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  • First Drive: 2018 Jeep Wrangler

    Posted on December 13th, 2017 ninarussin

    Jeep’s familiar face becomes a radically different animal

    By Nina Russin

    All-new 2018 Jeep® Wrangler Rubicon, 1944 Jeep Willys-Overland MB and all-new 2018 Jeep Wrangler Sahara

    All-new 2018 Jeep® Wrangler Rubicon, 1944 Jeep Willys-Overland MB and all-new 2018 Jeep Wrangler Sahara

    To call the Jeep Wrangler the most iconic American car currently in production is no exaggeration. With roots dating back to the 1941 Willys-Overland MA/MB, the Jeep, with its toothy grille and round headlamps, is the face that launched a thousand ships to points once unreachable on four wheels. Every off-road vehicle produced since, from the Toyota FJ to the Land Rover, has somehow been influenced by the Jeep.

    For 2018 Jeep introduces an all-new model. While it retains its familiar face, there are some dramatic changes under the new Wrangler’s skin, as to the skin itself. In place of steel body panels one now finds aluminum and composite, making the car lighter and more fuel efficient. Glass areas are larger, the windshield more raked, and the rear-mounted spare moved lower to improve visibility out the back.

    The new Wrangler that rolls out in January comes with the second-generation Pentastar V-6 engine, with a two-liter turbo option coming several months later. Look for a diesel option in 2019. Buyers can choose between an eight-speed automatic transmission or six-speed manual gearbox.

    There are three models- Sport, Sahara Unlimited and Rubicon- with pricing for the two-door V-6 Sport starting at $26,995 excluding the $1,195 destination charge. The four-door Sahara starts at $37,345, while the Rubicon that offers extended off-road capability is priced from $36,995. Top-of-the-line four-door Rubicon starts at $40,495.

    Test drive in southern Arizona

    All-new 2018 Jeep® Wrangler Rubicon and All-new 2018 Jeep® Wrangler Sahara

    All-new 2018 Jeep® Wrangler Rubicon and All-new 2018 Jeep® Wrangler Sahara

    At a recent media event, I drove the 2018 Wrangler Sport two-door equipped with the eight-speed automatic transmission on paved roads north of Tucson, Arizona as well as off-road trails outside the town of Marana in the foothills of the Catalina Mountains. For those familiar with the current model, the new Wrangler is a completely different animal, so different, that one might question whether-or-not it’s really-a Wrangler.

    This is not to question the 2018 model’s capability, either on or off-road. It is, in fact, more capable and uses less gasoline along the way. But ride and handling feel more like a Jeep Grand Cherokee than the current Wrangler.

    This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It is frankly refreshing to be able to look out the back of the new model and see something besides an exceedingly large blind spot created by the spare tire. The new car comes standard with a rearview camera- formerly an expensive option- mounted in the spare tire holder. It’s not exactly the best placement for those of us who use that holder to mount bicycle racks, but the Mopar guys say they’re working on a solution.

    2018 Jeep® Wrangler Rubicon

    2018 Jeep® Wrangler Rubicon

    The raked windshield should catch a few less rocks than the current version, so drivers won’t have to maintain a two-football field distance to avoid routine windshield replacements. As a Wrangler owner, I can assure readers that this is a very big deal.

    The hood is slightly more raked, and there are two side vents to channel moving air over it more effectively so it doesn’t shimmy up-and-down when a large semi-truck passes in the other direction. The big side clips have always held my hood firmly in place but I must admit there have been times being passed on narrow two-lane roads through the Rockies that I’ve held my breath.

    The three-piece hardtop and soft top remain options. The soft top is thankfully easier to deploy. Folding the windshield flat for off-roading is also a simpler operation that involves pulling the wipers and removing four bolts. A new power sliding convertible top on the four-door Sahara reminds me of a similar concept used on the discontinued Jeep Liberty.

    2018 Jeep® Wrangler Rubicon

    2018 Jeep® Wrangler Rubicon

    Designers replaced push-button handles on the current car with lift-type handles. That seems kind of silly. Are rugged outdoorsy types now incapable of using a push-button handle? Keyless start is also standard; this writer prefers the old-fashioned ignition key.

