The Wrangler stays the same- and yet so much has changed
Words by: Adam Allen
So, this is finally it! The long awaited new JL generation.
Unless you’re a hardcore Jeep enthusiast- and let it be said, there are many of you- the only way to tell a recent JL from its JK predecessor for most folks is to park them side by side. If you have that opportunity, the changes start to become obvious. There’s modern LED lighting, slightly sculpted front and rear styling treatments and a host of interior upgrades. If you’re reading this, you might be thinking, “OK, but there has to be something majorly different here”. Under that pretense, you will be disappointed, and that’s sort of the point. Aside from a turbo four and a long-awaited diesel engine that will become available, there really isn’t anything groundbreaking to report on. Despite that, this generation is a complete rethink of the Wrangler, even if it resolutely holds true to the stuff that makes it a Wrangler that traces its roots way back in time.
So then… they didn’t screw it up.
In our most recent post, we touched on how important the BMW 3 series is to its respective brand, the iconic model that defines BMW itself. There are other manufactures that have their iconic ‘defining’ model, and Jeep is fits into that distinction with the Wrangler. Although it has seen many improvements and tweaks throughout the years, it is fundamentally the same vehicle that rolled off wartime assembly lines back in 1941. Let’s take a quick inventory of the automotive industry as a whole- who else will sell you a vehicle that not only can go anywhere you ask of it, but will do so with its doors and roof stowed behind in your garage, while you take in the proceedings behind a folded wind screen? And what other manufactures the world over will proudly display the fasteners that hold the doors and rear swing gate out for all to see? Answer: pretty much none. Don’t forget, Jeep is tasked with the job of pleasing not only its hard-core off-road loyalists who actually use it for what it was meant for, as well as a growing legion of buyers who purchase the Wrangler because they like the idea of a dedicated, specialized off road vehicle to get groceries and the like. With that in mind, they succeeded admirably. Not that we would recommend the Wrangler as an errand runner- but you could use it as such in relative comfort if you so choose.
World War Two soldiers would likely equate this Wrangler with a Bentley.
And why wouldn’t they? The JL takes the Wrangler concept places the original battle field units could never have dreamed of. You’ll not mistake the interior’s confines for a Lexus; a copious amount of road and mostly wind noise will make sure of that once underway. And yet, the JL’s interior offers comfort which would have been unimaginable even a decade ago. The Uconnect infotainment system, even in its smaller size given our Sport trimmed tester, is excellent. Our Wrangler also sported previously unheard creature comforts like heated seats and a heated steering wheel. We didn’t miss leather trimmed seats, as the cloth units that come standard are both comfortable and would conceivably hold you better in place during the most daring off-pavement exploits. It’s come far enough that you could see yourself using the Wrangler as your daily driver, even if its road manners might deter you from doing so.
So then, it drives good enough to be the set of keys you reach for on a long road trip.
If that road trip takes you deep into the bush, then the Wrangler would be the perfect choice. No one is going to question its off-road cred. But, if you judge it in the same context of everyday usability that we do with all the cars that pass through the Carpages Garage- i.e.in real life- it comes up short. The steering, while vastly improved, offers zero feedback and almost the same amount of precision. Handling is best described as “deliberate”. And the brakes, while never left us panicking for more stopping power, posses a kind of on and off feel. The gearlever offers reasonably accurate shifting, and while it will never dethrone a Honda or Mazda for tactility, at least it doesn’t flop around disconcertingly while in gear like its predecessor used to. Clutch take up is respectfully excellent. Remember folks, this is a vehicle that is meant for forging a path into unchartered wilderness rather than to your local Tim Hortons. And despite the solid axles at both ends, it rides surprisingly well- we’ve been beaten up more by other less focused cars and SUV’s in this regard and we were pleasantly surprised by the level of comfort it provided.
What might go wrong?
We mentioned the Wrangler’s honest, no BS mission in life, which does not include coddling its occupants except for maybe if you were blitzing the whoop-dee-doos in a sand dune park. This is a seriously focused vehicle for providing some of the best off-road credentials in the business, so keep that in mind- those living within city limits should probably avoid the Rubicon model in favor of something less aggressive. Our tester featured a cloth roof that while reasonably removable on nice days made conversation at highway speeds an exercise in speaking at full volume. We also pined for a proper dead pedal, and we quickly tired of stowing our left foot behind the clutch awkwardly on extended highway runs. For those who hold fuel economy in high regard- we managed slightly worse numbers than those generated by NRCan- they might want to wait for the mild hybrid turbo four cylinder or for a diesel engine which comes later,both a first for a Wrangler. There’s also the price- our Unlimited tester, which costs $41,995 as the cheapest model you can get in that configuration, swelled to $55,060 with options. You’d hardly call that easy on the wallet, and for perspective, a top rung Rubicon model stickers at nearly $14,000 more dear before you add any options.
Should I buy a Wrangler?
If you’re reading this Road Test, it stands to reason that a Wrangler is on your radar screen and that you understand the compromises required of owning one. Or you’re an off-the-grid enthusiast who wants to distance themselves as far away from modern society as possible while still allowing for the occasional visit to the nearest town to pick up cheeseburgers and other essential supplies. Under this lens, the Wrangler might just be the perfect choice. For those thinking it would be a great option to pick up the dry cleaning and hitting the local ATM, we’d say there are other more appropriate options out there. But whoever you are, it cannot be argued that the new JL generation of Wrangler is the best yet. We have no doubt that the Toledo factory which builds these things will be feverishly busy into the years to come trying to satisfy demand.
2018 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sport S 4X4- Specifications
- Price as tested: $55,060
- Body Type: 4-door, 5 passenger SUV
- Powertrain Layout: Front engine/four-wheel drive
- Engine: 3.6-litre V6, DOHC, 24 valves
- Horsepower: 285 @ 6,400 rpm
- Torque (lb-ft.): 260 @ 4,800 rpm
- Transmission: 6-speed manual
- Curb weight: 1,912 kg (4,215 lbs)
- Observed Fuel consumption: 11.9/100km (20 mpg)