in 2019. Finally, the company announced a plug-in electric hybrid Wrangler in 2020. A Jeep Wrangler with a choice of four power plants over the next two years? That is an ambitious and welcomed plan.
While the power output of the 3.6-liter V6 remains at 285 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque, Jeep says the engine has been upgraded to meet the latest regulations. It now includes an engine start/stop feature. There is still a button to disable start/stop, but it will come back once you cycle the ignition (which is now a push button). We did not get a chance to evaluate the V6 start/stop during this first drive opportunity. However, we will do it soon in future tests.
The 2.0-liter turbocharged I4 is a whole different animal for the Jeep Wrangler JL. This power system makes its debut for the Jeep brand in the Wrangler. This engine is a pleasant surprise. Talking about a small turbo gas engine in a Wrangler still feels weird, but this engine pairs nicely with the new model. Total power output is 270 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque, and the 8-speed automatic is the only transmission available.
The small electric motor provides an assist to get the Jeep moving. It also makes the engine start/stop operation so smooth it’s practically undetectable. Generally speaking, once the engine is shut off during a stop, there is a moment of shudder or hesitation once the engine fires back up when you let off the brake and begin your acceleration. Not so in the 2.0T Wrangler. The transition is smooth and there is practically no hesitation.
Once under way, the turbocharged power builds quickly (maximum torque is at 3,000 rpm), and the Wrangler becomes a very quick SUV for the daily drive.
We also tested a base-model Jeep Wrangler Sport with the V6 paired to a manual transmission. Jeep brought back and improved the feel of the 6-speed manual for the enthusiasts. This Wrangler weighs less than 4,000 lbs, and it’s no slouch with a manual transmission that has more direct engagement, shorter throws, and no shaking. 60 MPH is reachable in second gear, but we did not get a chance to time the 0-60 MPH run. Naturally, the Wrangler manual is no Mazda Miata or Porsche Boxster, but it’s good to know that Jeep continues to offer the manual transmission option.
Jeep worked on aerodynamics of the JL on a quest for improve fuel economy and a quieter cabin. The way that the new hood meet the grille and the increased rake to the windshield combine for improved aerodynamics. The fuel economy did improve significantly. The EPA rates the 3.6-liter with the 8-speed automatic at 18/23/20 City/Highway/Combined MPG. This is 2 MPG better than a comparable outgoing model. The 2.0-liter turbo’s official mileage rating is not available yet. On our test, we achieved 20 MPG average after 50 miles of spirited driving around Tucson, Arizona.
The Jeep Wrangler JL cabin is still not a serenely quiet place on the highway, but the subject of cabin noise get ever more complicated by availability of three roof options. Jeep updated the removable hard-roof “Freedom Top” panels with lighter-weight materials. This may be the quietest roof option of the bunch. Next is the new power retractable roof option. The retractable softtop is ultra cool and useful. However, Jeep has not confirmed pricing for this option at time of writing. Finally, there is a manually folding softtop that offers a couple of stowage options: open-top or folded all the way down behind the rear seats.
How About Towing?
If you care about towing, you may be disappointed that the JL is still rated to tow 3,500 pounds. Jeep says that Wrangler customers do not demand heavier towing capability, and offering a rating of 5,000 lbs or more would require heavier and stiffer springs which will in turn compromise off-road capability and comfort. Be that as it may, I was hoping that Jeep Wrangler JL would increase its towing and payload capacities. Jeep has rated the four-door Wrangler’s maximum payload at a mediocre 1,000 pounds.
The Jeep Wrangler JL’s Interior
It’s clear that Jeep paid special attention to the interior and dash design. Two round gauges flank a configurable center gauge display, and the rest of the dash give the JL a modern and more premium feeling. The available Uconnect infotainment system with Wifi-hotspot is a very welcome addition over the previous JK. Jeep also redesigned the steering wheel-mounted controls similar to how they’re laid out in other FCA-branded cars and trucks.
Jeep says the cabin size has been slightly increased. However, tall people – I am just over 6’2’’ – may have difficulty sliding the front seat back enough for complete comfort. The seat slider and recline controls are still manually operated. Not only does that save some weight, but it injects a feeling of simplicity and ruggedness into the cabin. Jeep improved rear seat legroom, and the seat-back reclining angle for added passenger comfort. You don’t have to sit as upright back there as you had to in the past.
There are plentiful USB ports and handy electrical outlet on the back of the center console. We used it to charge our drone when we drove the Sahara Unlimited (four-door).
After driving several Wrangler JLs over the course of a day, the first drive answer is a clear – “Yes”. Jeep did in fact improve nearly aspect of the Wrangler. It’s still a masterfully capable off-road vehicle, and it is easy to live with as a daily driver. We cannot wait for a longer term evaluation of the JL. Please stay tuned as we are getting ready for a road trip from Phoenix, AZ to Boulder, CO. Subscribe to The Fast Lane Car and TFLnow on YouTube for all the latest videos on the new Jeep Wrangler JL and all your favorite new models!