FIRST LOOK: 2018 JEEP WRAN­GLER RUBICON

Grab a seat—we have a lot to talk about

Four Wheeler - - Contents - By Sean P. Hol­man ed­i­tor@fourwheeler.com Pho­tos: Courtesy of Jeep

Grab a seat—we have a lot to talk about

LET’S IMAG­INE FOR A MO­MENT THAT YOU WORKED for a car com­pany and your next project was to cre­ate a new category of ve­hi­cle for man­age­ment. The ob­jec­tive would be to build a ve­hi­cle that could tra­verse dif­fi­cult ter­rain, while living daily life as a com­pe­tent driver that could eas­ily cover long dis­tances at 80 mph. To meet these ob­jec­tives, this ve­hi­cle would be equipped with large all-ter­rain tires, high ground clear­ance, and a four-wheel-drive sys­tem, and it would also have to be com­fort­able and have the lat­est tech­nol­ogy and safety fea­tures. Of course, this would re­quire meet­ing all ap­pli­ca­ble gov­ern­ment and fuel econ­omy stan­dards. Oh, and did we men­tion it should come in two body styles, be a con­vert­ible with re­mov­able doors, and have a wind­shield that should be ca­pa­ble of fold­ing out of the way? Sounds like a pretty ab­surd project and a ve­hi­cle that could never be built today, right? Yet here we are, giv­ing you the first look at ex­actly this ve­hi­cle—the all-new Jeep Wran­gler JL— and boy, is it good.

We re­cently had a chance to spend some se­ri­ous seat time with the highly an­tic­i­pated Wran­gler JL in New Zealand, and came away be­yond im­pressed. Not only is the JL a wor­thy next chap­ter to the Wran­gler legacy, but it is ev­ery­thing you loved about the JK with all of the fixes you wish the JK had. Let’s walk through the all-new Wran­gler JL to­gether.

Over­view

The Wran­gler JL is an all-new de­sign that uses a steel frame, steel body with strate­gic uses of alu­minum (doors, hood, and tail­gate), and re­tains the pre­req­ui­site solid axles with five-link sus­pen­sion. Over­all the JL is about 200 pounds lighter than the out­go­ing JK.

The Jeep team fo­cused on mak­ing a bet­ter Jeep, filled with thought­ful touches and pro­vid­ing a bet­ter all-around ex­pe­ri­ence, with one caveat: no changes could come at the ex­pense of off-road ca­pa­bil­ity. As a result, the JL is the light­est, most ef­fi­cient, most aero­dy­namic, qui­etest, and most ca­pa­ble Wran­gler ever. The en­gi­neer­ing team even de­signed all of the systems to pro­tect for 35-inch tires, and the Rubicon now comes with one-inch-larger 33-inch tires stan­dard.

De­sign

The first thing you’ll no­tice about the JL is that it looks ex­actly like a Wran­gler should look, al­beit scaled a bit bet­ter (thanks to in­creased glass area, big­ger head and tail­lights, and cleaner pro­por­tions) to give the JL a more ath­letic and bal­anced ap­pear­ance. Sure, the taller wind­shield is laid back a lit­tle more, and there are some small hints at the aero tweaks if you look closely enough, but noth­ing that de­tracts from the clas­sic Wran­gler shape. Take the hood and fender vents for ex­am­ple. These might look like ex­tra­ne­ous add-ons by a gra­tu­itous de­signer, but the re­al­ity is that they al­low for hot air to exit the en­gine bay and re­lieve pressure under the hood. When used in con­junc­tion with the new lunch­box-style hood latches, these vents com­pletely elim­i­nate the ven­er­a­ble hood-flut­ter that plagued the JK.

Over­all, the JL de­sign is much more com­plex and in­ter­est­ing than the JK. Whereas the JK felt two-di­men­sional, the JL feels re­fined and com­plete, lay­ered and multi-di­men­sional. The grille com­bines the best of past eras of de­sign, while be­ing able to stand on its own. It has re­turned to the clas­sic key­stone shape and the new, larger head­lights in­trude on the out­board slats, rem­i­nis­cent of the first fed­er­al­ized flat­fender Jeeps. By the way, those new head­lights (LEDS are op­tional) are now in­te­grated units, and not the re­place­able sealed beam–style lights like the JK has. You might also no­tice the re­turn of the kink in the grille, which was last seen on YJS and XJS, a on­ces­tal­wart Jeep styling cue that re­takes its right­ful home at the front of the JL.

