Meet the 2018 Jeep Wrangler JL
What’s in a name? To answer in regard to the iconic Jeep Wrangler, it could be argued that almost every distinctive trait that it possesses is tied to its moniker. Unlike the neutered and accommodating characteristics of nearly every other crossover and SUV, the Wrangler remains an anomaly that has never made any effort to ‘play it safe’. Eternally representing Jeep’s effort to wrangle the evolving demands of today’s SUV drivers, it speaks to both the culture of the automaker themselves and the customer base they inspire.
But as far as Jeep enthusiasts are concerned, you can keep your tame crossovers and your urbane travel plans. Behind the wheel of a Wrangler, greater challenges await, along boulder-strewn paths and the general uncertainty of trails less-explored. Road-readiness is traded for trail-rated performance without a second thought, and a bare-bones build just means a better platform for customization. Raw. Rugged. Ready for anything. These are the characteristics most commonly associated with the Wrangler.
But that’s not to say that Jeep, as an automaker, is incapable of luxury styling. Granted the Wrangler might be traditionally light on amenities, but Jeep needs no prompt to adopt a modern sensibility towards comfort and the inclusion of available technologies (the Grand Cherokee, of course, stands as a shining example of this). However, the differences between the Wrangler and its Jeep stablemates begs a philosophical debate: is a more evolved version of the Wrangler any less of a Wrangler?
The 2018 Jeep Wrangler JL serves as a guidepost in finding the answer. With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at some of the notable characteristics of this (arguably) more evolved Wrangler.
Engines & Transmissions
First things first, let’s address what lies under the hood of the JL; not because we’re trying to break disappointing news to you gently, but because the JL provides compelling options to choose from.
With the 3.6-liter V6 that comes standard, the JL serves up 285 horsepower, 260 lb-ft of torque and earns an estimated 20-21 mpg (combined). Right off the bat, this proves encouraging since it represents no change from the base JK powertrain.
An option 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine incorporates hybrid components in the interest of improving fuel economy but still manages to channel 270 hp and 295 lb-ft.
And those with an affinity for diesel can await the 2019 introduction of a 3.0-liter diesel which is expected to deliver 260 horses and 442 lb-ft of torque.
For traditionalists, the standard 6-speed manual transmission delivered all the craw performance needed to get the most of out of the JL, while others might prefer the smooth delivery of the 8-speed automatic.
Clearance; Approach, Breakover & Departure
Sure, the JL is pretty but can it handle whatever gnarly conditions an ugly trail can throw at it? With 10.8-inches of ground clearance, the base JL is off to a good start; but how does it measure up in the face of the kind of angles and crests an offroad enthusiast will introduce it to?
Offering true Wrangler credibility, the JL offers segment-leading numbers. In terms of approach angle, it can tackle up to 44 degrees. Breakover angle falls in about 27.8 degrees, and the JL can handle up to 37 degrees on the departure.
Water-fording (& Waterproofing)
Setting aside the challenge of rock-covered terrain and dusty inclines, what about water-entrenched trails and river crossovers. At low-speeds the JL can weather up to 30-inches of water, earning itself some amphibian stats and added credibility.
But what if you’re making the most of the Wrangler’s open-air design, to create a more visceral experience? More than a handful of people have come to regret that decision when it results in the need to clean a soiled interior after encountering a muddy situation.
With its’ waterproofed interior, the JL can be cleaned with the ease of a quick hose-down. Of course, drainage occurs easily thanks to the inclusion of the Wrangler’s drain plugs. Needless to say, the ease of clean-up makes for an easily overlooked, but extremely valuable attribute.
Now that we’ve covered the characteristics most important to purists, let’s talk about the JL’s inclusion of available technologies. While configuration may differ, the Bluetooth-enabled JL boasts an infotainment system built around an 8.4-inch touchscreen interface and a 9-speaker Alpine sound system, offering satellite radio, as well as Apple CarPlay / Android Auto smartphone integration.
And since we’ve addressed plenty of the JL’s substance, let’s get a little bit superficial.
It looks great. Carrying over every touchstone of the Wrangler’s iconic image, the JL takes certain liberties that help to differentiate it. From the keystone styling of the grille to the manner in which the roundel headlamps almost invade its outer slats, the tweaks are immediately noticeable but subtle.
Somehow the changes manage to appear both cautious and bold, at the same time. Perhaps cautious is the wrong term. Perhaps, it would be more appropriate to say that the changes are bold, yet respectful of the aesthetic that enthusiasts adore. The result is a tasteful refresh, and we like it just fine.
Does the JL represent an acceptable paradigm within the Wrangler’s long-standing legacy? Carrying all the attributes associated with the Wrangler, while adding in intelligently-designed upscale touches, the answer is yes.
In fact, it’s difficult to argue with the overall package. This is not an offshoot of the JK, trying to gain its own identity and steal market share. The JL is simply an evolved approach to what the Wrangler could be, and may stand as an important milestone in its continued evolution.
Bottom-line, the Wrangler can be a little bit of everything without compromising the heritage that rests at its core. The JL shows us this, assuring us that it’s still deserving of the Wrangler name.