Slow change has been a gift and a curse for the Jeep Wrangler throughout its 30+ year production run. New for 2018, the Wrangler JL with a manual trans and V6 engine retains a dedicated focus on off-roading while adding a few more creature comforts to improve ride and ability in town. A few throwback details to the Wranglers of old make their return to the model, as well.
There’s no doubt it’s a Jeep Wrangler. In town, off-road, even in the dark, it’s definitely a Jeep Wrangler. Most consumers won’t be able to spot differences in the newest lineup from the model’s last few iterations, though eagle-eyed Jeep enthusiasts may find themselves noticing the slightest of design changes.
Hardtops and soft tops are both still available, as are two- and four-door arrangements. Big beefy tires all around, including the rear-mounted spare, allow for immediate dirt road rambling. The smaller details include the Jeep logo above the front grille — hearkening back to TJ Jeeps of the late 90s and early 2000s. That grille gains a slightly smoother finish as a result. Meanwhile, the bumper’s integrated fog lights sit in a slightly more recessed and angular well.
Wrangler enthusiasts will no doubt cheer the return of an easily folding front windshield, which now features bolts that are loosened from inside the cabin. The doors are simpler to remove, as well, thanks to clearly delineated bolts and Torx measurements. The soft top has lost its zippers in favor of channels and retainers.
Overall exterior dimensions have increased over the JK predecessor, as the two-door gains 2.5 inches in length and the four-door adds 3.5. Much of that extra length is accounted for by increased overhangs measuring 29.2 inches in the front and 40.8 inches at the rear. Ground clearance comes in at 10.8 inches, with water fording possible up to 30 inches. For amateur Jeep drivers taking on the wild outdoors, Jeep has included a classic diagram of the model’s measurements hidden inside the tailgate’s jamb.
Drivetrain & Mechanicals
The JL Wrangler Rubicon is powered by a V6 engine, though a turbo four and turbo-diesel figure into the model’s future. For now, that V6 carries over from the JK generation and produces 285 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque (torque peaks at 4,800 RPM, however, requiring significant revving in more treacherous terrain).
The six-speed manual powers all four wheels on the Sahara edition, a new Selec-Trac full-time all-wheel-drive system helps cope with the increased traction of city streets. The Rubicon doesn’t get that option, instead utilizing a beefed-up off-road package including wider locking Dana differentials, a 4.10 drive ratio, and Jeep’s Rock-Trac 4WD system.
The Rubicon’s heavier duty drivetrain, including a front sway bar disconnect feature and all those locking diffs, combine with the dearth of low-end torque to deliver a measly 7.5-second sprint to 60 miles per hour. But all-out acceleration has never been the Wrangler’s forte — though, the two-door Wrangler Sport equipped with a stick shift can clock in at 6.1 seconds.
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Interior & Tech
The JL Wrangler makes significant improvements over the JK generation’s interior amenities. Don’t expect luxury, however, as the truth of the matter is that Jeep had left the Wrangler well behind the rest of the market. Now, interior leather surfaces include soft-touch doors and even sound deadening in the optional hard-top, while a massive infotainment screen shared by the rest of Fiat-Chrysler’s newest offerings sits at the dash’s center panel.
The Rubicon’s instrument panel is customizable - including a front wheel angle indicator - with the Off-Road Pages app, while more comfortable seats, plenty of toggle switches, and a multifunction steering wheel allow drivers and passengers to feel like they’re not still in a holdout from the late 90s. Overall comfort and relatively modern updates complement smoother suspension settings to allow the JL Wrangler a nominal ability to please both city slickers and outdoorsmen alike.
Pricing & Buying
For a rough and ready rock crawler, the Wrangler in Rubicon Unlimited V6 Manual trim doesn’t come cheap though. Pricing starts at $42,400, and the addition of any number of options quickly allows the Jeep to vault up over $50,000. For context, a two-door JL Sport S (a mid-level trim including air conditioning, power windows, power locks, and a leather steering wheel) with a $2,000 eight-speed automatic transmission, costs below $35,000.
The JL generation of Wranglers is on dealer lots currently, but buyers should beware that Jeep is selling JK and JL models simultaneously. Keep track of the little details that make or break the deal, however, and competition between the two generations may help snuff out a good deal
The Wrangler sits in a world of its own, the only truly capable off-roader to come out of the factory with minimal amenities. With the Rubicon Unlimited V6 Manual, however, Jeep exposes the model’s higher prices, allowing for standard SUV competition to (at least somewhat) fit into the considerations of potential city dwelling buyers.