The Rubicon ver­sion of the JL has what amounts to a Mopar High Top fender kit from the fac­tory, sit­ting a full 2 inches higher than the Sport or Sa­hara mod­els. This al­lows the JL to fit 35-inch tires right from the show­room floor. You’ll want to add a 2-inch lift kit if you want full ar­tic­u­la­tion without any rub­bing on a Rubicon when run­ning stock wheels.

The fend­ers also in­cor­po­rate the turn sig­nals now, a con­cern­ing rev­e­la­tion for those wor­ried about trail dam­age, but a high-vis­i­bil­ity im­prove­ment for those who daily-drive their Wran­glers. We’ve been told that the fend­ers can be eas­ily mod­i­fied if the owner wants to re­lo­cate the light­ing and trim them up. Jeep ba­si­cally did ev­ery­thing but mold “cut here” into the fender to make it easy on en­thu­si­asts.

Mov­ing to the side view, the JL fea­tures a strong char­ac­ter line along the side, which fits the larger door handle pull mech­a­nism and al­lows for taller glass and im­proved vis­i­bil­ity. This shoul­der drops from the A-pil­lar and mim­ics the shape and lo­ca­tion of the half-doors, which will be avail­able later in the year. Ex­posed hinges still hold on the re­mov­able doors, but the hinge pins are now dif­fer­ent lengths to aid with in­stal­la­tion. The tail­gate also fea­tures naked forged alu­minum hinges that match the doors. Gone are the JK’S chintzy plas­tic cov­ers, ex­pos­ing the hinges in all of their func­tional glory.

Chas­sis

Un­der­pin­ning the JL is an all-new chas­sis fea­tur­ing a 100-pound–lighter, high-strength steel frame that is fully boxed with five cross­mem­bers and a hy­dro­formed forward sec­tion. With in­creased tor­sional stiff­ness over the JK frame, the JL team had a much bet­ter foun­da­tion from which to start build­ing their new Wran­gler.

The front axle has been moved forward re­sult­ing in a wheel­base in­crease of 1.4 inches on the two-door, now at 96.8 inches. The four-door adds an ad­di­tional inch be­hind the B-pil­lar for rear seat room and grows by 2.4 inches to 118.4 inches.

Rubicon JLS con­tinue the tra­di­tion of us­ing Dana solid axles with the 44 des­ig­na­tion. How­ever, these are new axles based on Dana’s new Ad­van­tek ar­chi­tec­ture that don’t share any­thing with the JK’S next-gen 44s, which didn’t share much with the TJ 44s. The new JL axles are stronger and fea­ture dif­fer­ent ringand-pin­ion gears (210mm/8.27-inch front and 220mm/8.66-inch rear on Rubicon) com­pared to 8.8 inches on the JK. The Rubicon’s “44s” have been beefed up with thicker wall tubes and

are stuffed with 4.10 gears and Tru-lok elec­tric lock­ers that can be en­gaged on the fly up to 30 mph in 4-Lo. With any luck, we can say good­bye to the “smil­ing” front axles that were com­mon on JKS that spent their time on the trail.

The fa­mil­iar five-link ar­range­ment is still main­tained, but ben­e­fits from sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ments. For ex­am­ple, the roll cen­ter has been raised to en­hance hand­ing and feel, elim­i­nat­ing the JK’S ten­dency to wan­der in cor­ners and re­quire ad­di­tional steer­ing in­puts. Con­trol arms have been length­ened to take ad­van­tage of the longer wheel­base and the shocks have es­chewed the stem mounts for eye­lets. Mono­tube shocks on the Sa­hara and Rubicon have larger front pis­tons and bet­ter tun­ing. Rear shocks are now mounted out­board of the frame for bet­ter sta­bil­ity, which opens up some real es­tate for those con­tem­plat­ing coilover con­ver­sions. To al­low for im­proved travel, the elec­tronic sway bar dis­con­nect is again stan­dard on Rubicon mod­els.

Thanks to an ad­di­tional inch of axle width, JL’S track width is in­creased over the JK to 61.9 inches. This re­sults in re­duc­ing the turn­ing ra­dius and im­prov­ing ma­neu­ver­abil­ity. Turn­ing the alu­minum knuck­les on the “Dana 44” is a new elec­tro-hy­draulic power steer­ing sys­tem. This setup uses a burlier steer­ing box and al­lows for vari­able as­sist, more natural steer­ing feel, and of course con­trib­utes to fuel econ­omy im­prove­ments.

