- WHAT’S BEST: On-road comportment hugely improved; at no sacrifice to off-road prowess, which is in fact also improved; top removal and windshield folding massively simplified.
- WHAT’S WORST: Rear seat still tricky to get into in 2-door; automatic transmission not always the smoothest-shifting; four-cylinder engine might need a bit of recalibration.
- WHAT’S INTERESTING: Perhaps the most significant model makeover in recent memory.
Marana, Ariz.-Two of the best-known brand names in the world are Coca-Cola and Jeep.
I don’t road-test soft drinks, so you know which one I’m talking about here.
The 2018 Jeep Wrangler is the eighth generation of the vehicle that helped win the Second World War. It goes on sale in January 2018, starting at $33,945.
Jeep is an anomaly in the car business for a number of reasons. First, its intended market is rugged men who want to go off-roading in their spare time, yet one of its biggest market subsets is young women.
And the small Jeep has historically ranked very low on various reliability and durability surveys, yet it enjoys one of the highest value retention scores in the industry.
This Wrangler and its predecessors have always been nearly unbeatable in any off-road evaluation. The objective for the design team this time around was to retain that off-road capability, while making it a much easier vehicle to live with on a day-to-day, drive-to-the-office basis. Executive summary: bases-loaded home run.
The 2018 Wrangler is about as all-new as a vehicle gets these days, yet its looks say JEEP in all caps. The windshield and front end are slightly raked for better aero, hence improved fuel consumption. Trainspotters will have fun finding detail changes such as the rear licence plate holder bolted beneath the left tail light where it is less likely to get torn off when you’re going upcountry.
The windshield can be folded flat, a feature that dates back to the very first Jeeps, which had this so they would be easier to ship to Europe during the Second World War. Unlike the former model, which required removal of some 28 bolts with almost guaranteed paint damage, the new truck’s windshield can be folded by taking out just four bolts. No paint damage, either. It does reduce your forward visibility, having the windshield sitting on top of the hood, but it just feels right.
Yet, under the familiar styling, just about every bit is brand new, except for the admittedly upgraded but largely carry-over base 3.6-litre V6 engine, now cranking out 285 horsepower at 6,400 r.p.m., and 260 pound-feet of torque at 4,800 r.p.m. The new optional engine is a Fiat-built 2.0-litre turbo four, producing 270 horsepower at 5,250 r.p.m., and 295 lb-ft of torque at 3,000 r.p.m. The V6 is available with either a six-speed manual or an eight-speed automatic; the four gets only the autobox.
The four also has a semi-hybrid system called eTorque, which incorporates stop-start functionality, low-end power boost, and regenerative braking. The V6 gets a more conventional stop-start system as well.
One key objective for the new Wrangler was lose weight. The goal was again improved fuel consumption, not only for the consumer, but also to keep the governments of the world off its back. It has lost some 90 kilograms, about half of which is due to lighter yet more robust high-strength steel in the frame. Aluminum saves 9 kg in the front doors, 7 kg in the rears when thus equipped. Six kilograms is shaved thanks to the magnesium tailgate. Even the thinner yet stronger windshield is 2 kg lighter than before.
No fewer than three different four-wheel drive systems are available, all with two-speed transfer cases. Command-Trac, Rock-Trac, and the new full-time Selec-Trac provide a variety of degrees of off-road capability. Your Jeep dealer will help you select the best one for your needs.
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Significant changes to the solid beam axle front and rear suspension are designed to improve road feel, ride and handling, and noise generation.
Wrangler is offered in a bewildering array of models and trims. Your first decision — two-door (2,460-millimetre wheelbase) or four-door (3,008 mm)? The two-door is obviously shorter, more manoeuvrable, and better suited to playing in the dirt or on the rocks. The four-door is more practical for any other use and has significantly more rear-seat room.
Next, trim levels, four in all: Sport, Sport S, Sahara and Rubicon. Thanks to Jeep’s knowledge gained of previous generations’ sales results, neither a four-door Sport nor a two-door Sahara are offered.
