If there's one thing we all can agree on, its how well Jeep has kept the Wrangler true to its military past, all while keeping it modern and competitive, especially as rivals come and go. Influences from the classic CJ-5 live on in the JL today. Its gets even more interesting when digging into the details. Primarily, how designers made this slightly bigger generation seem smaller. Revised front end proportions are to thank; a bigger grille and headlamps, narrower bumpers and fender flares, and a wider stance. This approach extends all throughout the JL's design resulting in a higher tier feeling product. We couldn't have asked for better.
The styling is purposefully familiar. "My personal favorite thing is the CJ-5," Allen told me. The very first Jeep, the flat-fendered CJ-2A, was shaped by engineers to meet the military's constraints. The CJ-5, introduced in 1955, was the first time the design department's phone rang, Allen said.
You see the influences immediately. There's the trapezoidal grille, vertical at the bottom, kinked back at the top for improved aerodynamics. The headlights, larger, now cheat into the outer grille slots, a vintage Jeep styling feature incidentally invented when Willys crammed federally-mandated seven-inch lamps into the WWII truck's headlight buckets.
- RoadandTrack.comParked next to a JK, you'd swear the JL is smaller. Scaling, the designers call it. A bigger grille and headlamps, narrower bumpers and fender flares, and a wider stance make the new Wrangler's added inches disappear. In a way, it makes the JK disappear, too—the JL is styled as if the previous Wrangler never existed, like time leapt straight from the beloved 1996-2006 TJ to 2018.
- AutoBlog.comThe changes for 2018 involve powertrain, design and features. You can read about them here. The styling is what I kept noticing. The changes are subtle, but after looking at it — I'd often stare at it while sipping a cup of coffee last weekend — it really elevates the Wrangler with a more modern look. In Unlimited Sahara trim, with the elegant LED lights, 18-inch polished gray wheels and brilliant white exterior paint, it reminded me more than a bit of the Mercedes G-Class. The greenhouse, which has slightly new and larger window shapes and a steeper windshield angle, also evokes the G-Class, to my eye. This probably wasn't Jeep's intent, but it looks sharp. Speaking of subtle changes, I'd compare the Wrangler's styling changes to the alterations to the Detroit Tigers' uniforms, also from 2017 to 2018.
- TheDrive.comFirst, the Jeep’s steel frame is now fully boxed and noticeably more rigid, including a big jump to 80-percent high-strength steel. Yet the frame alone is 100 pounds lighter. A new five-link front suspension, revised geometry, and redesigned body mounts deliver much better noise and bump isolation. No one will confuse the Jeep with, say, a Mazda CX-5 or other car-mimicking SUV...but you won’t confuse it with a Woodstock-era school bus, either.
There’s still generous play in the steering, but the Wrangler feels vastly more planted and confident at speed. On the return from Monticello, I steered the Jeep down long highway grades, in vicious crosswinds, at better than 80 mph, with no white knuckles whatsoever. The clamshell hood, now held in place with two easy-acting front latches, didn’t flutter and wobble, thanks to a pair of vents that let air pass through.
Equally impressive changes can be seen on the inside. Much like the exterior, the interior is still heavily influenced by the JK and past Wrangler generations, but with a modern interpretation that raises it up a tier. Design layout aside we get must have features Jeep couldn't do without; push-button start and the new touchscreen infotainment system (with advanced safety tech) on a large screen being a couple of stand out features. A lower belt line and larger windows contribute to its open feeling as any true Wrangler should.
- RoadandTrack.comThe interior is thankfully modernized. Luxuries that were once anathema in an open-top 4x4, like push-button start and a giant touchscreen, suddenly fit right in. It feels more spacious: The weird protruding hump of the current model's dashboard center-stack is gone, leaving a shallow, flat-topped instrument panel.
Every piece of glass has been enlarged. "I'm a heretic for lowering the beltline," Allen said. "The previous car was built in the generation where you couldn't get it high enough. It makes such bad sense for off-road. You're trying to constantly look out and maneuver." Engineers assure me that, despite all the new electronics and infotainment features, everything still functions after a roof-off rainstorm. As ever, there are drain plugs in the floor.
- MotorTrend.caThe cabin of our loaded tester, equipped with an optional hard top and hard top headliner, leather, and heated seats, is a much nicer place to spend time than the previous Wrangler. I wouldn’t go so far as to call the Wrangler Sahara’s cabin luxurious, but it feels premium, with soft, high-quality leather, soft-touch plastics, comfortable seats, and a modern infotainment system.
- TheDrive.comA useful passenger grab-bar atop the glovebox helped my height-challenged sister clamber aboard. Oh, and let's not forget the creature comforts, though many are optional: leather upholstery, touchscreen navigation and remote start; wi-fi, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto; heated front seats and steering wheel; a back-up camera (useful when you’re got that spare tire hanging off the back), blind-spot monitor, and cross-traffic detection. (The excellent UConnect infotainment screen is waterproof, along with four USB ports, so you can still theoretically take a hose to the interior). A heated steering wheel on a Wrangler? Maybe I’ll skip the mittens the next time I hit the woods.
Overall journalists liked how the JL performed with the 3.6-liter Pentastar V6. However, a common theme among some of them was the need for better lower end performance. If true with a larger sample size of JL's in the hands of owners, further refinements on top of what was already done hopefully happens sooner than expected. The optional turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four is an alternative making about 35 lb-ft more torque. Further down the pipeline is rumored to be a hybrid powertrain that can be a real game changer. For the tuners among us, the Hurricane with an ECU flash breaking into the low 300 horsepower & torque range is the way to go.
