By on December 13, 2017

2018 Jeep Wrangler

It’s always risky trying to soften up an object that’s known for being badass in order to better please the larger market.

After all, who wants to see a movie in which Danny Trejo and Norman Reedus debate Wittgenstein over a game of backgammon while sipping on tea?

That’s the challenge Jeep faced with the 2018 Wrangler – how to modernize it in terms of on-road behavior and creature comforts while not losing any of its off-road capabilities. The company had to keep the toughness while also softening the roughest edges. It’s not an easy balance to strike, but based on a first drive, Jeep pulled it off.

Thanks to a seemingly never-ending slow drip of leaks, it feels like we’ve known the next-gen Wrangler’s official details for eons now. Never mind that I took my turn behind the wheel just about exactly one week after the official wrap came off at the 2017 Los Angeles Auto Show.

Full disclosure: Jeep flew media out to a lovely resort at the base of a mountain near Tucson, Arizona and fed us several excellent meals, including snacks at a stop that doubles as a theme park/movie set. They also set up an off-road course and offered Wrangler hats. I did not take one.

Just to recap – the new Wrangler offers two engines at launch. One is a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that makes 270 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque; the other is a 3.6-liter V6 making 285 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. The four has a system that functions sort of like a mild hybrid (more on that later) and pairs to a new eight-speed automatic transmission, while the V6 is available with either the auto or an all-new six-speed manual.

Jeep has a diesel option in store for 2019 – it’s a 3.0-liter mill that makes 260 horsepower and 442 lb-ft of torque. It will pair solely with a new eight-speed automatic and have engine stop/start. A plug-in hybrid model has been promised for 2020, with no further details available.

2018 Jeep Wrangler

There’s four trims – Sport, Sport S, Sahara, and Rubicon – and two- or four-door layouts (no Sahara on two-doors). You can get a power softtop, two hardtops, and a regular softtop. The Wrangler is also available with a fold-down windshield, removable doors, and removable side panels, all of which leads to a headache-inducing amount of combinations for doors, windshield, and roof.

Just like Jeep to offer buyers a million different ways to customize, right? That’s not even factoring in the likely lengthy aftermarket catalogs from Mopar and others.

The first set of keys I got my hands on paired with a hardtop V6 automatic four-door, and we set out towards the break stop on a path that was mostly on-road – a mix of freeway, city streets, and deserted desert back roads.

2018 Jeep Wrangler

Improvement in on-road behavior is immediately apparent. It’s still a little tippy in terms of body roll, but the steering wheel actually feels connected to the front tires and the tires to the pavement. Ride is comfortable when the Jeep is pointed straight, and far fewer steering corrections are needed to keep it tracking as such.

Grunt from the V6 is good enough for around-town duties, although you still won’t be blowing anyone’s doors off. If you need to pass, though, you’ll be fine.

Acceleration from the four-banger is a similar story – in fact, I couldn’t tell from the seat of my pants which engine offers quicker acceleration, although the numbers suggest it would be the four.

Speaking of the four, the so-called eTorque system isn’t exactly a mild hybrid setup, but with auto stop/start, an electric power assist system, extended fuel shut-off, regenerative braking, and systems that manage both transmission shifting and battery charging, it’s clearly intended to improve fuel economy. I asked if Jeep will ever offer the four with a stick, even if it means sacrificing eTorque, and I was told that if consumers want it, they might.

2018 Jeep Wrangler

The automatic fades into the background – no noticeable hard shifting. As for the manual, well, the shakes and vibrations are gone, but long yet satisfying throws remain. The clutch has a decent takeup point, but that didn’t keep me from stalling it when I first put it into reverse. Fancy feet, I do not have.

Speaking of reverse, it’s relocated (up and to the left) to make for easier rocking when off-roading.

Ah, off-roading. The Wrangler’s bread and butter. Jeep set up a challenging off-road course and let us do as many loops as we wanted (time permitting) in automatic-trans Rubicons of each engine type. Thanks to things like Dana 44 front and rear axles and a Rock-Trac 4×4 system with a 4.10 front- and rear-axle ratio, as well as front and rear lockers (controlled via switch) and a sway-bar disconnect switch, the Rubicon handled rock piles in the desert with aplomb, even when a slick rock led to a skidplate being smacked.

Off-road setups vary a bit based on trim and powertrain. You can get a Selec-Trac full-time four-wheel drive system with a full-time, two-speed transfer case or a Command-Trac system that also has a two-speed transfer case. Both have a 2.72:1 low-range gear ratio, and the latter comes with solid Dana front and rear axles with a 3.45 rear-axle ratio. The Command-Trac and Rock-Trac systems offer full-time torque management, and a limited-slip rear diff is available.

