How do you redesign an icon without losing the core audience that has kept it relevant, and selling briskly, for decades? That’s precisely the dilemma Jeep faces every 10 years or so, when it comes time to put pen to paper on a new version of the Wrangler SUV.
Given that the Jeep Wrangler JK and Wrangler JL are both currently on sale for the 2018 model year, sport-utility shoppers are facing an unusual choice in showrooms.
Greater pressure still bears down on Jeep due to the retro styling elements that have tied together every iteration of Wrangler since even before the off-roader assumed that name for the YJ generation in the mid-80s. Make it look too modern, and you’ll hear purists cry foul. Drag one foot for too long in the past, on the other hand, and they risk it being left behind by the current styling zeitgeist.
For 2018, the Jeep Wrangler underwent a complete re-think, and while the end result might resemble its predecessor at least superficially (which is, confusingly, currently being sold alongside it), the number of changes baked in to this most recent redux of the archetypal sport-utility vehicle makes it noteworthy across the board. Let’s play “spot the differences” between the previous-generation 2018 Jeep “Wrangler JK” and the all-new, also-2018 model – “Wrangler JL”, “All-New Wrangler”, or simply “Wrangler” – that replaces it.
Rest assured that the new-generation Wrangler – imaginatively dubbed the “JL” generation as it follows the earlier “JK” – won’t be mistaken for anything other than a Jeep. In fact, until you get up close you’d be hard-pressed to peg it as an ’18, given its strong resemblance to the vehicle it replaces.
It’s the details that tell the story. While the traditional seven-slot grille might remain up front, a set of horizontal LED running lights with an integrated turn signal now sit integrated into the leading edge of the front fender, replacing the small, circular units that sat under the headlights for 2017. Those headlights themselves have also been redesigned, as has the angled bumper underneath, most noticeably in terms of incorporating a small, teardrop grille alongside a larger and less-recessed fog light. The hood also now features prominent heat-extracting vents.
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Along the profile of the new Jeep Wrangler there’s a style line that runs from the base of the side mirror all the way to the end of the rear fender, joined by a scalloped vent found just behind the forward wheel well. Previously, this was all slab-sided steel. A new running board configuration also helps set the 2018 JL model apart.
Out back, there’s a new bumper again – this time with integrated reflectors and a new licence plate placement – as well as a revised tailgate (lighter, thanks to magnesium construction) and tail light configuration.
Blink and you’ll miss it, but the windshield rake has been adjusted too, to improve the SUV’s aero. It’s also important to note that unlike in years past, the A-pillars on the JK stay in place when folding down the windscreen, which makes it much easier to do so.
It’s hard to say which version of the Wrangler looks better than the other. The newer JL is certainly somewhat more rugged than the JK, and it’s also a little longer (2 inches for the two-door, 4 inches for the four-door Unlimited model), and a teensy bit wider (one inch at the track, but the body width is nearly identical). It’s too close to call, and largely boils down to personal preference.
On the inside, however, things are much more clear-cut. Jeep has taken significant steps to upgrade the look and feel of almost every aspect of the Wrangler’s cabin, with the latest Uconnect infotainment system, improved gauges, and a new steering wheel all putting in an appearance. You also get the availability of auxiliary switches under the centre stack that are suitable for the myriad of aftermarket add-ons that are part and parcel with the Jeep ownership experience. Aside from the puzzling lack of a dead pedal (annoying on longer drives), the rest of the JL embodies the JK’s hard-wearing, rubberized, easy-to-clean aesthetic. Rear passengers in the four-door Unlimited will also appreciate the boost in leg room and more recline in their seatbacks.
The big news for the 2018 Jeep Wrangler JL is the inclusion of a new engine option to supplement the older truck’s standard V6. It’s now possible to order the Wrangler with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that delivers 270 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. Unlike the 3.6-liter V6 (285 horses, 260 lb-ft), the four is matched exclusively with an eight-speed automatic gearbox. This means if you want a third pedal you’ll have to go V6, where a six-speed is standard and the eight-speed is an extra (and comes with shorter shift action).
It’s always nice to have a drivetrain choice when ordering any vehicle, but the four-cylinder also brings the temptation of better fuel mileage to the table. With a combined rating of 10.0 L/100 km, the turbo unit undercuts the same-year V6 by 1.8 L/100 km – providing you stay out of boost, of course. It’s also a full 2.8 L/100 km more efficient than any version of the JK’s Wrangler’s V6, which means those who’ve been attracted to the Jeep but were deterred by its lack of frugality now have at least the beginnings of an argument in its favour as a commuter.
