2018 Jeep Wrangler JK Sport S Rental Review - Time Machine
“It’s a Jeep thing; you wouldn’t understand.” That phrase might be a breathtaking bit of cultural appropriation at a level that shocks even your aging and decidedly hidebound author, but it’s not wrong.
Consider, if you will, the vehicle pictured above. It’s the old “Wrangler JK” — a vehicle which has had a decade-plus run as talisman, touchstone, profit center, and Jurassic-DNA-in-mosquito-frozen-in-amber for Chrysler in no fewer than three corporate iterations. From the moment you touch the rough plastic of the pushbutton exterior doorhandle, it’s absurdly plain that everything on this vehicle was designed from the outset to cut costs, only to have more costs cut as the years go on. Not that the bones of the thing aren’t fit for purpose — they are — but my God has there been a Great Cheapening going on in Wrangler-land over the past few years.
“Listen, dummy,” you’re no doubt saying, “of course this is going to be cheaped-out. It’s the final form of the model, kept in production until recently for the rental fleets, the skinflints, and the people who are both allergic to change and unable to get themselves to a dealership during an entire year’s worth of new-for-2018 Wrangler publicity. What did you expect? A ‘Golden Eagle’ luxury model?” Well yes, I did expect that, and they did in fact make some, but that’s not the problem here. Nor is it the fact that Jeep ran the old model for an extra year. That was a groundbreaking practice in 1996 when Ford did it to hedge its bets with the jellybean ’97 F-150, but it’s become fairly common in the two decades since then. Birds do it, bees do it, Malibus do it. (A bit of trivia for you: Ford had planned to do that as well with the 1986 Taurus, by keeping the aero Fox LTD in production at the Atlanta plant, but as the zero hour approached they decided to go all-in on the new car. What a disaster that would have been.)
No, my beef with this coupon-clipper old-shape 2018 Jeep is as follows: It ain’t cheap.
With the assistance (okay, he actually did everything) of my racing crew chief, the well-known and well-loved Bozi Tatarevic, I managed to obtain two window stickers — one for the 2018 “Sport S” model I rented this past week, and one for the 2012 Wrangler Sahara six-speed that was custom-ordered in lime green by an ex-girlfriend of mine a while ago. (You can read a little bit about the girl, and the Jeep, in my 2016 Wrangler review.) Let’s talk a bit about the general vibes of the two Wranglers, and then we will evaluate their prices.
[Get new and used Jeep Wrangler JK pricing here!]
2018 Wrangler Sport S — a coal-black misery pit seemingly designed to suck the will to live right out of your soul, containing precisely zero surprise-and-delight features, with cloth seats that look like they were going to be used in the 2002 Neon before Amnesty International got involved to stop it. Infotainment designed to mimic the “Star Wars” LED watches sold to children in 1978. HVAC controls that have only the most indifferent advisory power over what’s happening in the cabin.
2012 Wrangler Sahara — comfy dark brown heated leather seats, upscale appointments, uConnect with a big screen, chrome tips on buttons, dual-zone climate control.
Alright, let’s roll tape on the price:
2018 Wrangler Sport S: $35,530
2012 Wrangler Sahara: $35,550
How’s that for a head-scratcher? Both vehicles have the hard top, but the new one has the additional expense of the Nineties-era Benzo five-speed automatic. Oh, did I mention that the girl’s Sahara had 18-inch wheels and a limited-slip diff?
I know, I know. News flash — cars become more expensive over time — film at eleven! But this is particularly egregious because you’re just paying about the same money to get a lot less truck. We all expected this sort of thing back when Jimmy Carter was the president and inflation was so rampant that GMAC was running prime-time television ads offering 12.9 percent financing, but automotive pricing has been reasonably flat over the past five years. The cynic in me says they’re just jacking up the price so they can offer bigger rebates. And the “real” 2018 Wrangler costs a couple grand more. Maybe I should quit complaining and actually review the vehicle. Let’s do that.