The clutch is light, and there's enough low-end nudge to easily start from stop without touching the throttle, but the brunt of the V6's output starts above 2500 rpm. It's sincerely quick, enough twist to slip the big BFGoodrich All-Terrain TA KO2 tires. Jeep says the aluminum body and redesigned frame shaved 200 lbs off the Wrangler's curb weight. Ripping away from a stop, you feel it.
- RoadandTrack.comThe eight-speed auto is a huge improvement over the previous-generation's five-speed. In off-roading, the auto is smart enough to hold a low gear for engine braking or to tractor up a steep grade, no slap-shifting required. There are no paddle shifters, thankfully—they'd only get in the way and threaten an unintentional gear change in tricky four-wheeling situations.
- AutoWeek.comThe powertrain reads like old news, but only for the base truck. The 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 is standard, even on the top-level Rubicon, with 285 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque. It remains a serviceable if uninspiring motor; in this new application, it hasn’t picked up any of the low-end grunt that it could so badly use. Once I learn to ignore its high-rpm wail while cruising in low range -- something I have to relearn every time I’m driving a Wrangler in low -- it works well enough.
Would the new, optional turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four’s ample torque (295 lb-ft from 3,000 rpm) make it easier to creep around with a manual? It’s impossible to say because the six-speed is only available on the V6. Every other Wrangler will, at this point, get an eight-speed automatic. (Diesel and plug-in hybrid variants are in the works. Like the turbo I4, these should provide plenty of accessible torque; it will be interesting to see how these are received -- especially that hybrid -- and how they play on the trail.)
Back on that hillside, I was driving a two-door Rubicon with the standard 3.6-liter V-6 and optional eight-speed automatic. It makes the same 285 hp and 260 lb-ft as before but gets better fuel economy and low-end torque. At crawling speeds and with four-wheel-drive gearing advantages, torque wasn’t an issue. Two days later, driving back into town in a heavier four-door Rubicon Unlimited with the same engine but standard six-speed manual, the lack of grunt was more apparent.
- MotorTrend.caAvailable only with the eight-speed automatic, the turbo-four felt perfectly at home bumping along the two-track and down a stretch of paved road. The transmission, paired with either engine, continues to be a gem with quick, smooth gearshifts and a smart computer that always seems to know what gear it ought to be in. On-road and off, the engine felt just as powerful as the V-6, and its automatic start/stop system is among the smoothest on the market in any vehicle type. The real test, though, would be crawling.
The Rubicon tester that journalists had left no room for disappointment and its easy to see why, even on paper with spec's like Dana 44 and transfer case setup and of course those 33-inch BFG K02 All-Terrain tires. Jeep fans wanted a real successor over the capable JK and Jeep delivered. Best of all this experience isn't exclusive to either transmission option, however don't expect that to be the case next time around (unless we're wrong, hopefully). To the average buyer driving these on paved roads, most of this is overkill. On-road, you might forget you're in a Wrangler, it's that different.
- AutoWeek.comSpotters take a lot of the stress out of the process, as does the wheel angle indicator in the instrument cluster (one of many toys new for 2018). Ultimately, though, it’s that time-tested four-wheeler formula -- torque channeled through the transfer case’s 4.0:1 low range to a pair of electronically locked Dana 44 live axles, then onward to the meaty 33-inch BF Goodrich rubber at all four corners -- that makes it seem so easy.
The point of the exercise is clear: The all-new Wrangler is capable of handling anything you can imagine throwing at it -- and a good deal you can’t. You could have guessed as much from a glance at the specs. In every meaningful way, from approach and departure angles to ground clearance to fording depth, it’s an upgrade over its rugged predecessor. But when you’re offered the opportunity to try it out for yourself in Middle Earth, you go.
- TheDrive.comEven this Rubicon now comes standard with 33-inch tall tires (up from 32s) on black wheels, with knobby, BF Goodrich K02 All-Terrain rubber. Those “new generation” Danas include a 4.10 drive ratio that improves the Jeep’s low-speed crawling ratio and creeping ability on trails, no matter which transmission you choose
- CarAndDrive.comThe JL Rubicon wears 285/70R-17s, known to off-roaders by their outside diameter, 33 inches. The JK Rubicon wore 32-inch tires. In a bid for all-around all-terrain performance, the Rubicon now wears BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A KO2s—the same tire fitted to the Ford Raptor. What they might give up in mud performance compared with the old Rubicon’s Mud-Terrain T/A KM rubber is more than offset by their portfolio of generally agreeable attributes including admirable (and quiet) dry and wet on-road performance and excellent off-road bite.
- MotorTrend.caThe improved ride is a welcome respite from three long days bouncing down the trail, as is the new electro-hydraulic steering that’s taken all the vagueness out of the rack. The Jeep is confident and planted on the road in a way Wranglers have never been. The hardcore guys will say the old trucks had more character, but the casual off-road enthusiast won’t mind the trade-off a bit.
- TheDrive.comWhat you won’t know, until you experience this Jeep for yourself, is how livable it’s become. The quivering structure, gale-force wind noise and crappy HVAC system? All banished. The pathetically slack steering, Richter-scale column shake, torpid handling, and shimmying over bumps? Also remarkably improved. For the first time in history, the Wrangler isn’t a chore to drive on pavement.