2018 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited - The First-ever Cool Hybrid

Chris Tonn
by Chris Tonn
Fast Facts

2018 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon

2.0-liter turbocharged hybrid I4 (270 hp @ 5,250 rpm, 295 lb-ft @ 3,000 rpm)
Eight-speed automatic transmission, four-wheel drive
22 city / 24 highway / 22 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)
10.9 city / 10.0 highway / 10.5 combined (NRCan Rating, L/100km)
19.9 (observed mileage, MPG)
Base Price: $42,940 US / $51,990 CAD
As Tested: $58,990 / $65,140 CAD
Prices include $1,495 destination charge in the United States and $2,595 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can't be directly compared.
2018 jeep wrangler unlimited the first ever cool hybrid

I want first to apologize to the Jeep owners of northern Columbus, and by extension all brethren of the seven-slot grille everywhere. In my week driving this 2018 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited, I neglected to properly wave in most cases.

It’s a Jeep thing, and apparently I don’t understand.

I suppose it’s an ethical thing — can I be a properly unbiased journalist if I gonzo myself into the Jeep subculture? Moreover, is this, a Jeep Wrangler with a hybrid system, a proper Jeep?

No, I’m not kidding. Jeep hasn’t highlighted the hybrid system in marketing this new powertrain, preferring use of the less-specific “eTorque” moniker. Mated to a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder (related to the Alfa Romeo Giulia four), the hybrid system allows for automatic stop-start, regenerative braking, and engine cut-off during coasting, while adding a bit of torque to the already stout mill.

Interestingly, the peak horsepower of this turbo engine is rather close (270 hp to 285 hp) to the 3.6-liter Pentastar V6, but the torque is a more noticeable difference. The turbo produces 295 lb-ft at 3,000 rpm, while the V6 can only manage 260 lb-ft at a relatively high 4,800 rpm.

I discussed the engine mix with Trevor Dorchies, manager of product communications at Jeep, and he tells me that 40 percent of new Wrangler customers choose the 2.0-liter turbo, likely due to the combination of additional torque and slightly improved fuel economy. Unfortunately for purists, opting for the four-cylinder removes the option of a manual transmission.

My testing, while obviously not under rigorous controlled situations, revealed fuel economy that wasn’t spectacular. While the EPA rates this combo at 22 mpg combined, I only managed 19.9 mpg. Much of my drive was limited to two-lane roads under 50 mph, with a significant portion shifted into four-wheel drive high range due to a larger-than-expected snowstorm. With a better mix of highway driving and less crappy weather, I’d expect a better economy result.

The start-stop system worked quite well, other than one minor annoyance. When the engine did restart while still sitting at a long light, it did so with a palpable lurch. It was never audible, but I’d feel a slight bump, as if the Jeep had been tapped on the bumper. Considering the awful roads and the awful drivers (seriously, I saw a driver stuck trying to ascend an icy hill, foot to floor, smoking a front tire, sawing at the wheel with one hand and phone firmly in ear with the other), I honestly thought I had been bumped in the rear a couple of times. It’s something I’m sure I’d get used to after a short while.

If you look at Jeep’s build and price tool, the turbo engine is listed as a thousand-dollar option over the V6. That’s a bit misleading, however, as the eight-speed automatic is required when selecting the turbo — that’s another two grand, making the hybrid a three thousand dollar proposition. The eight-speed shifts smoothly, and I never noticed it hunting for a ratio. But many Jeep buyers seem to be the sort to shift for themselves, and that option can knock a few grand off the top of the eye-popping sticker on this well-equipped Rubicon trim.

Speaking of big money, my tester was equipped with the Sky One-Touch power top — basically a sliding soft sunroof for the removable hard top. It’s a lovely option, since lowering a Jeep soft top can be a time-consuming endeavor. A button press and the top slides back, while the rear quarter windows can be removed rather easily for a good open-air experience. If you’ll notice the white stuff on the ground, however — you can imagine that I spent very little time with the top retracted.

Even with windows and top closed, the Sky One-Touch power top doesn’t eliminate road noise like most SUVs — the rush of wind and of other traffic noise will be noticeable, but muted. As the top is a $3,995 option, I’d suggest test driving several different top types before committing yourself and your new car loan.

Driving the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited is a much better experience than the few older-generation Wranglers I’ve experienced. Other than a slight bounciness to the ride, which is to be expected from the combination of stiff off-road focused springing and tall sidewalls, the Jeep drives quite nicely on road. It’s not a sports car, but it’s much more willing to change direction at the whim of the driver, rather than that of a loose steering box and sloppy knobby tires often found on older Jeeps.

Basically, what I’m saying is if you’ve only experienced older, more agricultural Jeeps, you owe it to yourself to drive the new JL-chassis Wrangler. A few bad experienced turned me off the brand, but this new design has turned me around.