Sadly, front-axle dis­con­nect (FAD) re­turns to help boost fuel econ­omy, al­beit in a more durable elec­tric form, not the trou­ble­some vac­uum sys­tem of the past. Thank­fully, Jeep engi­neers have JL own­ers in­tent on re­plac­ing their front axle cov­ered with a soft­ware work­around that al­lows the FAD to be dis­abled by the dealer. These same dealer tools can also re­pro­gram pop­u­lar pa­ram­e­ter changes re­quired by en­thu­si­asts, such as gear ra­tios and tire size.

The lug pat­tern re­mains 5 on 5, but wheel studs are now 14 mm for im­proved strength. Vented front brake ro­tors have been up­sized by an inch to 12.9x1.1 inches on Sa­hara and Rubicon mod­els, and Ru­bi­cons get 13.4x.55inch solid ro­tors in the rear. Calipers are 2-inch

twin-pis­ton float­ing-style in the front and 1.9inch sin­gle-pis­ton floaters in the rear.

Rubicon rolling stock now con­sists of larger 33-inch-tall LT285/70R17 Bf­goodrich All-ter­rain KO tires, which con­trib­ute to the Rubicon’s im­pres­sive 10.9-inch run­ning ground clear­ance, an ap­proach an­gle of 44 de­grees, breakover an­gle of 27.8 de­grees, and a de­par­ture an­gle of 37 de­grees on the two-door and 43.9/22.6/37 on the four-door. Com­pare this to the JK’S twodoor num­bers of 42.2/25.8/32.3 and four-door num­bers of 42.2/21.2/32.5, and you can see the JL has moved solidly in the right di­rec­tion. Rubicon wheels are 17x7.5 inches and there are two styles avail­able.

Driv­e­train

Stan­dard power in the JL comes courtesy of the 285hp, 260 lb-ft 3.6L Pen­tas­tar V-6. This en­hanced Pen­tas­tar has been im­proved for torque de­liv­ery that comes ear­lier in the power­band and is backed by ei­ther an eight-speed au­to­matic or six-speed man­ual trans­mis­sion.

The 850RE Torque­flite au­to­matic fea­tures a low 4.71:1 First gear, and when paired with the Rubicon’s NV241OR Rock Trac 4:1 (still with a man­ual shifter and me­chan­i­cal link­age), de­liv­ers a Jk-beat­ing 77.2:1 crawl ra­tio (com­pared to 58.9:1 with the cur­rent five-speed au­to­matic). Re­plac­ing the old ZF six-speed man­ual trans­mis­sion is a new six-speed unit built by Aisin. The new D478 man­ual, only avail­able with the Pen­tas­tar, fea­tures a shock­ingly low 5.13 First gear, mak­ing the man­ual Rubicon the fac­tory crawl­ing champ with an as­ton­ish­ing crawl ra­tio of 84.2:1. The ca­ble-op­er­ated shifting mech­a­nism also iso­lates the shifter from the driv­e­train for bet­ter NVH and of­fers 50 per­cent shorter throws and im­proved feel. Jeep engi­neers moved Re­verse from the far side of the shift gate next to Sixth over to the near side next to First in or­der to make it eas­ier for a driver to rock the Jeep out of a stuck sit­u­a­tion.

Un­like the JK, the JL will of­fer two other en­gine op­tions. Launch­ing along­side the Pen­tas­tar will be a frisky 2.0L direct-in­jected and tur­bocharged I-4 with 270 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. This four-cylin­der will come stan­dard with Jeep’s new etorque sys­tem, which in­tro­duces mild hy­brid fea­tures and elec­tri­fi­ca­tion into the Wran­gler line for the first time. The highly an­tic­i­pated 3.0L V-6 Ecodiesel, which is slated to make an ap­pear­ance start­ing some­time in 2019, will come to mar­ket with 260 hp and 442 lb-ft of torque.

In­te­rior

Ar­guably the most sig­nif­i­cant change to the JL is on the in­side, where the oc­cu­pants are treated to a world-class in­te­rior. Fit and finish and ma­te­ri­als are de­serv­ing of a lux­ury brand, and the switchgear has a qual­ity, tac­tile feel. Grab han­dles adorn both the A- and B-pil­lars, aid­ing with ingress.

