It’s easy to get caught up in the legend of the Jeep Wrangler. People that don’t know a thing about cars point to this SUV and say “Look, it’s a Jeep.” It’s a testament to its position as Jeep’s halo vehicle and brand mascot.
The latest Wrangler, dubbed the JL, takes everything good about the previous generation (the JK) and adds an expansive suite of tech options to the package. The end result is a product that’s more usable on-road, but every bit as capable off.
Our Wrangler Rubicon tester sits at the top of the trim walk and offers buyers capability first and foremost. The optional turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine (with a 48-volt mild-hybrid system) and 8-speed automatic transmission add $3,000 extra, while the $1,495 leather-trimmed interior and other exterior upgrades like the $995 LED lighting group package and $1,295 steel bumpers add a bit more. The $1,495 8.4-inch Uconnect navigation system, $795 Jeep active safe group with blind spot monitoring and cross-path detection, and $795 customer preferred package with tow hitch and auxiliary switches bring us to an as-tested price (including destination) of $53,900 – a $13,000 premium over the Rubicon’s $41,445 starting price. For reference, a well dressed Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro costs just shy of $47,000. This is not a cheap Wrangler by any means.
And speaking of the Rubicon’s hefty price tag, another option worth considering is the entry trim four-door Wrangler Sport, which starts at $31,445. Admittedly, the Sport isn’t as well equipped, but the price gap is profound. If you want a good portion of the Wrangler’s off-road prowess for as little as possible, the entry-level, barebones Sport is the way to go. Take all the money you’ll save and build the Wrangler of your dreams with as many light bars, steel bumpers, and lift kits as your heart desires.
Gallery: 2018 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon: Review
Wranglers have always been unapologetic and brutal in their design, and the JL is no different. Spotting the differences between a JL and the older JK can be tricky. The most obvious giveaways are slight variances in the taillights and the button-less door handles, but the raked windshield and grille, and higher beltline are also easy to spot. Apart from those tweaks, the JL maintains the DNA of past Wranglers, to the delight of Jeep purists everywhere.
The Rubicon has the strongest visual presence of the Wrangler’s three trim levels, thanks to its 17-inch wheels wrapped in 33-inch off-road tires and Rubicon badging along the sides of the hood. Our test car wore a coat of in-your-face Mojito! (yes, the exclamation point is supposed to be there) green paint that turns heads, even among South Beach’s usual automotive eye candy.
As expected of a Wrangler, owners can rip the exterior apart and put together like a LEGO set. The doors come off with ease (thanks to the provided Torx tool), the windshield folds down flat in just a few minutes, and in the case of our Rubicon, the optional Sunrider soft top tilts back with a few hard pushes, letting sunshine in on demand. Jeep made all of these processes easier as part of the Wrangler’s redesign, a welcomed change with the JL. So even when Miami’s notorious afternoon showers loomed overhead, the Wrangler’s Transformer-like abilities gave us the peace of mind that we would remain dry.
It’s easy to appreciate the Wrangler’s new, more modern interior. The optional 8.4-inch Uconnect screen grabs your attention before all else, but more on that in a bit. Considering that Wrangler owners will likely get this interior dusty, dirty, wet, muddy, sandy, or some combination of those at once, it is fairly well appointed, while still being durable. The Rubicon’s optional $1,495 leather-trimmed seats were comfortable, even over the course of a two-hour drive down to the Florida Keys.
Speaking of this road trip: we would be remiss to not mention just how much wind noise barges into the cabin, especially at highway speeds. That’s something to consider if you’re eyeballing the standard soft top instead of the available hard top and regularly commute on the highway.
Not to be overlooked, are the wonderful little details inside the cabin, such as the Willys MB graphic on the shift lever and corner of the windshield. These touches are a reminder that the design team had as much fun penning the JL as you will driving it.
The Wrangler finally has a real, usable infotainment system available. Three infotainment options are available, including the range-topping, $1,495, 8.4-inch Uconnect system that came with our test car. As is the case with other FCA products, Uconnect is an all-star. Menus are easy to scroll through and the steering wheel audio and information controls are nicely tied into the infotainment system. The clear 7.0-inch gauge cluster screen in our test car presents key information with ease.
An Alpine premium audio system is thrown in with the 8.4-inch screen that also includes an in-dash navigation system. Because the Wrangler’s doors are removable, the audio speakers are located on the front dash and above the rear seats (as opposed to in the doors themselves), which makes for hollow and somewhat strange audio quality. Unless you absolutely love the FCA navigation, you’re better served by the more affordable, 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system. As with the 8.4-inch setup, Apple Carplay and Android Auto are included with the smaller system.
We dig the auxiliary switches integrated at the bottom of the center stack, which give accessory-loving Wrangler owners the option to add aftermarket lights or a winch at will. Another noteworthy feature in the Wrangler are its numerous charge points: We counted nine in total, but there may have been another hiding somewhere.
New for the Wrangler is a turbocharged, 2.0-liter four-cylinder with FCA’s eTorque mild hybrid system. (A diesel engine is set to arrive soon, as well). While the prior 3.6-liter V6 remains available, our test car had the four-cylinder unit, which carries a $1,000 premium over the standard V6. The turbo four and the V6 are closely matched on paper, with the V6 producing 285 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque, and the 2.0-liter making 270 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque.
Having spent time driving both, we can tell you each unit is perfectly adequate, although our preference is the four-cylinder. The difference maker is undoubtedly the eTorque system, which provides an extra bit of shove off the line. This torque advantage over the V6 becomes more noticeable off-road, too.
We won’t waste too much of your time detailing just how much body roll is involved when cornering in this car. It’s a Jeep Wrangler on 33-inch tires, after all. Especially in Rubicon trim, the Wrangler is intended to be an all-terrain master, not a raceway record setter. And though South Florida is not an ideal off-road playground, the JL had a chance to get dirty on some of Marathon Key’s back roads, during which it never once whimpered or pouted. Steering feel is good off-road, albeit a bit numb, which is the mostly the case on the highway as well. As is typical of a Wrangler, there’s a very large on-center dead spot in the steering. Considering the Rubicon’s added height and tire size, we were more impressed by how composed it was in the variety of driving scenarios (mostly on-road) that we threw at it.
The Wrangler’s modernization is most evident in its safety systems. Our test car came equipped with the $795 Jeep Active Safety Group suite, including a rear-view camera, blind spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert. Hill Descent Control and Tip Start come as added goodies with the automatic transmission, which itself adds $2,000 to the bill. No surround-view camera system to be found here, but even commonplace features such as the blind-spot monitoring system are notable additions to a vehicle like the Wrangler.
The Rubicon with the four-cylinder eTorque engine and eight-speed automatic earns 22 miles per gallon in the city, 24 on the highway and 22 combined. The V6-equipped Rubicon, for comparison, earns 18 city, 23 highway, and 20 combined. In looking at the currently available powertrain options, remember that the four-cylinder is only available with the eight-speed automatic, effectively making it a $3,000 commitment, over the V6 with a manual. But with increased fuel economy, smooth shifting, and a slight advantage in the torque department, it may very well be worth the investment to option your Wrangler with the new four-cylinder.
2018 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 2.0T