The removable roof has replaced the annoying and stiff zippers with a series of rubber connectors which still take some figuring out, but are vastly easier to use.
The doors can be quickly removed for more open-air freedom, and are much easier to refit due to unequal-length pins which allow you to position the top one, then guide the bottom one into position. Seems so simple once you see it that you wonder why they weren’t always like this.
The interior is another huge step forward, with much higher quality of design, materials, and execution.
While much of the appeal of this vehicle is almost historic, all the mod cons are here, with the new generation Uconnect system available, providing clear map graphics and a host of connectivity and entertainment capabilities.
Our first exposure to the vehicle was in a two-door, soft-top four-cylinder, hence the automatic transmission.
Immediately, we noticed how much smoother and more compliant the new Jeep is on the road. Not Cadillac-cushy or anything, but vastly more comfortable than the previous generation.
The turbo four feels a bit peaky at times, the acceleration coming on with a bit of a rush from just over 2,000 r.p.m., probably a result of that eTorque electric power boost. It is satisfyingly quick and reasonably quiet.
The transmission shifts smoothly on normal up-through-the-gears acceleration. But when slowing down for a corner then hitting the loud pedal, the shifts sometimes are a bit harsh, although we couldn’t reliably replicate this behaviour. These were pre-production prototypes, so perhaps the calibrations weren’t in their final form.
I found the seats comfy enough, although access to the rear is always a bit of a challenge. The front passenger seat automatically slides forward when you pull on the seat back release lever; on the driver’s side, you have to do that manually.
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Next up, a four-door with the V6 automatic. It is predictably smooth, and didn’t exhibit that mild surging noted in the four, which suggests my guess about the eTorque system being responsible might just be correct, given it is only offered with the four.
A brief spin in a manual-equipped V6 was a pleasant surprise. Shift effort was commendably low, gear selection reasonably precise, and the clutch take-up was almost Volkswagen-smooth.
We also had a shot at Rubicon on a very challenging off-road course. Now, Bill Baker, the late former PR guy for Land Rover, used to say that a car company can’t win with an off-road course. If the vehicle can do it, the course isn’t tough enough; if the vehicle can’t do it, the vehicle isn’t good enough. The trick is to make it challenging enough that the vehicle can barely make it.
That’s exactly what Jeep arranged, at a local housing development under construction just north of Marana, which is itself about 40 kilometres northwest of Tucson.
My Rubicon was a red two-door. Of course, I folded the windshield down.
This course was tough; the vehicle did it, thanks to the help of a dedicated bunch of local off-road enthusiasts who guided us at every turn.
Even if you never become an off-roading fan, you should try this at least once, if only to show you how remarkable these vehicles can be.
In sum, the new Jeep Wrangler is one of the more successful model renewals in recent memory. It has improved on the already legendary off-road capability, but has improved its on-road behaviour by orders of magnitude.
If you liked or were even mildly interested in the old one, you’re gonna love this new one.
2018 Jeep Wrangler
BODY STYLE: 2 — 4 doors, 4 passengers, compact Sport Utility. Full-time four-wheel drive.
PRICE: 2 door: Sport — $33,945; Sport S — $37,895; Rubicon — $46,345; 4-door: Sport S — $41,745; Sahara — $45,745; Rubicon — $48,745.
ENGINE: base: 3.6-litre V6, double overhead camshafts per bank, four valves per cylinder, sequential fuel injection; optional: 2.0-litre inline four, double overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder, direct fuel injection, turbocharged. Regular fuel, although premium is recommended for optimum performance with the four cylinder.
TRANSMISSION: V6 — 6-speed manual; 8-speed automatic optional. Inline 4 — 8-speed automatic.
POWER/TORQUE, horsepower / lb-ft: 3.6-itre V6 — 285 @ 6,400 r.p.m. / 260 lb-ft @ 4,800 r.p.m.; 2.0-itre 4 — 270 at 5,250 r.p.m. / 295 @ 3,000 r.p.m.
FUEL CONSUMPTION, Transport Canada City/Highway, L100 km: n/a.
COMPETITION: Nothing else that really can do everything this vehicle can do.
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