It’s been a long time coming, but the 2018 Jeep Wrangler JL is officially here. Jeep has released details and specifications about its new take on the classic off-roader, which is headed to dealerships early next year, ahead of a big LA Auto Show reveal.
As you’d expect, there’s a lot to digest. But if you experience an odd feeling of deja vu while reading through it all, it’s because the entire enthusiast community has been hoovering up every second- and third-hand fact, rumor and wild unsourced speculation about the new Wrangler for years now (ourselves included).
But there’s a reason the leaked JL owner’s manual will forever be regarded as the most closely read document of its kind in automotive history: This is a critical vehicle, both for Jeep and for the people who love Jeeps. Yes, a good chunk of new Wranglers will barely taste a gravel road, let alone a boulder field, but a lot of owners will try to get the most out of their Jeep ownership experience.
Fortunately, with the nearly complete official specs finally in hand, it doesn’t look like those lucky-but-fearful souls tasked with reinventing an icon screwed it up.
In the 2018 Wrangler JL, we’re looking at an all-new truck that refines and evolves what was already an immensely popular, incredibly capable product without losing the distinctive plot that made it so dang popular and capable in the first place. If the JL sticks to the known formula, it promises to be better off-road, more comfortable on-road and more efficient — and yet still unmistakably a classic Jeep.
Come on: even if you’re not a Jeep Person, you’ve got to admit that this looks like fun.
Yep, the new JL looks more than a little like the JK it replaces, which is something we’ve known for a while now. At least until you dive into the details. The way the headlights push into the edges of the trademark seven-slot grille recalls old CJs, for example. The windshield has a bit more rake to it (aero is important, even on a rolling box), and the hood (held fast by rugged over-center latches) loses much of the JK’s forward slope.
Form follows function, which is as it should be on a Jeep. Everything you see on the body is there for a reason: Character lines running just below the side windows help add rigidity to the now-aluminum body panels, but they also give the truck’s otherwise slabby sides some welcome definition. All of the vents are functional, at least on the Rubicons, including those right behind the front wheel wells (those openings in particular help relieve underhood pressure). The new truck is just a little more toned overall — something that becomes especially apparent if you see a JL and a JK side by side.
One welcome change: Window openings have been enlarged all around, and the spare tire has been shifted downward to improve rear visibility. The result is, we hope, a slightly less cavelike driving experience, especially in the four-door Unlimiteds.
Overall length for the two-door is, including the spare tire, 166.8 inches (on a 96.8-inch wheelbase), a growth spurt of a little over 2 inches. The four-door grows 3.5 inches compared to the JK for an overall length of 188.4 inches (on a 118.4-inch wheelbase); a little over an inch of that is used to improve rear-seat legroom.
The Wrangler JL’s track width grows 1 inch to 62.9 inches, but overall width is up just 0.1 inch at 73.8 inches.
Though its bones are still steel, the Wrangler now uses lightweight materials wherever possible: The doors, hood and fenders are aluminum, and the rear swing gate is magnesium. Additionally, the engineering extended its lightweighting efforts to aluminum engine mounts and hollow track and stabilizer bars in an attempt to keep mass manageable.
The result? Well, the Wrangler certainly didn’t lose weight this time around; curb weights range from 4,010 pounds for a 2.0-liter-powered two-door Sport to 4,455 pounds for a 3.6-liter-powered four-door Rubicon. No analogue for that previous vehicle existed before the JL, but in the case of the latter truck, that’s a 115-pound gain over the JK (thought the JL is, again, a larger vehicle). So long as this extra weight is kept down low, however, it shouldn’t hurt capability.
The interior is perhaps a bigger departure from the outgoing model than the exterior; the dashboard, which can accommodate an up-to-8.4-inch Uconnect touchscreen (splash-proofed, or so we’re told), is more coherent and premium than what we’re used to seeing in the JK. Especially on the Rubicons, which trade the Sahara’s leather for painted panels, it recalls vintage metal dashes found in old trucks. Thanks to a mid-cycle refresh, the interiors of later JKs looked and felt far nicer than those in earlier trucks. At first glance the JL represents another big step forward — and Jeep claims it’s quieter in there, too.
