2018 Jeep Wrangler: Improving on the original without forsaking its heritage

By Mike Blake Carlisle Events
Thursday, March 22, 2018

A derivative of “the truck that won WWII,” the all-new 2018 Jeep Wrangler upgrades in its 4th generation, with a modern design that stays true to the original, advanced fuel-efficient powertrains and more open-air options. And it is loaded with safety features and advanced technology.

Based on the nostalgic military Willys Jeep of 1941, the Jeep Wrangler has been an off-road enthusiasts’ favorite since 1986. A compact four-wheel-drive multi-purpose vehicle, Wrangler debuted in 1986 as a progression of the Jeep CJ-7, was revised in 1996, and last completely redesigned in 2006.

Wrangler has been presented in numerous trims, models and cosmetics with such badge names as: Islander, Renegade, Sahara, Apex, Columbia, Freedom, Golden Eagle, Rocky Mountain, TJ, Unlimited and the Rubicon Tomb Raider. But one of the more popular end enduring treatments has been the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon, which debuted for the 2003 model year, and which I tested this year.

Built in Toledo Supplier Park, Toledo, Ohio, the multipurpose vehicle is laid out with a longitudinal front engine, four-wheel drive set-up on a ladder-type frame with an open steel and aluminum body.

Its instantly recognizable keystone-shaped grille pays homage to Jeep® CJ models, and the new 4th-Gen Wrangler subtly improves on the classic rugged exterior with design tweaks that afford up to 30 inches of water fording while improving its aerodynamics. The redesign adds about 2.8 inches in length for the 2-door and 3.8 inches for the 4-door, on a longer wheelbase (1.4 inches longer for the 2-door and 2.4 for the 4-door model). Width has been widened by 0.2 inches and the track is wider by 2.5 inches. Yet with the size gain, Wrangler’s redesigned frame has helped shed 200 lbs. off its previous-generation curbweight.

Wrangler’s 118.4-inch wheelbase (for the 4-door -- 96.8 inches for the 2-door model) accommodates 188.4 inches in length (for the 4-door -- 166.8 inches for the 2-door), 73.8 inches in width and 73.6 inches in height. My Rubicon trim had a ground clearance of 10.8 inches and a curb weight of 4455 lbs. (for the 4-door -- 4145 lbs for the 2-door).

Jeep Wrangler’s interior combines authentic styling, versatility, comfort and intuitiveness. Precision craftsmanship and high-quality materials are found throughout the cabin, and the heritage-inspired center stack features a clean, sculpted form that complements the horizontal dashboard design and sports a finish dictated by the model choice. The cabin is packed with infotainment and ergonomic controls as well as more than 75 available safety features.

Roomy inside for front row driver and passenger, and somewhat tighter for second row travelers, headroom was 42.6 inches up front with the soft top and 38.3 inches in the rear; legroom was 41.2 inches in row one and 38.3 in row two; and shoulder room was 55.7 inches in both rows.

Rubicon offers three engine choices: the 3.6-liter V-6 manual rated at 285hp and 260 lbs.-ft of torque and 17mpg/city and 23mpg/highway, 3.6 V-6 with 8-speed automatic trans rated at 285hp and 260 lbs.-ft of torque and 18mpg/city and 23mpg/highway, 2.0-liter I-4 turbo with 8-speed automatic rated at 270hp and 295 lbs-ft. of torque (unrated in fuel consumption at the time of the test).

On road or off-road, Rubicon performs. The solid axle front suspension with link coil, leading arms, track bar, coil springs and stabilizer bar works with a solid axle rear, link coil, trailing arms, track bar, coil springs and stabilizer bar for a comfortable ride on the highway while attacking potholes, road ruts and off road obstacles. Low-end torque prevails over hill climbs, mud, snow and trails, and acceleration is solid for highway passing and off-the line fun. The steering is tight and attentive, and while not an auto-cross star, it is fine for in-town maneuvers and fun for tree and brush skirting.

I tested the Wrangler Rubicion with the 3.6 automatic and averaged 22.6mpg and my track tests showed an 8.7-second zero-to-60mph sprint and a 16.7-second quarter-mile.

The 2018 Jeep Wrangler starts at $23,995 for the JK Sport 4x4 2-door with the 3.6 engine and moves through 10 trims (Sports S, Willys Wheeler, Golden Eagle, Freedom Edition, Willys Wheeler W, Sahara, Altitude, Rubicon and Rubicon Recon) with additional variations on each trim, to a high base of $42,945.

My Firecracker Red Rubicon test Jeep 4-door based at $41,690 with a manual V-6. The 8-speed automatic adds $2,000, though I think the manual is much more fun and gives more control along with the cost saving. The Cold Weather Group option adds $895 for heated front seats, heated steering wheel and remote start; the Electronic Infotainment System Group adds $1495 for an 8.4-inch touchscreen display, Alpine® Premium Audio System, GPS navigation, HD Radio® and auto-dimming rear view mirror; the Dual Top Group which provides both a Black Freedom Top® 3-Piece Hard Top and a Premium Black Sunrider® Soft Top for Dual Top, added $2195; the Jeep® Active Safety Group added $895 for Blind-Spot and Cross-Path Detection, Parke Sense® Rear Park Assist and LED Tail Lamps; and All-weather floor mats added $130. My test ride had black cloth seats – leather trim would have added $1400. With Destination Charges of $1195, my 2018 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon stickered at $49,300.

> Visit www.CarlisleEvents.com for more on the automotive hobby.

Mike Blake, former editor of KIT CAR magazine, joined Carlisle Events as senior automotive journalist in 2004. He's been a "car guy" since the 1960s and has been writing professionally for about 30 years.

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