Indefinitely Wild

The 2018 Wrangler Is the Best Jeep Ever

The all-new 4x4 is the best Jeep Jeep has ever made

The Rubicon features higher fenders to accommodate the larger 33-inch tires. This was previously a common aftermarket modification on the last generation Wrangler. A factory option is a huge step forward and allows enthusiasts to fit larger tires with less lift—saving fuel and increasing safety by reducing center of gravity. (Matt Scott)

Is this all-new 2018 Jeep Wrangler better off-road than its predecessor? Yes. Is it more comfortable, safer, and more efficient on pavement? Yes. Is it still a Jeep? Well, that depends on your expectations. In my mind, this is the best Jeep ever.

What Is It?

Internally dubbed the JL, this is the first all-new Wrangler since 2007. A bona-fide SUV with body-on-frame construction and live axles front and rear, the Wrangler is in a class of two. The only other new truck on-sale today with similar old school mechanical attributes is the $122,400 Mercedes G-Class. 

Two-door models start at $26,995 (Sport), and rise all the way up to $36,995 (Rubicon), while the more popular four-door configuration starts at $30,495. Sahara models, which offer more standard creature comforts and nicer interiors than have ever been used in a Wrangler before, start at $37, 345. Expect the countless available options to quickly increase the price of any model.

Personally, I’d opt for the four-door Rubicon—at $40,495, the most expensive Wrangler ever—because it offers more off-road equipment than any Wrangler before it—33-inch BF Goodrich K02 tires, front and rear locking differentials, and electronic sway bar disconnects.

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The new interior is modern and refined, with an available leather-wrapped dash and 8-inch infotainment screen. The red dash panels are made from aluminum and available in other colors if they’re too loud for you and are replaceable. (Jeep)

Who’s It For?

The Wrangler is, and always has been, the easiest way to drive out of a showroom and get into four-wheeling. It offers enough capability to soak up the majority of novice mistakes, while still giving experienced enthusiasts the ability they need to take it virtually anywhere.

Unabashedly built for off-road travel, the Wrangler may remain a little too unrefined for drivers who don’t regularly tackle difficult dirt trails. Most drivers will still be better served by the Jeep Grand Cherokee (from $30,395), which still offers a respectable level of off-road ability, in a package that’s much more refined on the highway. 

But nothing, absolutely nothing, beats the feel of cruising in a Wrangler, with the top down, the doors off, and the stereo blasting. Doesn’t matter if you’re off-road or on.

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An available steel bumper has removable wings to increase tire clearance and approach angle. It’s also winch compatible straight from the factory which is a huge bonus for those taking their Jeeps into technical terrain where recovery is an essential component. (Matt Scott)

Design

In a world of soft, aerodynamic curves and tall family station wagons masquerading as SUVs, the Wrangler stands apart. That’s thanks to Jeep’s chief designer Mark Allen, who’s taken it upon himself to ensure the DNA of the Wrangler—dating all the way back to World War Two—remains present in this new model.

Compared to the outgoing JK generation, you’ll notice a more prominent flat hood, which is reminiscent of the old CJ models that were around from the 1940s through the 1980s. You’ll also notice the aerodynamic kink on the grill looks much like the one on the YJ models (1986-1995).

But there’s new stuff here, too. The windshield is more sloped than ever before, improving aerodynamics, and subsequently both fuel economy and noise levels. That windshield now folds down with the removal of only four bolts and five minutes of your time. The doors, too, remain removable. As, of course, are the various roofs.

Then there are details like the Rubicon’s fenders, which make room for aftermarket 35-inch tires, and will save enthusiasts thousands of dollars as a result. Or the hood latches, which have been designed to retain a winch’s remote cable. Stuff like that demonstrates the almost insane degree to which Allen has perfected this thing.

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The Rubicon has no issue tackling boulders with its 84.2:1 crawl ratio. The lower the better—besting the 4Runner by two and a half times. (Matt Scott)

Driving It

Consumer Reports will likely tell you that the Wrangler does not handle safely, that the steering is vague, and that the cabin is noisy and uncomfortable. And they're right, to some extent: this thing is still a Wrangler, after all. But I'm here to tell you that this new JL improves on its predecessor in all those ways.

Electric-assisted hydraulic power steering gives the Wrangler better feel on-road and the more steeply-raked windshield makes for a quieter ride. The use of aluminum in the doors, hood, and rear gate, when combined with the new high-strength steel used in the frame, sheds 200 pounds from the four-door model, making it easier to drive. 

An all-new, Alfa Romeo-sourced 2.0-liter turbocharged engine includes a 48V mild-hybrid stop-start system that boosts low-end torque, while adding a MPG or two. We found it to be noticeably stronger than the old 3.6-liter Pentastar base engine, carried over from the previous model. A new eight-speed automatic transmission helps raise fuel economy to 18 MPG (city), and 23 MPG (highway). (Jeep has not yet released figures for the 2.0.) A turbodiesel will be added to the lineup in 2019.

That’s the boring road stuff out of the way. You buy a Wrangler for what it does off-road. I took the vehicle through a challenging hillside course filled with loose, vertical stairs. That would have exceed the ability of any other stock vehicle on-sale today, but honestly, I wasn’t even close to finding the Wrangler’s limit.

The increased axle articulation helped, as did the crawl ratio. Its 84.2:1 gearing is about two and a half times lower than the Toyota 4Runner’s 33.66:1, for example. That allows for unprecedented control while climbing and descending. And it’ll push bigger tires without the need for further modification. Also new are rubber dampers mounted to the top of each of the four coil springs. Those soak up big impacts, preventing the suspension from bottoming out.

Complete with improved approach, breakover, and departure angles, as well as increased ground clearance, the new Wrangler’s off-road ability is simply the best there is.

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The departure angle on the new Wrangler has been improved, and the exhaust has been neatly routed to prevent damage. The shocks also move from inside the frame to the outside, resulting in better travel and stability. (Matt Scott)

Likes

  • Amazing off-road capability is improved, not reduced.
  • Increased refinement is welcome inside and out.
  • Improved build quality is visible.
  • More leg room in rear seats makes them much more livable.
  • Redesigned soft top is much more practical.

Dislikes

  • Front seats remain a little cramped.
  • Optional hardtop is still uninsulated.

MattScottJL-5
The Wrangler Sahara offers additional painted accents with more luxury on the inside and out. It’s perfect for more urban buyers who want the fun of the Wrangler, and don’t have the need for the Rubicon’s off-road features. (Matt Scott)

Should You Buy It?

Everyone expected Jeep to water down the 2018 Wrangler. Surely corporate average fuel economy standards dictated that, right? Nope. Jeep could have watered down the Wrangler and still sold plenty of them. But it didn’t.

Provided you’re looking to trade practicality for fun, and fuel economy for capability, you cannot buy a better 4x4.

This is the best Jeep Jeep has ever made.

Filed To: Off-Road / 4x4 / SUVs / Cars / Indefinitely Wild
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