Were I to build my own Wrangler Unlimited — and yes, I’d choose the four-door Unlimited over the two-door model since I’m quite often hauling the family and need the rear-seat legroom — I’d likely choose the Sport S trim, V6, manual. Sport S gives me the option of the $995 bigger touch screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as 17-inch alloy wheels, the $595 limited-slip rear differential, and $995 active safety group (blind-spot and cross-path detection, mostly). All in, I’d be driving a well-equipped four-door Wrangler for just under $39k.

And yes, I’d choose the teal — Bikini Pearl, Toledo calls it.

Were I to choose the automatic transmission, there’s no question I’d spring for the hybrid four-cylinder. The low-end torque is addictive. My wife hates driving a manual, and I’m pretty certain I’d have to fight her for the keys, so realistically my imaginary teal Jeep Wrangler Unlimited would be a green hybrid.

You can tell the uppity neighbors that it’s just like a Prius.

[Images: © 2019 Chris Tonn/TTAC, screenshot via jeep.com]

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15 of 58 comments
  • Luke42 Luke42 on Feb 26, 2019

    "You can tell the uppity neighbors that it’s just like a Prius." This is a terrible idea, but not for the reason most people think. Back around 2005ish, GM marketing essentially tried the same thing with the 1st "Malibu Hybrid". I put this into quotes because it was a belt-alternator-starter (BAS) e-assist system with a 36V traction battery (like a golf cart battery), not a real hybrid. GM was laughed off the green car block, until the Chevy Volt concept debuted. Why did this happen? First, a real hybrid is able to move the car on just the battery, if only for a short distance. BAS systems are perfectly worthwhile fuel saving technology, but they're just not in the same league as Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive. Second, GM learned from their market research that many hybrid drivers like to make an environmental statement. But they didn't problem deeply enough to realize that environmentalists can read the MPG sticker in the window, and environmentalists assume everyone else does too. So, accordingly, GM plastered their Malibu Hybrid (not-really-hynrid) and Tahoe Hybrid (really, really) vehicles with giant lime green "hybrid" stickers -- because, statement. They shouted as loudly as they could that it was just as good as a Prius. But, 20MPG and 33MPG are not 50MPG, and so these vehicles weren't taken seriously by the green car community. The e-torque system is closer to a BAS system than the HSD, and so marketing it the way they do is the right call for Jeep, lest they repeat GM's self-inflicted errors. That said, I'm eagerly following the rumors of a plugin hybrid JL (or JLT?). I'm fascinated by Jeeps, but I can't rationalize owning one. But a Wrangler PHEV might make a good "midlife crisis" vehicle. :-)

    • See 11 previous
    • Scoutdude Scoutdude on Feb 27, 2019

      @Vulpine Yes a "real" Hybrid is able to move the car a short distance with the engine stopped. It has nothing to do with it plugging in or not. Yes it is usually under a mile from a "fully" charged battery until the engine will come on to recharge it, but it is still capable of powering the vehicle by itself. These lame BAS systems can not do that and can't shut the engine down while the vehicle is in motion.

  • LeMansteve LeMansteve on Feb 26, 2019

    The first-ever cool hybrid? What about the whole batch of hybrid super cars that came out a few years ago? Maybe you meant first cool AND accessible hybrid? Even still, the price is a bit too high for that.

  • Wjtinfwb A Celebrity Diesel... that is a unicorn. Those early A-bodies were much maligned and I'm sure the diesel didn't help that, but they developed into very decent and reliable transportation. Hopefully this oil-burner Chevy can do the same, it's worth keeping.
  • Wjtinfwb After S-classes crested the 40k mark in the early '80s, my dad moved from M-B to a BMW 733i Automatic. Anthracite gray over red leather, it was a spectacular driving car and insanely comfortable and reassuring on long interstate hauls. My mom, not really a car person, used the BMW to shuttle her elderly Mom back home to Pennsylvania from Miami. Mom and grandma both gushed with praise for the big BMW, stating she could have driven straight through the car was so comfortable and confidence inspiring. A truly great car that improved through the E38 generation, at which point the drugs apparently took hold of BMW styling and engineering and they went completely off the rails. The newest 7 series is a 100k abomination.
  • Vatchy If you want to talk about global warming, you might start here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darvaza_gas_crater
  • 28-Cars-Later $55,218 for a new GR Corolla: https://www.reddit.com/r/COROLLA/comments/zcw10i/toyota_needs_to_know_the_demand_is_there_but_this/"But if OTD prices get beyond 50k there are better options"That's what people were arguing in that thread.
  • Lou_BC "The Oldsmobile Diesel engine is a series of  V6 and  V8  diesel engines produced by  General Motors from 1978 to 1985. The 350 cu in (5.7 L) V8 was introduced in 1978, followed by a 261 cu in (4.3 L) V8 only for the 1979 model year. In 1982, a 263 cu in (4.3 L) V6 became available for both front and  rear-wheel drive vehicles. Sales peaked in 1981 at approximately 310,000 units, which represented 60% of the total U.S. passenger vehicle diesel market. However, this success was short-lived as the V8 diesel engine suffered severe reliability issues, and the engines were discontinued after the 1985 model year."I'd say one would be best off finding a gasser to plunk in there or take a loss and re-sell it.