2018 Jeep Wrangler

Everything worked well on the trail (I took two turns, one with each engine), although of course we had spotters telling us where to place our wheels, when to engage or disengage each system, when to put the automatic in manual mode and first gear, et cetera. It should also be unsurprising that while the trail was challenging, it wasn’t impassable – no OEM would face its vehicles with obstacles they can’t overcome, for obvious reasons.

Dropping the windshield added to the cool factor, though it reduced visibility along the hood while obviously vastly improving it in all other directions. Popping the doors off allowed for easy sight of wheel placements but, as a passenger in a door-less Wrangler, I nearly went tumbling into the cactus. I didn’t, thanks to seat belts – wear ‘em, kids.

Jeep demos showed the removable side panels come off quickly and the power soft-top (which works at speeds up to 60 mph) appeared to work well. Hardtops still need tools and some time to come off. So is the case with the doors and windshield, but it looks to be a quick and easy process.

2018 Jeep Wrangler

Returning from the off-road in a two-door, I could feel how the shorter wheelbase affected handling, but even in two-door form the new Wrangler JL is better behaved on-road than the outgoing JK.

Road, tire, and wind noise are louder than on most SUVs, regardless of top (as expected, they’re louder with the softtop), but less obnoxious than before and not at a level that makes it difficult to converse. The noise never annoys, and I’ve been in sporty compact sedans/hatchbacks with hardtops lately that are louder (ahem, WRX and Focus RS) on the highway.

2018 Jeep Wrangler

Perhaps Jeep’s biggest challenge was on the inside. The JK interior was laughably outdated, and not in any charming, retro way. This new cabin is attractive, sprinkled with nods to Jeep history (such as a Willys drawn into the driver-info center and Jeep silhouettes etched in each shifter), and offers up easy-to-use switchgear. Modern amenities like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are available, and there are three touchscreen sizes from which to choose – five, seven, or 8.4 inches.

Push-button start (on all models), UConnect infotainment, navigation, two USB ports, subwoofer, tilt/telescope steering wheel on all trims – the JL offers the usual modernity. That goes for safety features, too, such as blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-path detection, and rearview camera. Heated seats are available, too, along with heated steering wheel. So much for roughing it.

Jeep has added a cargo-management system and doubled the size of the center console, and the brand claims the available silver interior trim is real metal, not paint. We were also told the interior can still be washed out (and the water drained, thanks to plugs in the floor plan and a removable carpet). Even little things have modernized – the doors now close themselves!

2018 Jeep Wrangler

Styling-wise, the look is evolutionary, not revolutionary. The Jeep logo moves back to the sides and in a nod to CJ-era Jeeps, the headlights merge into the grille slats. The beltline lowers by an inch, while Rubicon fenders are two inches higher than on other trims. Aluminum is used for the hood, front fenders, and doors. LED headlights and fog lamps are available, and they make the updated JL easy to spot at night – in fact, it was easier to tell the JL apart from the JK once the sun dropped and the lights went on.

We drove pre-production models, so build quality was not something I can truly comment on yet. But given the pricing Jeep has laid out, it had better be good, especially with a new Land Rover Defender coming at some point soon.

2018 Jeep Wrangler

Taking the big-picture view, that’s my biggest concern with the new Wrangler. It’s as good as it’s going to get on-road – basic physics demands that any vehicle that’s so off-road focused will never be perfect on the highway – and the interior is finally more or less up to par. However, the cash outlay may be a little steep for some.

Consider: The two-door Sport starts at a reasonable $26,995, but the Rubicon requires $36,995. That’s a big jump. For the four-door Sport, you’re looking at $30,495, while the Sahara is $37,345, and the Rubicon $40,495. All have a $1,195 delivery and destination fee. Fuel economy numbers are not yet finalized.

That means the JL won’t be cheap. It doesn’t mean it won’t be worth it. If you’re looking for a great on-road SUV, look elsewhere. But if you’re a hard-core off-roader or someone who just wants the Jeep’s style, the JL’s on-road behavior and interior quality are both finally good enough that you won’t feel punished for your choice.

[Images: ©2017 Tim Healey/The Truth About Cars]

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53 Comments on “2018 Jeep Wrangler First Drive – Finally Modern, Still Not Soft...”


  • avatar
    VW4motion

    Looks good. Using the 80/20 rule. Who cares if people whine about the 4 Turbo. This will only increase sales. Well done.

