Auto Review: 2018 Jeep Wrangler rules, on-road and off
TUCSON, Ariz.—A bright blue sky is the only thing visible through the windshield. All I can hear is the screech of metal on stone as the vehicle's frame scrapes over boulders on a 60-degree slope in the Sonoran Desert.
Everything is going exactly as it should in the 2018 Jeep Wrangler.
The new Wrangler is simultaneously the most capable off-road and quietest, most comfortable on-road vehicle in a 75-year lineage that traces directly to the original 1941 U.S. Army jeep. "Its on-road manners are great, and the things it does off-road are mindboggling," analyst Joe Phillippi of AutoTrends said.
The new Wrangler goes on sale in the first quarter of 2018. Prices start at $26,995 for a two-door and $30,495 for the four-door. The top Rubicon model, the most capable off-roader in the Wrangler family, goes for $36,995 for two-doors and $40,495 with four.
The Wrangler's design is immediately recognizable. The new model offers hard and soft-top that are easier to remove, and a new folding canvas power hardtop on Sahara models of the four-door. The doors are removable and the windshield folds flat onto the hood. The new design makes it easier to accomplish both those tasks, making it likely more Jeep owners will enjoy fully open driving.
At 188.4 inches, the four-door is 21.6 inches longer than the two-door. The four-door's wheelbase is 118.4 inches long, the two-door 96.8. Both models are longer than the outgoing model, but more maneuverable, with a smaller turning radius thanks to a wider track and new electro-hydraulic steering gear. That's a key stat for off-roaders who navigate tight trails and rock fields. The base engine is an updated version of Fiat Chrysler's 285-hp 3.6L V6, which produces 260 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed manual transmission is standard equipment, an eight-speed manual optional with the V6.
The optional engine upgrade will surprise Jeep traditionalists on several fronts. It's a 2.0L four cylinder with a turbocharger and a mild hybrid system.
All those features could rankle hard-core Wrangler fans, who consider themselves the guardians of Jeep's heritage and core values. The engine was developed alongside the Wrangler in FCA's Auburn Hills tech center, but it's part of a global engine family that also powers the Alfa Romeo Giulia sport sedan and Stelvio SUV.
It develops 270 hp, but more importantly, 295 lb-ft of torque, more than the V6, and a much lower rpm — 3,000 versus 4,800 for the V6 — a combination that should be welcome off-road, where torque is a precious commodity.
The 2.0L delivered plenty of power on road and off, accelerating confidently in traffic and rolling through the desert with ease.
The hybrid system consists of a 48-volt electric motor attached to the crankshaft to reduce vibration in FCA's notoriously rough stop-start system, which shuts the engine off to save fuel at traffic lights and when idling.
The eight-speed automatic is the only transmission available with the four-cylinder. FCA will build that engine in Termoli, Italy, and Trenton, Michigan, about midway between FCA's tech center north of Detroit and the Wrangler assembly plant in Toledo, Ohio.
A 3.0L diesel V6 will join the lineup in 2019.
The interior is more civilized and comfortable than any Wrangler before it. The tops of the doors are padded so you can lean on them, and the armrests are long enough you can actually rest an arm on them. The latest version of FCA's excellent Uconnect infotainment system, with 5-, 7- and 8.4-inch touchscreens.
How modern is the interior? The 2018 Wrangler has five USB ports — as many as it can hold passengers. Sure, one is just for charging, but based on the Wrangler, USB count will be the next competitive battleground, as the number of cup holders was for years.
The rear seat and cargo area are both bigger than before.
On paved roads, the 2018 Wrangler is far smoother and quieter than its predecessor, thanks to an all-new structure uses high-strength steel for a lighter, stronger frame. The two-door is 140 pounds lighter than the predecessor. The four-door shed 200. Aluminum body panels, including the hold and removable doors, contribute to the reduction.
The steering is a revelation, more precise and steady than previous Wranglers, but still tough enough for the most challenging off-road situations.
After about 30 miles on surface roads, I drove a Wrangler over a course strewn with boulders, deep ruts, loose rock, steep grades and tight turns. It met every challenge with ease.
It's a new standard for Jeep, the brand that has set the standard for off-road vehicles since it was born 1941.
2018 JEEP WRANGLER AT A GLANCE Vehicle type: Five-seat SUV Base price: $26,995 Engine tested: 3.6L V6 and 2.0L turbocharged 4-cyl. Power: V6: 285 hp270 hp @ 5,250 rpm, 295 lb-ft of torque @ 3,000x rpm Transmission: 8-speed automatic or six-speed manual EPA fuel economy rating: V6 — 18 mpg city/23 highway/20 combined. 4-cyl., TBD Wheelbase: 96.8 ins. Length: 166.8 ins. Width: 73.8 ins. Height: 73.6 ins. Four-door — Wheelbase: 118.4 ins. Length: 188.4 ins. Width: 73.8 ins. Height: 73.6 ins. Curb weight: 3,955-4,380 lbs. Assembly site: Toledo, Ohio