    The Pentastar V-6 engine introduced in the current generation of Wranglers is an excellent powerplant, with plenty on the low end for what Jeep Wranglers do best. It is also, in this writer’s experience, significantly more fuel efficient than the EPA’s ratings suggest. I average about 24 miles-per-gallon on trips between Phoenix, Arizona and Durango, Colorado in my two-door Sport fully loaded with a bicycle hanging off the back. That drive involves an elevation gain of over 8,000 feet.

    How the EPA only gets 18 mpg I can’t really-explain, unless they’re unfamiliar with second-gear starts. With the new model’s 160-pound weight reduction and enhanced coefficient of drag, drivers can expect even better figures with the 2018 model. The eight-speed automatic also adds larger overdrive gears, for those who prefer to avoid a clutch pedal. All models now come with a stop/start feature at idle: something that should make 9-5 commuters happy.

     2018 Jeep® Wrangler Sahara

    2018 Jeep® Wrangler Sahara

    The biggest differences in feel between the current Wrangler and new 2018 models is in steering and suspension. Most drivers will probably love the upgrades, but dyed-in-the-wool Wrangler owners may not. Gone is the bouncy feel of the Wrangler’s two live axles thanks to a five-link suspension with redesigned upper and lower control arms, and the looseness of the hydraulic recirculating ball steering system that has now been replaced by electric power steering.

    The 2018 car has a longer wheelbase and slightly larger track and is tapered towards the back, making it more stable at high speeds. Off-road the Wrangler remains highly maneuverable and should maintain its position as king-of-the-rock crawling world.

    Shifting the two-speed transfer case into four-wheel high and low modes remains a simple operation. To be honest, the Wrangler can traverse some fairly-challenging terrain in rear-wheel drive mode. Four-wheel drive adds the ability to transfer up to fifty-percent of torque up front as necessary.

    For years, the Wrangler has offered its owners more capability than most will ever use. The new car takes that capability to a new level, with improved approach and departure angles, a better turning circle and more ground clearance for the Rubicon. There is something incredibly liberating about coming upon a dirt road and knowing that your vehicle is fully capable of taking on whatever that trail has-to offer. Therein lies the magic of the Jeep Wrangler.

    Roomier interior

    2018 Jeep® Wrangler Sahara (top) and 2018 Jeep® Wrangler Rubicon (bottom)

    2018 Jeep® Wrangler Sahara (top) and 2018 Jeep® Wrangler Rubicon (bottom)

    Its larger dimensions give the Wrangler- both two and four-door versions- slightly larger interiors. Those who plan to travel with more than two occupants should continue to choose the four-door for its enhanced access and egress if nothing else.

    A driver’s side adjustable lumbar makes extended road trips more comfortable. Those who didn’t like the former door straps will prefer the new design of self-closing doors. The webbed pockets inside the doors are larger and more functional. Buyers can opt to upgrade to the newest edition of Uconnect with 7 and 8.4-inch available touchscreens. A thin-film-transistor information display inside the gauge cluster gives easy access to more vehicle information.

    The rear-seat fold-down mechanism has been redesigned so the seat folds flat with the cargo floor, eliminating the high pivot point bump in the current model.

    Standard safety

    The 2018 Jeep Rubicon comes with front and side airbags, antilock brakes, traction control, roll stability control, rearview camera and a SOS call feature for emergency roadside assistance.

    Jeep builds the Wrangler at its Toledo, Ohio assembly plant.

    Like: The 2018 Jeep Wrangler adds enhanced on-road driving dynamics, more off-road capability, more standard safety including better visibility, is quieter and more fuel efficient than the model it replaces.

    Dislike: Some Wrangler enthusiasts may find the new model’s ride and handling to feel overly refined.

    Quick facts:

    Make: Jeep
    Model: Wrangler two-door Sport
    Year: 2018
    Base price: $26,995
    As tested: N/A
    Horsepower: 285 HP @ 6400 rpm
    Torque: 260 lbs.-ft. @ 4800 rpm
    Zero-to-sixty: N/A
    Antilock brakes: Standard
    Side curtain airbags: N/A
    First aid kit: N/A
    Bicycle friendly: Yes (four-door model only)
    Off-road: Yes
    Towing: Yes
    Fuel economy: 18/23 mpg city/highway

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