2018 Jeep Wrangler: The evolution of an icon [First Look]

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2018 Jeep Wrangler (Sinclair Broadcast Group / Jill Ciminillo)

How do you redesign a classic?

According to Mark Allen, head of design for Jeep: Very carefully.

“Tradition is the name of the game, and we were meant to evolve it,” Allen said. “Of course, it’s still got to look like a Wrangler.”

And so it does.

The 2018 Jeep Wrangler gets a complete redesign, but if you see a lot of the CJ series in it, that’s because it’s Allen’s favorite Jeep “of all time.”

From the trapezoidal shape of the grille to the long horizontal lines on the interior, the inspiration for this next-gen Wrangler is very clear.

And while Jeep does a really good job of adding in some high-tech features, it maintains the rough-and-tumble tradition. So, yes, you can still get a manual transmission and roll-up windows. Plus, the doors are removable, the windshield folds down – and even comes off – and there are four different tops providing a variety of open-air experiences.

If you are a serious off-roader, you can even opt for the Rubicon model with the optional steel bumpers that can be removed for better clearance.

For 2018, the Wrangler gets two new engine options: a base 3.6-liter V-6 engine and an up-level 2.0-liter 4-cylinder.

The V-6 is the second-generation Pentastar, which delivers 285 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. This can be matched with either the 6-speed manual or the 8-speed automatic transmission. I spent the least time with this engine, and found it to be fine. It’s a little loud and a little sluggish, and if I hadn’t spent some QT with the 4-cylinder engine, I’d probably like it.

But the 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder is really nice – smooth, quiet and fast in all the right places. It delivers 270 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. I love this engine.

The downside for Jeep purists: You can’t get it with the manual transmission.

Jeep has only released fuel economy numbers for the 3.6-liter engine at the time of posting this review, and the manual and automatic transmissions aren’t that different:

  • MT (city/hwy/combined): 17/23/19 mpg
  • AT (city/hwy/combined) : 18/23/20 mpg

During our on-road excursions, I observed this to be fairly accurate.

Coming for the 2019 model year, you’ll see the addition of a 3.0-liter V-6 EcoDiesel in the Wrangler lineup. It will deliver 260 horsepower and 442 pound-feet of torque, and it will only be available on the 4-door models.

The Wrangler can be configured as a 2- or 4-door model and offers Sport, Sahara (4-door only) and Rubicon trims.

Base pricing is as follows:

2-door Configurations

  • Sport: $26,995
  • Rubicon: $36,995

4-door Configurations

  • Sport: $30,495
  • Sahara: $37,345
  • Rubicon: $40,495

Jeep has made a lot of improvements in on-road ride quality for 2018, but if you expect this to be a smooth and lux-like ride, it’s not. The new Wrangler is still a little bit loud, with tire noise creeping into the cabin.

As it should be. You don’t buy a Wrangler for luxury amenities.

Even so, I was surprised to note that some trims come with up to 5 USB ports, WiFi connectivity, heated seats and steering wheels, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto and the fourth-generation UConnect with navigation.

Something else Jeep has added to the new Wrangler, which may irk Wrangler purists, is a push-button start. In every trim. The good news is: There’s a nice little slot between the cup-holders that perfectly holds the fob.

Lux-level amenities aside, the Wrangler is a tried-and-true off roader. We spent some time in a Rubicon on a serious rock crawl during the press launch, and I’m still impressed. There were some inclines so steep it was hard for me to climb on foot – yet the Wrangler managed it with ease.

Another important improvement to note is the ease with which owners can remove doors, tops and windshields. Through lighter materials, thoughtful handgrips on the doors, reduced bolt connections on the windshield and a tongue-in-groove interlocking system for the canvas top, Jeep has made the open-air experience a one-person job.

The Bottom Line

There is a lot of new and cool stuff in the 2018 Jeep Wrangler, and it’s hard to pack it all in to a first-look article. But suffice it to say Jeep has done an excellent job toeing the line between protecting an icon and evolving the brand.

There are enough tech features that bring this vehicle into the modern era, but the capability remains top-notch.

I can see some purists who might be annoyed by a push-button start and the manual transmission not being available on the up-level engine. But there’s a lot to love here.

Editor’s Note: Driving impressions in this “First Look” review are from an invitation-only automaker launch event that allowed special access to the vehicle and executives. Jeep covered our accommodations, meals and transportation costs.