I’m sitting here in Tucson, Arizona looking at a massive pile of rocks – big rocks, little rocks, some in between. There’s some guy up on top, motioning me to c’mon up, just put this pretty 2018 Jeep Wrangler in “drive.”
No problem, right? Well, no, it is no problem. It just LOOKS like a problem. Where I have qualms, the Jeep has a desire to climb. So, off we go.
Just watch the guide, they said. Don’t watch anything else. HE knows where you should be putting your wheels. HE can see what the hell is going on. And that’s good because the rock pile is so steep I can’t see much ahead of me.
Upward we climb. Slowly, moving the steering wheel left or right or holding it straight when the guide’s hand signals tell me to. It’s technical and it’s intense, but it shows the Wrangler’s ability to go were few have gone before. The climb highlights ground clearance, suspension articulation, manoeuverability along with approach, breakover and departure angles and a new, slower crawl ratio.
We climb, the Jeep and I, with some tension on my part, none on the Jeep’s part. And then we are at the top. We can see Tucson way off in the distance, but we aren’t here for the view and it’s time to go down the other side of the pile which is no less challenging except it’s tippier side-to-side and just as steep.
This was all part of the launch of the new Wrangler, which bears the JL designation. It’s the eighth version of the iconic vehicle since 1940. And it still carries that family look after all these years.
It’s a sport utility vehicle that has always put more emphasis on “sport” but now highway driving is a more pleasurable experience. It’s the Jeep I’ve dreamed of, one that would take me from civilization into the trackless wilderness without exacting a steep price on the journey.
Two-door models have three trims: Sport B, Sport S and Rubicon while 4-door Wranglers have four versions: Sport, Sport S, Sahara and Rubicon.
We got to drive two versions of the new off-roader, the two-door Sport S powered by a 3.6L Pentastar V6 with an eight-speed automatic transmission and a four-door Sahara with optional 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder, both with a new eight automatic gearbox. A six-speed manual is also available.
The V6 delivers 285 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque while the new turbo four is rated at 270 horsepower and 295 lb-ft
Look for a 3.0-L EcoDiesel beginning in 2019.
The interior lends itself to thoughts of using it as a primary vehicle. There’s the latest version of Uconnect, the seats are more comfortable, the materials more civilized and there’s way more technical stuff to make life easier for driver and passenger. A backup camera is standard (mounted in the spare tire carrier), there’s traction control, hill start assist, trailer sway control and stability control. Air conditioning is standard on all but Sport B. Options include rear park assist, blind spot monitor and security alarm.
Two sound systems are available including 9-speaker premium Alpine audio. The neat thing is that the new-found quiet interior lets you enjoy your tunes or carry on a conversation without shouting. There’s a wide range of Uconnect systems including navigation. The driver has a reconfigurable 3.5-in. display and there’s an available 7-in. screen that’s easy to customize and intuitive to use.
This interior is bordering on sophisticated.
The Sahara’s hard top is lighter and panels are easier to remove and there’s a new power-operated soft top. New aluminum doors are easier to remove and an integrated lift handle under the interior armrest makes them easier to carry.
The soft top is easier to handle and its panels no longer use zippers.
And you might just see more of the 2018 models with their windshields folded down. They are lighter and easier to fold thanks to a new four-bolt system with the fasteners on the inside that replaces the previous 26-bolt chore that had bolts on the outside that meant breaking the paint if you wanted to fold the windscreen.
How does the new Wrangler combine sophistication with Trail Rated brawn?
The vehicle is longer (do I hear cheers from the back seat?) and its lighter thanks to high-strength steel frame, aluminum doors, hinges, hood, fenders and windshield frame and magnesium rear swing gate.
Suspension is still a five-link coil setup, but the roll centre has been raised and spring rates retuned for an excellent around-town ride.
Rubicon models have an electronic front sway-bar disconnect to provide additional wheel travel.
If you must go wading, Wrangler will swim through 30 inches of water.
There’s so much more to this vehicle.
Impressive doesn’t really cover it.
2018 Jeep Wrangler
Trim levels: Sport B (2 door only), Sport S, Sahara (4-door only), Rubicon
Price before taxes: Sport B: $33,945.00; Sport S: $37,895.00 (2 door), $41,745.00 (4 door); Sahara: $45,745.00; Rubicon: $46,345.00 (2 door), $48,745.00.
Configuration: front engine, 4WD
Available engines: 3.6L V6/ 2.0L turbo 4 cyl.
Available transmissions: 8-spd. Automatic/6-spd. manual
Power/torque: V6: 285hp/260 lb-ft Turbo 4: 270 hp/ 295 lb-ft
Fuel economy ratings: TBD