What do you get for your thirty-five grand, anyway? Well, you get that rarest of things in $THE_CURRENT_YEAR: a vehicle which is not entirely at ease on the freeway. Speeds above, say, 75 mph have the Wrangler wandering a bit in its lane. The Sahara doesn’t do that, but I promised I wouldn’t talk any more about the Sahara. Nota bene that the Wrangler Sport S has upgrade wheels; the plain steel-wheeled Sport must be a real annoyance on the Interstate.
While I doubt that it would tip in normal service — this ain’t a CJ-5 — it never fails to feel tippy and unhappy. At least it gets up to speed in reasonable if not spectacular fashion. I know the old Jeepers don’t much care for the Pentastar, but it truly is the 3.6-liter Atlas that shoulders this ancient-feeling vehicle onto the barest precipice of modern usability. It’s better with the six-speed manual, but how could you not know that already?
The stereo is utter garbage, crippled even further by AUX circuity that appears to route the signal through an Ibanez “Tube Screamer” mounted somewhere behind the fascia, but the wind noise is severe enough to render it a non-issue even with the hardtop. The seats are capable of inducing little aches and pains in the first hour, and I say this to you as someone who has driven a Corvette with fixed-back Sparco Evo racing buckets from Venice Beach to central Ohio. The windows roll down all the way in all four doors, a feature which is truly appreciated by children and any rear-seat passengers who are prone to carsickness. Visibility is, by modern standards, disturbingly good. The cliff-face dashboard and flat-panel doors go a long way towards making you think of today’s cars as deranged slaves of fashion, right up to the point that you realize that it’s the Jeep, not the Camry or CR-V, that truly imposes a distorting aesthetic on its packaging.
The new Wrangler, as you’d expect, makes significant improvements in this area, just as this JK did over its predecessor.
Do not let any of the preceding make you think I don’t like the Wrangler JK. I do like it. It’s easy to make the argument that Jeep has been far more careful and adept with its heritage model than, say, Porsche has been with the 911, although both the JK and the 991 have a touch of the ol’ interior-dimension elephantiasis about them. Furthermore, the Wrangler really does pack some useful off-road hardware under the retro skin. I know from experience that these vehicles can do tremendous things, even in stock or close-to-stock trim.
My problem is that I don’t like this particular Wrangler JK. Get yourself a Golden Eagle, or a Sahara, or even a Rubicon. Get the six-speed. Buy the upgrade diff and anything else you can get in the way of factory-fitted off-road hardware; as with Porsche’s X-Whatever Powerkits, they pay off both in daily use and at resale time. Then feel free to enjoy the heck out of the thing. You’ll be far happier than you would be in this po-faced charcoal-cavern sorrow-wagon that commands a premium price for a coach-class experience.
Ah, but the more I think about it the more I think that the nice people at Jeep are a lot smarter than I am. They know that this “Sport S” model is a sack of misery. But they also know that there is a sort of cachet that attaches to the purchase of a “bare-bones” Jeep. There’s an assumption that your off-road intentions are somehow purer than those of my ex-girlfriend in her cocoa-interior, uConnect-equipped Sahara. The Sport is kind of like the Carrera T to the Rubicon’s GT3RS; the “cheap” model that says something a little bit flattering about its owner.
You pay extra money for the Carrera T, so it’s no wonder that this Sport S also costs a pretty penny. So here we are, looking at a bare-bones hair shirt on wheels that costs about the same money as a Lexus-lite Camry XLE. The misery of it isn’t a bug, it’s a feature. I told you. It’s a Jeep thing. I don’t understand.
[Images: Jack Baruth/TTAC]
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- Keith Maybe my market's different. but 4.5k whack. Plus mods like his are just donations for the next owner. I'd consider driving it as a fun but practical yet disposable work/airport car if it was priced right. Some VAG's (yep, even Audis) are capable, long lasting reliable cars despite what the haters preach. I can't lie I've done the same as this guy: I had a decently clean 4 Runner V8 with about the same miles- I put it up for sale around the same price as the lower mile examples. I heard crickets chirp until I dropped the price. Folks just don't want NYC cab miles.
