The mere mention of even tweaking the design of the Jeep Wrangler is sure to draw some attention, thanks to the immensity of the fanbase for the vehicle, an appeal that extends well beyond its popularity as a rugged, open-air SUV with insane off-road capabilities.
It’s a connection deeply rooted in the rich military history tied to the Jeep, dating back to World War II, something I’ve grown to appreciate on a personal level, as the proud owner of a 2009 Wrangler.
You could argue that I’m heavily biased when it comes to the Wrangler, and chalk up all my raving about the Jeep as the simple rants of some madly obsessed fan. I certainly make no apologies for my strong admiration for the Wrangler, especially being a native of Toledo, Ohio, where the Jeep has long been built.
Either way, it’s hard to dispute the glaring fact that there isn’t another SUV in the world more widely recognized and admired than the Wrangler. So, when news first broke that Jeep was revving up to introduce an entirely new model of its iconic off-roader, it sparked a lot of interest—along with a few concerns. After all, the Wrangler is considered the “King of the Hill” in the world of SUVs, which pretty much guarantees that talk of a new model will likely be met with a degree of skepticism. I was even a little concerned myself when I heard that Jeep was planning to build an all-new Wrangler.
My biggest worry, which I’m sure some other Jeep fans shared as well, was that the SUV would wind up losing a lot of its authentic character in the push to broaden the appeal of the vehicle. However, after recently having a chance to drive the 2018 Jeep Wrangler in Arizona, it’s clear: Not only does the new model stay true to the heritage of the SUV, but it very well might be one of the hottest takes on Jeep’s military heritage to date, a modern-day classic in the making.
You’ll note that I said “one” of the hottest, keeping in mind that over the more than 75-year span of Jeep, there’ve arguably been a couple of models worthy of that accolade as well.
With that said, the 2018 Wrangler (codenamed JL), is, without question, the most well-rounded vehicle among the long lineage of great open-air off-roaders that have worn the Jeep nameplate. Whether cruising the highway or climbing a seemingly impassable steep mass of rock on my off-road excursion in the 2018 model, the new Wrangler builds on everything fans have come to love about the iconic Jeep, just in a far more refined package.
Mark Allen, Head of Jeep Design, says the goal was to improve the Wrangler in every way imaginable, while paying homage to the heritage of the vehicle. “I wanted to reinforce and enhance what’s there,” Allen tells Playboy. “There are so many things that are special about Wrangler that I don’t want to lose.”
The thing that Jeep purists and thrill-seekers will appreciate most is all the meticulous work that’s gone into improving the Wrangler’s off-road chops.
The biggest buzz around the 2018 Wrangler, the first entirely new model in ten years, involves the new range of engine options, which now includes a four-cylinder turbo model, a V6-powered diesel, as well as a more enhanced version of the standard V6 with engine stop-start. Jeep also plans to introduce a plug-in hybrid model in the near future. But the new scope of powertrains, as impressive as they are, don’t even begin to tap the surface of what makes the new Jeep so special.
One of the 2018 Wrangler’s most alluring elements is the design cues pulled from classic Jeeps like the CJ, detailed in features such as the front headlights, which now overlap into the outer slot of the vehicle’s signature seven-slot grille.
The homage to some of the popular “old-school” Jeeps has been carried over in the new Wrangler’s cabin, too, with a number of heritage-inspired details mixed with features like a hand-wrapped instrument panel and accent stitching on the more premium Wrangler Sahara models. The latest reiteration of the American icon also now features a push-button starter, bigger storage areas and reclining rear seats, along with a host of new tech features, including an all-new Uconnect infotainment system that’s available with a mega 8.4-inch touch screen.
Allen says that when crafting the new Wrangler, the Jeep team got a lot of input from current owners, pulling inspiration from events like the Moab Easter Jeep Safari, an annual Jeep bonanza in Utah that draws thousands of die-hard Wrangler fans.
“It’s really grassroots. It’s me showing up with [concept] vehicles,” explains the Jeep design head, speaking of the carmaker’s involvement at the event. “People come up to me…and want to talk about the vehicles. We’ve been doing that for ten years, just listening and listening, wanting to get to this date where we actually make the new one.”
The most drool-worthy appeal of the 2018 Wrangler, which starts at roughly $28,000 for the base Sport model, comes to life on the open road when you find yourself growing more in awe of how smooth the new Jeep feels behind the wheel. The overall ride is a drastic improvement over the outgoing Wrangler (known as the JK), but probably far more advanced than the ride experience associated with the Jeep among those who haven’t been in one in years.
The Wrangler Unlimited is also now available with a one-touch power top for the canvas-equipped models, in the event you prefer not having to tackle the four-door Jeep’s 130-pound hardtop when you get an urge to be closer to nature. Still, the overall weight of the optional hard roof has been lightened by roughly 15 pounds, compared to the previous Wrangler. In addition, all the zippers on the removable side windows for the soft-tops have been swapped out for an easier to use sliding-track setup, which also makes the conversion to a convertible a lot easier.
The steps it takes to fold down the Wrangler’s windshield have also been reduced to four bolts, making it simpler to enjoy the military-inspired feature.
The thing that Jeep purists and thrill-seekers will appreciate most, however, is all the meticulous work that’s gone into improving the Wrangler’s off-road chops, which includes better ground clearance, unparalleled crawl ratio, and the ability to now trek through up to 30-inches of gushing water, making it the most capable model ever. The more terrain-ready Rubicon model also now comes with 33-inch tires standard, giving the rugged SUV more menacing, beast-like abilities when out on the trail.
Of course, most Wrangler owners never come anywhere close to tapping the extreme limits of the Jeep. But the idea of being able to gloat in what it can do has always been a major part of the vehicle’s appeal. The 2018 Wrangler just ups the ante in a way that makes you more eager to join the club, even if off-roading really isn’t your thing.