The fourth-generation Jeep Wrangler is a worthy successor to the original.

2018 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon
There is only one Jeep Wrangler, except for 2018 there are two.

How do you update one of the most iconic models from one of the most recognized automotive brands in the world? If you are Jeep, you do so with extreme caution. After all, you risk tampering with a product that essentially sells itself.

That product is none other than the Jeep Wrangler, the spiritual successor to the General Purpose U.S. Army “Jeep” widely used throughout the European and Pacific Theaters of World War Two. Neither sand, mud, hills or debris were obstacles powerful enough to stop these indomitable off-road vehicles.

When the war ended, returning servicemen purchased the surplus stock, individuals who had first-hand experience with them. Civilian versions of the Jeep were then designed and a star was born.

Fast forward to today and the Jeep brand is now widely available in markets well beyond the U.S. and Canada. Indeed, with the formation of Fiat Chrysler, the Jeep brand has expanded to include more models as well as countries served than before. War footage may serve as the best indicator of Jeep prowess, enabling the company to reach consumers in new markets with relative ease.

A Tale of Two Jeeps: 2018 Wrangler (JK & JL)

2018 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon

The Jeep Wrangler name rolled out in 1986 when then-owner the American Motors Company replaced the previous CJ with a new model. The change marked a clear departure away from war-derived models to a modern canvas outfitted with structural improvements undertaken to meet stiffer safety requirements.

The Wrangler itself is now in its fourth generation, with the new model rolling out for the 2018 model year. Although for 2018, Jeep had been producing both third- (JK) and fourth-generation (JL) models, enabling the automaker to ramp up production of the new one as it ended the old.

Jeep started JL production late last year and ended JK production in April, so if you want the latest model, you need to ask for it. Slight changes in design make it easy to tell the two apart. You can also reference a placard affixed to the inside rear door as it will identify which two-letter designation applies.

2018 Jeep Wrangler (JL)

Before we look at the JL at hand, here is what you need to know about the latest model. For starters, the new Wrangler has a base price of $27,495 or $3,750 more than the previous one. The difference is quite striking — 11.5 percent more — and much higher than what we would expect. The prices mentioned here include a $750 increase on the new model since it came out for all two- and four-door (Wrangler Unlimited) models.

Jeep offers three trims for the two-door Wrangler: Sport ($28,940), Sport S ($32,140) and Rubicon ($38,940). Choose the four-door Wrangler Unlimited and the prices are as follows: Sport ($32,440), Sport S ($35,640), Sahara ($38,940) and Rubicon ($38,940). Prices reflect a $1,445 destination charge.

2018 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon

Charting the Changes

At first glance, the untrained eye may have a difficult time spotting the changes between JK and JL Jeep Wrangler models. Happily, Jeep did not mess with the overall look by abandoning its traditional layout, sharp edges, strong shoulders and powerful stance.

Just imagine if the Jeep acquired contemporary fluidic crossover lines — the hue and cry from the faithful would have been enormous. Never mind the sound of heads rolling around on the floor at corporate headquarters….

The following are the important changes and highlights of the New Wrangler, Jeep’s internal name for the new model:

1. Discreet exterior changes.

2018 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon

The new Wrangler features a widened track and updated fender flares with available LED lights. The timeless seven-slot vertical grille layout continues. This time the now larger headlamps press into the exterior slots. The side-hinged tailgate design continues.

Standard equipment includes halogen headlamps, fog lamps, tow hooks, skid plates and 17-inch steel wheels. Upgrades bring in LED reflector headlamps, rock rails, power-heated side mirrors, a modular hardtop, all-terrain tires and an upgraded soft top roof.

2. Expanded powertrain choices.

The venerable 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 returns as the base engine with the new Wrangler. Jeep pairs it with a standard six-speed manual gearbox or a newly available eight-speed automatic.

This year, Jeep adds an optional 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four engine. The interesting thing here is that the performance numbers are not that different from the standard engine. Indeed, the V6 makes 285 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque, while the turbo delivers 270 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. Unlike the base engine, this one comes with the automatic transmission only.

Next year, a third engine choice arrives: a 3.0-liter turbo-diesel V6, generating 260 horsepower and 442 pound-feet of torque. It also comes with the automatic transmission. We omitted mention of the diesel in the specifications because it arrives in the JL’s second model year.

2018 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon

3. A vastly improved interior.

One of the complaints with the previous model was the overpowering dash assembly. Somehow, it just did not look or feel right in this SUV. This time, you will find a more subdued face and a lowered one too, matching the dropped down beltline. The cabin feels more open, which is especially helpful for anyone who tends to feel claustrophobic in tight quarters.

Mounted high is the controls. As you move your eyes down the center console you will find everything neatly labeled. It tends to get a bit busy there too— take note of the automatic window controls as they are placed in the middle of the console. Odd, yes.

The rear seat is about as snug as ever. It is most useful for children, although young adults will gleefully fit, especially when the roof is off and the doors removed. Certainly, this arrangement makes for a great way to cruise the strip!