A shorter, much more up­scale dash makes the front of the cabin feel spa­cious and is dom­i­nated by a state-of-the-art 8.4-inch Ucon­nect head unit that can re­sist dust and mois­ture. Me­chan­i­cal gauges flank a fea­ture-packed driver information cen­ter that feels modern without be­ing the full dig­i­tal gauge pack­age you’ll find on the Grand Chero­kee. Er­gonomics are en­hanced with the locker and sway bar switchgear mov­ing to the cen­ter stack where they can eas­ily be found by touch. Win­dow con­trols are still in the cen­ter stack, as are a set of four aux­il­iary switches ready for your lights, com­pres­sor, or other elec­tric needs (the mir­ror ad­just­ment switch and door locks are on the door pan­els), and the dash­board grab handle even has a flat spot to mount a ra­dio mic or other de­vice.

While stor­age is still not a strong point of the Wran­gler, there are more use­able cub­bies and pock­ets than be­fore, and Jeep even made the cuphold­ers square to bet­ter hold cell phones. Even the front seat­backs have an in­cluded MOLLE sys­tem for adapt­ing your own stor­age needs to the JL. Jeep didn’t ig­nore rear seat pas­sen­gers ei­ther, with an ad­di­tional inch of legroom, a seat back an­gled more deeply, and for the first time, a cen­ter arm­rest with cuphold­ers.

In­creased glass area, a re­lo­cated wiper mo­tor, smaller third brake light (which is ad­justable in height to ac­com­mo­date big­ger af­ter­mar­ket tires), and a lower mounted spare im­prove vis­i­bil­ity, and the low­ered belt­line puts the bot­tom of the win­dow at just the right spot to rest your el­bow with the win­dow down. Rear head­rests can also be eas­ily folded out of the way, fur­ther im­prov­ing your view of the out­side world. The in­side view is im­proved with a suite of in­te­rior LED light­ing.

Even the cargo area is more func­tional. A re­lo­cated rear sub­woofer in the load floor is wa­ter­proof and out of the way, and the new op­tional Trail Rail cargo man­age­ment sys­tem adds greater flex­i­bil­ity in how you se­cure your cargo. Those who run high-draw ac­ces­sories, like fridges, on the trail will also be happy to know the rear power out­let is al­ways hot and the wire gauge has been in­creased for bet­ter re­li­a­bil­ity. On four-door JLS, the rear seat folds flat (two-doors still tum­ble forward and use a tether to se­cure) and now in­cludes a gap cover to pro­tect your lower back when sleep­ing in the back.

The tail­gate, which has been beefed up with an in­ter­nal cast mag­ne­sium struc­ture, sports yet an­other MOLLE cargo man­age­ment grid on the in­side, next to a cool JL data plate. A flat spot has been stamped into the top of the tail­gate to place your bev­er­age of choice when tak­ing breaks from wheel­ing.

Our Take

Af­ter spend­ing one-on-one time with the Wran­gler Rubicon JL, it’s dif­fi­cult to come away unim­pressed. The amount of work that went into not only pre­serv­ing the Wran­gler’s way of life, but to ac­tu­ally im­prove upon it is ad­mirable. De­spite ru­mors to the con­trary, the axles are solid, the wind­shield folds, and Jeep did right by the en­thu­si­as­tic fan base that sup­ports the brand. In no un­cer­tain terms it is an amaz­ing feat, and the JL is hands-down the best Wran­gler ever made. We can’t wait to see what you are go­ing to do with yours.

-> The cen­ter stack now fea­tures repo­si­tioned locker and sway bar dis­con­nect switches, as well as four aux­il­iary switches. Cuphold­ers are now square to bet­ter ac­com­mo­date cell phones.

<| A gor­geous new in­te­rior is a wel­come ad­di­tion to the JL. Not only is it well laid out, but it is also a great place to spend time and has been de­signed to with­stand water and dust.

-> We love the new float­ing soft top de­sign that al­lows shade for a pet or easy ac­cess to the cooler without hav­ing to fold the entire top down.

-> Lots of im­prove­ments have gone into the front end, in­clud­ing alu­minum knuck­les, larger front shocks, and a larger steer­ing sta­bi­lizer, which is no longer the first thing to get bashed on the trail.

<| The JL’S hood and fender vents are func­tional, and the re­designed hood latches have a void to ac­com­mo­date a re­mote winch con­troller ca­ble.

|> With the full-length sport bar, you can now fold down the wind­shield and keep the top up. The wind­shield can be folded by re­mov­ing four bolts and the wind­shield wipers in a process that takes about 5 min­utes, a huge im­prove­ment over the JK.

|> This cool data plate is mounted to the tail­gate on JLS.

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