Fiat Chrysler Automobiles unveiled the 2018 Jeep Wrangler at the Los Angeles Auto Show on Wednesday.
The latest generation of the iconic off-road SUV comes standard with improved capability, technology and fuel efficiency. There are optional hybrid and diesel powertrains.
The Wrangler traces its roots back to 1941, when Willys-Overland developed 4×4 vehicles used by Allied forces during World War II. Although the origin of the name is debated, the Jeep name is believed to have come from a 1930s comic strip animal character known for his ability to appear just about anywhere.
“The military needed this little multi-purpose runabout,” said Leslie Kendall, curator of the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles. “It opened up a whole new world. Literally.”
“It’s a go-anywhere, do-anything car. Even the name implies action—you’re seizing control of something.” Kendall said.
The first civilian model was the Jeep CJ-2A in 1945. The new vehicle boasts more bells and whistles than those utilitarian vehicles. Yet there’s no doubt that the 2018 Wrangler is still a Jeep.
“I can’t think of any other car, maybe a supercar, where people immediately know what it is,” said Mike Manley, head of Jeep brand. “The Wrangler is instantaneously recognizable all over the world.”
What’s New in the 2018 Jeep Wrangler?
The 2018 Jeep Wrangler keeps its most distinctive features: a boxy silhouette, large circular headlights and seven vertical bars along the front grille.
The new Wrangler contrasts its baked-in history with modern design features. The grille bars curve backward near the top. Large LED headlamps cut into the bars, echoing Jeeps past. Flat surfaces on all four sides are a strange canvas for sporty side intakes behind the front wheels.
Jeep aimed to make the 2018 Wrangler more livable. Steel doors, fenders and other panels have been replaced with aluminum to reduce weight, increase rigidity and improve fuel economy.
Backup cameras, previously not available, are now standard equipment. Blind-spot monitoring is available on every trim except the base Sport. Automatic emergency braking will be available later in the 2018 model year.
Windows on the Wrangler JL are larger for better visibility. The removable soft top, notoriously difficult to operate, now rolls back in one smooth motion. The four-door Sahara and Rubicon Unlimited models have an automatic Sky One-Touch power retracting top.
“It is more,” Manley said. “The only thing that isn’t more is weight.”
What Are the 2018 Jeep Wrangler’s Powertrains?
The new Wrangler has three engine choices. There is a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine assisted by the mild hybrid system, a gasoline-powered 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 and a 3.0-liter turbodiesel V6.
All three use engine start-stop technology to aid fuel economy. The gas V6 and four-cylinder are equipped with a pollution-cutting technology known as exhaust gas recirculation.
The mild hybrid system is called eTorque. It cuts off the four-cylinder engine while decelerating or coasting to a stop. Regenerative braking stores energy for later use. An electric motor powers the Wrangler from a start. It marks the first application of a new 48-volt hybrid battery system for FCA.
The four-cylinder with eTorque makes 270 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. The Pentastar V6 engine produces 285 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque.
The diesel engine is an updated version of the automaker’s EcoDiesel technology. It makes 260 horsepower and 442 pound-feet of torque and is available on four-door Unlimited models.
All three engines are paired to FCA’s eight-speed TorqueFlight automatic transmission. On diesel models, the transmission has been fortified to handle the extra torque. The eight-speed is optional on Wranglers with the Pentastar V6, which comes standard with a new six-speed manual.
The Environmental Protection Agency rates the Pentastar V6 at 18 mpg in city driving, 23 mpg on the highway and 20 mpg overall. That’s up from 16 mpg city, 20 mpg highway and 18 mpg overall in the outgoing Wrangler.
Fuel economy figures are not yet available for the four-cylinder and turbodiesel engines.
The Pentastar V6 and hybrid four-cylinder engines will be available when the new Wrangler goes on sale in January. The diesel will be available in 2019. Pricing is not yet available.
How Capable Is the 2018 Jeep Wrangler?
The gutsy Rubicon trim best embodies the spirit of the Wrangler.
“This is the closest to our beginnings,” said Mark Allen, head of Jeep design. “It’s the most unique automotive experience you can get.”
The Wrangler Rubicon is fitted with next-generation heavy-duty Dana axles for rugged off-road capability. It has a unique Rock-Trac transfer case and both front and rear locking differentials.
Up close, the Wrangler Rubicon strikes a dramatic presence. Protective rock rails and polished aluminum wheels immediately set it apart. Its body is raised by an inch compared with other models. That allows the Rubicon to fit standard 33-inch tires — the largest ever on a Wrangler.
Anticipating that customers will immediately alter their Wranglers, Jeep designed the Rubicon to fit a 2-inch factory lift and 35-inch tires.
Inside, the aluminum door closes itself with a thunk, and the view from the comfortable driver’s seat is commanding. Metal accents stand out on the steering wheel and air conditioning vents. Rubicon models have striking axle locker controls in the optional “Redical Red” body color.
Beginning in 2019, the Rubicon will offer a half-door nicknamed the “donut door” on the driver’s side. It’s meant to provide drivers with additional visibility on aggressive trails.
Just as important, it lends credence to the Wrangler legend.
The 2018 Wrangler will also be available in Sport, Sport S and Sahara trims.
The Sport is the base model with 17-inch steel wheels. The Sport S adds aluminum wheels, air conditioning and power windows and locks. The Sahara trim is only available on the four-door Unlimited configuration and comes with 18-inch aluminum wheels, leather-trimmed seats, Uconnect 3 with a 7.0-inch touchscreen, diamond-plated side steps and automatic headlamps. It also offers a full-time transfer case, another Wrangler first.
Even the more pedestrian trims come with a host of features found on no other vehicles available today. The windshield on all Wrangler models folds down to rest on the hood. Where it once took 28 bolts to secure or fold down the windshield, it now takes four.
All Wranglers come with a toolkit. It includes tie-down bars to secure the windshield to the hood. The classic exposed door hinges are now engraved with “T50,” the name of the Torx screwdriver bit needed to remove the doors. It can also be used to remove the windshield and rear-mounted spare tire.
The doors on all Wranglers have an easy-grip “Lift-Assist” handle. It’s designed to make it easier to carry the door once it’s off the vehicle.
The interior can be fully washed out to remove mud and dirt. The floor mats are designed for easy removal. There is even a drain plug to empty out soap and water when the job is done.
What’s Next for the Jeep Wrangler?
Tracing the Wrangler’s roots all the way back to 1941, more than 6 million vehicles have been produced over the years.
About a million Jeeps were used during wartime. More than 5 million civilian vehicles have been sold since then, according to the brand.
The Wrangler enjoys one of the most enthusiastic fan bases of any vehicle. As the second best-selling vehicle in the Jeep lineup, the automaker treats the Wrangler with extreme caution.
“It’s been a four-to-five-year journey to get to where we are today,” Manley said.
Wrangler sales have remained strong even as FCA prepares to launch a new model. Through the first 10 months of 2017 the Wrangler has sold more than 163,000 vehicles, a 0.3 percent increase compared with the same period last year, according to industry research firm Autodata Corp.
In fact, the automaker will not cease sales of its current generation until the second quarter of 2018. For several months, Jeep will have the unique situation of selling a 2018 edition of both the outgoing and incoming Wrangler.
Even better for FCA: many Wrangler owners customize their vehicles. The brand estimates that 98 percent of Wranglers sold have at least one aftermarket part made by Jeep or FCA’s Mopar accessories brand.
Mopar will have more than 200 parts and accessories available for owners at launch.
“They view the Wrangler as a canvas,” Manley said. “Then they take it from there.”