Standard equipment remains thin with air conditioning worked in as an option on the base model. Cloth seats, a tilt-and-telescoping steering column and a washout interior come standard. Options include power windows and door locks, upgraded cloth or leather seats, a heated steering wheel and heated front seats. If you are looking for the premium features found in today’s SUVs, the Jeep Cherokee or Grand Cherokee may be the better choice.

4. Technology and safety considerations.

2018 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon

Jeep equips the 2018 Wrangler (JL) with an eight-speaker audio system. You will also find a media hub with a USB port and an auxiliary port, a second USB port in the center console and SiriusXM traffic. Also available are 5-, 7- and 8.4-inch color displays, satellite radio, a 9-speaker audio system, a 115-volt power outlet and a navigation system.

Among safety matters, the Wrangler has a standard rearview camera. Options include hill-descent control, blind-spot monitoring and rear park assist. You will not find such features as adaptive cruise control or emergency braking. Expect future models to offer such a package.

Taking to the Road or Off

Jeep supplied me with a Wrangler Rubicon with the base engine paired with the manual transmission. I cannot recall the last time I had a four-wheel-drive model with a stick shift. I remember riding in one, but I cannot say for certain that I have ever driven one.

Well, the Wrangler with a stick gets the job done. The transmission does not shift as smoothly as a sports car (as expected) and clutch uptake can take some getting used to. What is cool is that both the transmission and drivetrain controls are stick operated. That is something I like and different from the usual knobs and switches most four-wheel-drive systems have.

2018 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon

I drove the Wrangler more than 100 miles on the highway one day to attend a Cars and Coffee event in another city. The ride is not especially comfortable, but it was not jarring either. Steering is wobbly — part of the blame rests with the all-terrain tires. Still, this Jeep is best explored beginning on soft or gravel roads, then on mud sloughs and hills.

You can leave the Wrangler in two-wheel drive much of the time, but you will want to switch to 4H for better footing. The Wrangler acquits itself on uneven surfaces and goes where other models fear to tread. In the one area where mud filled the tracks, 4L came in handy. Carefully work your way through and the mud splatters everywhere, offering proof to all of a fun time had.

Improvements this year include new Dana axles and a Selec-Trac full-time two-speed transfer case. These go with the front- and rear-axle lockers and a limited-slip differential. Both four-wheel-drive systems supply full-time torque management and superior grip in low-traction situations.

Parting Thoughts: 2018 Jeep Wrangler (JL)

Based in part on what others have told me about the Wrangler, along with my personal experience with one, the new model is everything we expect, with perhaps a few surprises in the mix. These surprises include the expanded engine choices — I cannot comment on either, other than to say the turbo-diesel is also available in the Ram 1500, where the added pulling power and improved fuel efficiency are among its best attributes.

If there is one concern (or surprise) I have about the Wrangler JL is its significant price increase. Most people just will not opt for the base model as it is thinly equipped. So, you must start at the Sport and work your way up from there. Choose a Wrangler Unlimited and your price point pushes near $40,000. That may not be a lot of cash for established consumers, but for people entering the game, many compromises are in order. Yes, Jeep also affordable models, but then they are not anything like the Wrangler.

All in all, the Jeep mystique continues as best wrapped in a Wrangler or Wrangler Unlimited. With a pickup truck on the way and reports of new Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer models persisting, Jeep along with Ram should continue to provide the profit drivers for Fiat Chrysler.

2018 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon

2018 Jeep Wrangler (JL) Specifications

Jeep 2018 Wrangler (JL)
Segment Small Sport Utility Vehicle
Base Sticker Price $27,495 (plus $1,445 destination fee)
Price as tested $47,665 (Rubicon 4×4)
Standard Engine 3.6-liter, V6
Horsepower 285 @ 6,400 RPMs
Torque (lb.-ft.) 260 @ 4,800 RPMs
Transmission Six-speed manual or eight-speed automatic
Optional Engine 2.0-liter, turbocharged inline-four
Horsepower 270 @ 5,250 RPMs
Torque (lb.-ft.) 295 @ 3,000 RPMs
Transmission Eight-speed automatic
Seating 2+2
Curb Weight (pounds) 3,955 to 4,345
Wheelbase (inches) 96.8
Length (inches) 166.8
Width (inches) 73.8(with mirrors)
Height (inches) 73.6
Head room (f,r — inches) 40.7, 40.2
Leg room (f,r — inches) 41.2, 35.7
Shoulder room (f,r — inches) 55.7, 57.7
Hip room (f,r — inches) 53.9, 45.0
Storage (cubic feet) 31.7, 72.4
Gross vehicle weight (pounds) NR
Towing (pounds) 3,500 pounds
Payload (pounds) 880 to 1,000
Fuel regular
Fuel Tank (gallons) 18.5
EPA Fuel MPG (city/highway) 18/23 (V6); 22/24 (2.0L turbo)(
Manufacturing Plant Toledo, Ohio

This article was originally published by Auto Trends Magazine.

Read more: Getting Muddy – 2018 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 2.0 Turbo