Designers shall not disgrace an iconic design with amateurish endeavor, but should instead absorb the brand’s character and color within the lines. But, think of all the vivid colors that can be flung between the lines. Restyle it, re-engineer it, simplify it, and by all means make it more refined, but when it comes out of the end of the Play-Doh factory, it better be a proper Jeep.
The larger 2018 Wrangler’s shape is instantly familiar, but stylists improved aerodynamics with a faster windshield rake and canted grille. Headlamps bend the outer slots of Jeep’s trademark grille as did the classic CJ’s. Fender vents look cool, but also minimize hood flutter. LED headlamps, running lights, foglamps, and taillights imbue a modern ethos. For the first time ever, Wrangler is equipped with keyless entry and starting.
Wrangler offers multiple paths to open skies. Cloth tops are much easier to deploy; flip two latches and slide back on integrated rails. The “Freedom Top” on our Sahara has two removable panels above the front passengers with a hard top over the rest. I’d prefer the new power canvas roof we sampled in Arizona last December. Press one button and the center section retreats to just beyond the back seats. Press the same button to seal up for splashing about or squelching highway wind.
Inside, designers were inspired by the CJ7’s horizontal row of gauges, so they created a wide contrasting panel that connects analog dials to the new center console cradling Chrysler’s baby-simple infotainment system. Click through icons for radio, media, climate, and navigation on the touchscreen. Or, use redundant buttons and knobs below. Also command by voice. It all looks very industrial, but works elegantly.
Adding refinement, Sahara trim brings stitched dash coverings and soft-touch door panels. During a spring cold snap, the heated front seats and steering wheel were greatly appreciated. Automatic climate control, blind spot warning, rear camera, parking sensors, and rear cross path detection added convenience and safety. Navigation and a thumping Alpine audio system with roof bar speakers kept the party moving.
You’ll be able to get a turbocharged four-cylinder engine with light hybrid system, diesel, or full plug-in very soon, but ours came with a 3.6-liter V6 delivering 285 horsepower and 260 lb.-ft. of torque. That’s plenty of power for the Wrangler and the tuned exhaust gives it the pipes of a Ferrari (or at least a sporty Fiat). It’s possible to get a six-speed manual transmission, but I’d choose the smooth new eight-speed automatic transmission that does a considerably better job of stepping through traffic and up hills. Fuel economy rates 18/23-MPG city/highway.
Launching down a rough gravel road, the suspension soaked it up more like a Grand Cherokee than classic Wrangler. Steering was more direct, too. Coming off bridges at speed, there’s much less bounce. The new automatic transmission with two additional cogs added a level of calm never experienced in a Wrangler. Auto stop/start is a pain, but it works well enough and can be pressed off. Importantly, the redesigned Wrangler is just as capable of banging skid plates up mountain trails.
While familiar, the Wrangler is significantly more vivid. A Jeep is still a Jeep, but it’s a Jeep that’s no longer just for enthusiasts. Take it to the boonies, or take the kids to school, because it’s ready to go. Prices start at $26,995 for a two-door Sport, but came to $52,235 for our well-optioned Unlimited Sahara edition.
2018 Jeep Wrangler
- 5 passengers, 4WD SUV
- Powertrain: 285 hp 3.6-liter V6, 8-spd auto trans
- Suspension f/r: Dana solid axles
- Wheels f/r: 18”/18” alloy
- Brakes f/r: disc/disc
- Must-have features: Style, Capability
- Towing Capacity: 3,500 lbs.
- Fuel economy (V6): 18/23 mpg city/hwy
- Assembly: Toledo, OH
- Base/as-tested price: $26,995/52,235