- Max So GM will be making TESLAS in the future. YEA They really shouldn’t be taking cues from Elon musk. Tesla is just about to be over.
- Malcolm It's not that commenters attack Tesla, musk has brought it on the company. The delivery of the first semi was half loaded in 70 degree weather hauling potato chips for frito lay. No company underutilizes their loads like this. Musk shouted at the world "look at us". Freightliners e-cascads has been delivering loads for 6-8 months before Tesla delivered one semi. What commenters are asking "What's the actual usable range when in say Leadville when its blowing snow and -20F outside with a full trailer?
- Funky D I despise Google for a whole host of reasons. So why on earth would I willing spend a large amount of $ on a car that will force Google spyware on me.The only connectivity to the world I will put up with is through my phone, which at least gives me the option of turning it off or disconnecting it from the car should I choose to.No CarPlay, no sale.
- William I think it's important to understand the factors that made GM as big as it once was and would like to be today. Let's roll back to 1965, or even before that. GM was the biggest of the Big Three. It's main competition was Ford and Chrysler, as well as it's own 5 brands competing with themselves. The import competition was all but non existent. Volkswagen was the most popular imported cars at the time. So GM had its successful 5 brands, and very little competition compared to today's market. GM was big, huge in fact. It was diversified into many other lines of business, from trains to information data processing (EDS). Again GM was huge. But being huge didn't make it better. There are many examples of GM not building the best cars they could, it's no surprise that they were building cars to maximize their profits, not to be the best built cars on the road, the closest brand to achieve that status was Cadillac. Anyone who owned a Cadillac knew it could have been a much higher level of quality than it was. It had a higher level of engineering and design features compared to it's competition. But as my Godfather used to say "how good is good?" Being as good as your competitors, isn't being as good as you could be. So, today GM does not hold 50% of the automotive market as it once did, and because of a multitude of reasons it never will again. No matter how much it improves it's quality, market value and dealer network, based on competition alone it can't have a 50% market share again. It has only 3 of its original 5 brands, and there are too many strong competitors taking pieces of the market share. So that says it's playing in a different game, therfore there's a whole new normal to use as a baseline than before. GM has to continue downsizing to fit into today's market. It can still be big, but in a different game and scale. The new normal will never be the same scale it once was as compared to the now "worlds" automotive industry. Just like how the US railroad industry had to reinvent its self to meet the changing transportation industry, and IBM has had to reinvent its self to play in the ever changing Information Technology industry it finds it's self in. IBM was once the industry leader, now it has to scale it's self down to remain in the industry it created. GM is in the same place that the railroads, IBM and other big companies like AT&T and Standard Oil have found themselves in. It seems like being the industry leader is always followed by having to reinvent it's self to just remain viable. It's part of the business cycle. GM, it's time you accept your fate, not dead, but not huge either.
I have to take an issue with any sort of report that finds a difference in the "highway behavior" between two JKs, especially when both have the same engines. The undercarriage is exactly the same in all of them. The weight difference in transmissions is not enough. For all the cred of a real racer who can sense car behavior, I suspect Jack gives in to subjectivity at this point.
I have one of the final JK Rubicon Recons made earlier this year. Let me summarize. Bad: -Terrible wind noise and sloppy handling on the freeway -Pretty lousy fuel mileage, 17.2 avg mpg probably 70/30 split hwy/city -The soft top is a pain in the a$$ -Any stone chip in the flat windshield will spider crack all over within days Good: -Super excellent in off-road conditions - I have many mountain trails within and hour from my house from mild to challenging and it eats everything and drives home. -Super fun to cruise with the top down and tunes blaring -The Recon has a good stereo to make sure everyone knows what kind of music you like -Chicks dig it. Seriously.