FIRST LOOK: 2018 JEEP WRANGLER RUBICON
Grab a seat—we have a lot to talk about
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.