  • avatar
    thatsiebguy

    I like the (finally) updated interior and amenities, it looks good for a Wrangler, and hasn’t succumbed to Fiat yet. I’ll keep waiting for the Scrambler version though….

  • avatar
    IBx1

    Luckily Jeep was far ahead of the curve with a pedestrian safety front end!

  • avatar
    JohnTaurus

    I do like it. Although I still prefer the 2 door, the 4 door looks less ungainly than the outgoing model. I saw one on a car lot yesterday, it just seemed odd, as if it was an afterthought (which it probably was). The new 4 door looks more natural, at least that’s the best way I can describe it.

    The price isn’t cheap, no. But for this much capability and the improved on-road dynamics, I don’t find it outrageous.

    I think Jeep has a winner. Purists will always argue that this old one was better for this reason, but c’mon, time moves forward, it doesn’t wait for the faint of heart. The same gripes were made about the Cherokee going from its original BOF design to the unibody XJ, then again when it went full crossover. First, the XJ was laughable compared to the old one (in their eyes), then a decade or two later, it was God’s gift to us humans while the FWD-based one was blasphemous. At least there is still a “pure” Jeep with serious off-road capability for those who want such, even if it isn’t as outdated as it was.

  • avatar
    SSJeep

    Great write up Tim! I was wondering if the noise issues had been addressed in the newest Wrangler. It would be interesting if you could grab one of these for a long term test and report back regularly.

    Also, cant wait for a review of the diesel option… 260 horsepower and 442 lb-ft of torque is a lot of twist for a Wrangler.

  • avatar
    DearS

    Great replacement for the Hummer crowd.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    I dig it.

  • avatar
    probert

    “After all, who wants to see a movie in which Danny Trejo and Norman Reedus debate Wittgenstein over a game of backgammon while sipping on tea?”

    Me

  • avatar
    kamiller42

    “However, the cash outlay may be a little steep for some.”

    I think that’s true of every vehicle I want, equipped as I want. The prices are at levels equal to buying a small house.

  • avatar
    Goatshadow

    Here’s hoping used JK prices come down a lit..haha who am I kidding.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      hahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha

      Jeep resale will still stay silly high. Makes almost 0 sense to buy a Wrangler used unless it is at death’s door and needs a full rebuild. Then it will be cheap enough to make a difference.

  • avatar
    MLS

    “Jeep… claims the available silver interior trim is real metal, not paint.”

    Claims? Did you not believe them?

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      That verb has become a staple at TTAC.

      “Claims” should be applied to debatable statements for things like future release dates and predicted performance, not for materially provable subjects. We’re not in a courtroom here.

  • avatar
    gtem

    What was the throttle response like of the 2.0T motor to small throttle inputs in the offroad section?

  • avatar
    Wheatridger

    A hybrid Wrangler. Who suspected that! Surely, along with a Democrat elected in Alabama, it’s a sign of the Apocalypse!

    No, not really. Regen braking makes so much sense, it’s going to spread to almost every car, sooner than we may think. There’s so much free energy to be harvested from downhills and stoplights. Coasting down from a high mountain pass, I’ve made back battery range giving me a free electric mile for every mile traveled. Don’t believe the gripes about poor braking feel. That’s not necessary, and my Ford hybrid’s pedal is as smooth and positive as my VW’s. I don’t feel the engine stopping and starting, either. We’ll see if Jeep can do so well.

  • avatar
    TwoBelugas

    “We drove pre-production models, so build quality was not something I can truly comment on yet. But given the pricing Jeep has laid out, it had better be good, especially with a new Land Rover Defender coming at some point soon.”

    The reference to the yet-to-be-seen new “Defender” doesn’t make sense, since:

    “Consider: The two-door Sport starts at a reasonable $26,995, but the Rubicon requires $36,995. That’s a big jump. For the four-door Sport, you’re looking at $30,495, while the Sahara is $37,345, and the Rubicon $40,495. All have a $1,195 delivery and destination fee. Fuel economy numbers are not yet finalized.”

    Does anyone think a redesigned Land Rover Defender, which may be a Defender in name only given the way the Range Rover has become lately, will be cross shopped with a Wrangler, or even within 20k of the Rubicon’s starting price?

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    $1195 delivery and destination fee. That has to be an all time high for a vehicle this size. My friend bought a light blue 4 door Unlimited with an ultra rare stick and has sadly already been in and out of the shop with it for 3 warranty items including a phantom air bag light, water leaks and a driveline vibration on the highway. FCA quality at it’s best 43 grand later.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      It’s a Jeep thing; you wouldn’t understand.