The redesigned 2018 Jeep Wrangler hasn’t made any sacrifices in terms of its go-anywhere reputation. Solid axles front and rear remain standard (with a tougher front axle housing), and approach (44 degrees), departure (37 degrees) and breakover (22.6 for the short-wheel base, 27.8 for the Unlimited) angles are better than they once were.
Updates on the new model also include a tighter turn radius, the ability to electronically disconnect the front sway bar to improve wheel articulation, a crawl ratio of 77.2:1 for the V6’s eight-speed auto, and a better forward crawl for the six-speed too. In Rubicon trim, the Wrangler JL now boasts 10.9 inches of ground clearance, which is nearly a full inch more than the JK Rubicon, while base models move from 8.3 inches to 9.7 inches. Highway and around-town driving is also noticeably smoother than in years past, and while electronic power steering might not help with the somewhat disconnected feel of the solid front axle, overall it’s a more pleasant experience when not blasting through the mud.
Despite moving to a mostly aluminum construction, however, there’s no real weight savings to be had in the new Wrangler. In fact, some versions tip the scales close to 50 kilos heavier than the older design, with four-door Unlimited models ballooning the most.
There are two big updates to the JL’s feature set that give it a leg-up over the JK, with the first being the improvements that have been made to the various top options offered with the Wrangler. The hardtop now offers removable panels that were once the exclusive province of the soft top, while the soft top eliminates the confusing and cumbersome zipper system that it used to employ, making it easier to manage. There’s also a new Sky One-Touch power top that offers a retracting centre section that splits the difference between a permanent hardtop and a fully convertible soft top.
Safety is the other major add to the redesigned Wrangler. It’s now possible to order a back-up camera, parking assistance, blind-spot monitoring, and trailer sway control with the SUV.
Worth the Upgrade?
Given that the Jeep Wrangler JK and Wrangler JL are both currently on sale for the 2018 model year, sport-utility shoppers are facing an unusual choice in showrooms: pay the $34,945 asking price for the entry-level, redesigned Jeep Wrangler Sport JL, or hand over substantially less – $29,295 – for the JK version of the same.
Things are even a little more complicated than that, because although there is currently mild discounting on the JL (around $750 on some models), prices on the JK have been slashed by over $3,000, with more savings to be had by savvy negotiators as Jeep thins out the older herd over the next year. That widens the gap between the two models to nearly $9,000 on some models (with higher trims hovering around the $6,000 off mark).
It’s a unique situation, to be sure. If you’re looking for a trail beast that will primarily be enjoyed far from civilization, then it makes sense to go with the cheaper JK and make up for any perceived inadequacies via the aftermarket, which is what most Wrangler owners will do anyway. You’ll have quite a cash cushion for third-party goodies with the money you’ll be saving. If you’re after a daily driver, however, it’s really hard to argue against the asphalt-friendly character of the JL, not to mention the improved comfort (especially in the rear row of the Unlimited), convenience of the new tops, and thriftier fuel mileage – especially if you’re looking to go with the JL-only turbocharged four.
||2018 Jeep Wrangler JK||2018 Jeep Wrangler JL||2018 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited JK||2018 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited JL||2018 Jeep Wrangler JL||2018 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited JL|
|Peak Horsepower||285 hp @ 6,400 rpm||285 hp @ 6,400 rpm||285 hp @ 6,400 rpm||285 hp @ 6,400 rpm||270 hp @ 5,250 rpm||270 hp @ 5,250 rpm|
|Peak Torque||260 lb-ft @ 4,800 rpm||260 lb-ft @ 4,800 rpm||260 lb-ft @ 4,800 rpm||260 lb-ft @ 4,800 rpm||295 lb-ft @ 3,000 rpm||295 lb-ft @ 3,000 rpm|
|Fuel Economy||14.2/11.0/12.8 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb||13.7/9.6/11.8 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb||15.0/11.4/13.3 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb||13.8/10.1/12.2 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb||10.5/9.4/10.0 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb||10.9/10.0/10.5 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb|
|Cargo Space||363 / 1,557 L seats down||365 / 1,328 L seats down||892 / 1,999 L seats down||898 / 2,050 L seats down||365 / 1,328 L seats down||898 / 2,050 L seats down|
|Price as Tested||$31,290||$36,940||$39,090||$44,740|