Everything, from the front bumper to the spare tire, has been reworked for the JL. The new Wrangler loses those old, anonymous taillights and gains these sculpted pieces, which incorporate optional blind spot sensors (that’s the black wedge on the outside edge).
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No huge surprises here to start: The familiar 3.6-liter “Pentastar” V6 carries over to the JL, producing an equally familiar 285 hp and 260 lb-ft. It comes with an all-new six-speed manual standard; an FCA-built TorqueFlite eight-speed automatic transmission is optional.
New for the JL is a 2.0-liter inline-four turbocharged gasoline motor; it’s available for all models, and while it’s down on horsepower compared to the V6 at 270 hp, it seems to make up for that with 295 lb-ft of torque. With this motor, the eight-speed is mandatory.
Coming in 2019 is a 3.0-liter turbodiesel V6. The so-called EcoDiesel, which we’ve already experienced in the Ram 1500, is built by VM Motori. In this application, it produces 260 hp and 442 lb-ft of torque; it will be mated to a “more robust” version of the TorqueFlite eight-speed.
As for the rumored hybrid? We’ll have to wait and see. (Update: word from LA is that we can expect a plug-in hybrid in 2020)
The off-road bits
The engine and transmission options apply, at the time of writing, to the whole Wrangler lineup. Where you start to see some mechanical differentiation between the trims is in the transfer cases and axles.
Wrangler Sport and Sahara models come with Dana 30 axles up front and Dana 35s in the rear; a Command-Trac NV241 part-time transfer case is standard for these models, as is a 3.45 rear axle ratio. However, a two-speed Selec-Trac full-time transfer case is available for the Sahara, which only comes as a four-door Unlimited, exclusively — a first for a Wrangler.
The Rubicon gets beefier Dana 44 axles front and rear (4.10 axle ratio) and retains the NV241OR Rock-Track transfer case; it was practically a given that features like an electronic sway bar disconnect would return, as well. New for 2018: bigger tires, different tires and an improved crawl ratio (84.2:1 and 77.2:1 for manual and auto Rubicons, respectively).
Tire-wise, the Rubicon now rides on 33-inch diameter tires on 17-inch rims. The off-road range-topper sticks with BFGoodriches, but they are now All-Terrain rubber versus the JK’s Mud Terrains; it was a better fit for what the average Rubicon owner was doing with the truck, Jeep told us, and serious mud guys were putting bigger wheels with specialized tires on anyway.
Water fording depth is a stated maximum of 30 inches at 5 mph, and that’s before you goofballs start installing those snorkel kits.
Ground clearance is up across the board: For Sport, Sahara and Rubicon JLs, it is now now 9.7, 10 and 10.8 inches, up from 8.3 (9.6 with optional 17-inch wheels), 9.7 and 10 inches for the respective JKs. Likewise, approach, breakover and departure angles are increased across the board compared to standard JKs. Take the Rubicon Unlimited; in JK guise, its respective angles were 42.2, 21.2 and 32.5, while on the JL, those have been improved to 43.9, 22.6 and 37.
The takeaway is that you should be able to drive up and down steeper inclines in search of taller rocks to drive over with impunity. And if you have to cross a stream or two en route, the power is yours.
As seen in the interior of this Rubicon two-door, 3.6-liter V6-equipped Wranglers come standard with a six-speed manual.
What we still don’t know
2018 Wranglers will be headed to Jeep showrooms in January, but while the official reveal confirms much of what we suspected about the new vehicle and gave us a pile of nitty-gritty specs to chew on, it hasn’t answered all of our questions. We’re waiting for information on pricing and fuel economy, to name two particularly important things, and of course we’re hungry for more details on the long-awaited Scrambler pickup truck. Plus, there are features like the “Sky One-Touch” power top that we’re eager to play around with.
One thing we can’t wait to share with you soon: exactly what the JL is like to drive. A few weeks back, we had the chance to put a variety of new Wrangler Rubicons to the test on New Zealand’s stunning South Island. We can’t tell you about how the vehicles — two- and four-door models with a variety of engine and transmission options — performed just yet; stay tuned for a full first drive review coming the second week of December.
A bare-bones 2018 Wrangler Unlimited Sahara: an open-air four-wheel drive platform for exploring the great outdoors.