    • 0 avatar
      GaryR

      The leaks and the vibration are features.

      • 0 avatar
        rudiger

        I believe the highway vibration is a ‘feature’ more commonly known as ‘Death Wobble’. From what I can gather, it may have something to do with an inherent suspension geometry that makes the Wrangler so adept at its off-road prowess. It just doesn’t work very well at highway speeds.

        • 0 avatar
          Vulpine

          The ‘vibration’ is not the “death wobble.” Death Wobble comes from worn tie-rod ends worn ball joints and rotted boots combined with its relatively high ride for such a ‘small’ vehicle. That’s the problem with any vehicle with those old-style suspensions (maybe combined with the old reciprocal-ball steering, as well.) Don’t know if the new model has addressed that but I’m pretty sure they would have done SOMETHING to help minimize it, anyway.

        • 0 avatar
          rpn453

          Nobody who has experienced the terror of Death Wobble would describe it as a mere vibration! More like a convulsion. It feels like the vehicle is being violently shaken to pieces when it happens.

          But it’s just the result of an underdamped system and is easy to remedy with new shocks and/or a steering stabilizer. Change those before doing any other components or it will return shortly.

          • 0 avatar
            Vulpine

            Sorry, rpn. Tried that. Had another Wobble event less than three months later. Had to have tie rod and ball joints replaced to stop it.

            Factory suspension, no lift or oversized tires.

          • 0 avatar
            Pete Zaitcev

            I’m surprised that the tie rod was the fix. Often it’s the elongated holes on the axle and frame, so welding is needed to correct DW. The improper torque at tie-rod’s ends is often the cause, but once it triggered the problem, the wear isn’t limited to it alone. That said, mine is still okay and I didn’t even install the bolts with smooth shanks.

          • 0 avatar
            rpn453

            Yeah, not saying one shouldn’t make sure the front end is tight after doing all the dampers. Just that it isn’t worthwhile to be changing front end components without doing the dampers first, because any subsequent death wobble will put a beating on the new parts.

            And I shouldn’t even be saying “and/or” about the various dampers. A person should just change them all at the first hint of it, and inspect everything else. It’s not worth messing around with that issue.

            What’s the expected interval between death wobble events on a Wrangler after the front end is refreshed?

          • 0 avatar
            Vulpine

            I managed over 50K miles before my first Wobble event. After that?… depends on what repairs were made and the quality of the parts.

  • avatar
    Roberto Esponja

    Very good article, but just a minor peeve: when photographing the interior, please try to have the radio displays on. Would have been nice to see what the graphics look like.

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    Pricy. But having owned a JKU I’m still interested in the JL. Just…. JL? JLU? Or maybe JLT Scrambler?

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    I like the interior, but the exterior still looks the same to me as ever. But I’m not a Jeep guy, so I wouldn’t understand.

  • avatar
    Brett Woods

    “Push-button start (on all models),…” In general I’m not happy with a push button start. I have been using it for two years and developed pain in the R distal phalangeal joints of both pointer and thumb. Fingers were not designed for this any more than a ballerina’s feet were made for going on point. We can do it, but it will take a toll. The hand is much more resilient to grasping. I will re-wire the push button with a toggle switch I think. It’s hard not to like a jeep on some level. If you have a reasonably sized stable, you have to consider having a jeep in there, no?

    • 0 avatar
      Pete Zaitcev

      I’m somewhat amazed that they kept the old size. JK is noticeably bigger than TJ, so I was concerned that they’d add an inch or two everywhere.

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      I’ve had pushbutton start in a couple of cars, and I like it.

      It’s an electronic switch, not a barbecue grill igniter. You don’t have to mash it. Just push it like computer keyboard key it is.

      Also, being able to leave the key in my pocket means fewer contortions. Just press the switch, no fishing around no contortions.

      My wife just leaves the key in her purse, and forgets about it. She likes having her purse as the “key”.

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      I’ve had pushbutton start in a couple of cars, and I like it.

      It’s an electronic switch, not a barbecue grill igniter. You don’t have to mash it. Just push it like computer keyboard key it is.

      Also, being able to leave the key in my pocket means fewer contortions. Just press the switch, no fishing around no contortions.

      My wife just leaves the key in her purse, and forgets about it. She likes having her purse as the “key”.

      • 0 avatar
        Brett Woods

        Mine is about as stiff as pulling the handle of an old time cigarette vending machine.

        • 0 avatar
          Vulpine

          That’s hard to believe and if true then you need to take it back to the dealer. It either has corroded contacts or some kind of film developing to prevent contact.

          By chance do you smoke? The tar and nicotine oils become a varnish that coats almost everything in the car. These can cause switches and dials to become intermittent and in some cases, “touchy”.

          • 0 avatar
            Brett Woods

            It’s not like the inside of a bong or anything. Just a normal regularly cleaned Prius. Better for me would be keyless, but with the traditional bevel that you can grip and turn. One clear advantage would be going directly to the position you want. With the Prius button, it cycles around. You never know where you are in time because it’s laggy. I can end up stabbing that stiff plastic spring loaded button 5 times to get into start mode (you have to pause the right amount between ignition on, and start). Don’t even get me going on how hard it is to put in gear. About as fast as cracking a dudley combination on a school locker. Maybe you get lucky, maybe you don’t. It’s no fast getaway car once you’ve got a goofy start button, that’s for sure.

  • avatar
    Pete Zaitcev

    I’m most interested in the headroom of JL. On the JK I eventually resorted to cutting and welding. With the seat lowered by about 1.75 inch, I more or less fit, but my design turned out to be suboptimal for other drivers.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      You must be really, really tall, Pete. I’m of average size and can wear a western-style hat in the JK with no contact to the roof… still an inch or two of clearance from the peak. My wife is over 6′ tall and she still has a visible 3″ or more of headroom .

      The JK/JL has more than enough headroom for most people.

  • avatar
    Brett Woods

    #worriedaboutJeep #fakeJeephybrid #whatseTorque?

    C&D is saying 0.4kWh, which is like 40, 18650 laptop batteries? Far too lame. A good system, unless it’s using KERS prototype innovations, would want about a thousand of those laptop batteries, or 6000 of its cells to make it outperform all existing models. The Pacifica battery is 40 times more powerful than the eTorque. That battery would easily double the Jeeps’ range and make it climb walls without revving. FCA should try a little bit harder because it doesn’t want a hybrid ’19 Jeep to be an “accidental” failure like a ’13 Tahoe.

    Faking electric uselessness with a poor hybrid system; deliberately making a market failure for the purpose of re-enforcing and re-invigorating a previous business model, is the move of a puke. But I wouldn’t put it past any of the dinosaur ceo’s. People often say, when they ride in my crappy 1990’s tech hybrid, “Is this an electric car?” They amazingly don’t seem to know anything. Sergio isn’t trying to take advantage of these people is he?

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      Sergio is doing his damndest to avoid going full EV, especially with Jeeps. That eTorque system is pretty much only good for the start-stop system and getting the vehicle rolling until the engine itself comes online… only marginally reducing the amount of fuel used in acceleration and hardly saving anything considering how little fuel is used while idling at a light.

      I do agree that even something as small as 20kWh would have a huge effect on economy in a start-stop environment; the rig wouldn’t even need to start the engine until you’ve gone 20 miles or more and if the majority of the acceleration is performed by the electric motor then the gas engine doesn’t have to work as hard to maintain cruising speed while recharging the battery. Ultimate city and combined economy would go up, though highway might not be as well improved. (Being a brick is a major part of the Wrangler’s highway economy.)

      It’s not that Sergio doesn’t understand it, it’s that those big batteries are expensive and if he wants to keep prices down, he’s got to keep costs down. He still complains loudly about how much he loses with each Fiat 500e sale made.

      • 0 avatar
        Brett Woods

        I think you’re right. But something like that isn’t even at a professional level. It’s like the older kid who lives down the street rescued a floor polisher from a dumpster and me and another kid offered to power it with the batteries from our hoverboards. Okay, that would be cool. But in a Jeep, eTorque sounds, so far, like an F-U to customers. A marketing gimmick that appropriates the hybrid name while leaving adopters underwhelmed/disappointed, and damaging the gestalt of the hybrid in the process.

  • avatar
    Brett Woods

    Maybe “eTorque” boosts from a bank of super caps? I was just reading how they were once going to call it the “Hurricane.”

  • avatar
    DownUnder2014

    Well, I like the fact they have kept the foldable windshield and I also like the power soft top. The interior should be an improvement, which would not be too difficult considering what it was previously.

    I also like how the base Sport has kept Manual Windows as standard and also A/C as optional.

    It is slightly more expensive however, but I suppose it is better, so it’s probably worth the price increase.

  • avatar
    multicam

    Diesel only with automatic? No thanks.


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