Exceeding Expectations: 2018 Jeep Wrangler JL

Exceeding Expectations: 2018 Jeep Wrangler JL

Story and photos by Albert Vandervelde, additional photos courtesy of FCA Canada

After what seems like years of speculation, fake renderings all over the Internet and many cloaked spy pictures of testing the new Jeep, the Wrangler started hitting dealers this past spring. It is rare in the auto industry these days to have so much hype and anticipation over a new model. Has it met expectations or has the honeymoon period worn off already?

Known as the JL, the new Wrangler, like the previous JK version, comes in both 2-door and 4-door models and has two roof options – hardtop and soft-top. The hard top panels remove above the driver and front passenger for open air driving, suspension is quad coil springs over front and rear solid axle assemblies. Doors are removable and the engine is a 3.6-litre V6 carried over from the last model. Sounds an awful lot like the last Jeep JK doesn’t it?


So what has changed?

The 3.6 V6 now comes with an 8-speed automatic or a 6-speed manual. There is a new transfer case option, which my tester Sahara was equipped with, that is a part-time 4WD system which senses slip and transfers power front or back as needed – a good snowy winter road addition for sure. The window angle has been changed to reduce drag and wind noise. The hood has been raised to be more flat. An all new interior looks modern, though there is not a lot you can do with a flat Jeep dash. Lots of new electronic gizmos including back up camera, hands free, navigation, extra power outlets for all your devices, heated seats, heated steering wheel etc… to try and keep up with the Joneses in the automotive world. A new soft top, easy-to-fold front window, a rear integrated roll cage over all of the passenger areas, and lots of new bends in the steel all add some fresh style. A turbo four-cylinder is standard and a diesel option is on the horizon, so this is the first time since the 2006 TJ that more than one engine has been offered in a Wrangler.


What has not changed?

It still drives like a Jeep on the road. Wind noise at highway speed is terrible. The voice activation system actually told me to roll up the windows and turn off the heater as it could not hear me, then turned off. And I was driving a hard top– needless to say the windows were up and everything was turned off. You feel every bump in the road, and many pull at the steering wheel in your hand, making you drive like you’re over .08. I had a Mustang GT the week before – and it took bumps and potholes far better – but some may say these are the quirks we all get used to, driving a Wrangler. This is a two-handed driver at all times. The 3.6L engine is a capable power plant and remains unchanged from the JK model. The added two gears in the automatic are welcome and it feels like there is a right gear for the engine at all times.


The previous version suspension was stellar off-road and little change has taken place visually when you look under the Jeep. Like the JK, the drive shafts are a fluted steel style with CV heads on the end, which will need to be upgraded to something far more durable for any serious off-roading or adding taller suspension lifts. The front axle assemble has some changes. Back is the front axle disconnect system of Jeeps of years past presumably to try and eke out a few more ounces of fuel mileage. The disconnect is in the long side axle tube which is a larger diameter and will work in conjunction with your 4×4 system like the old vacuum systems did, though I see electrical connections on this new disconnect. The front axles also have CV-style axles and rubber boots on our tester model – though I did see in a Dynatrac video of their Code 1 build, the axle they pulled out had U Joints in the front – not sure the difference. I can see sticks and branches jamming in here and tearing those boots – time will tell if the Aftermarket needs to come up with a stronger boot similar to the RCV axle boots. Axle knuckles are aluminum, and steering geometry looks similar to models past. Obvious tweaks have taken place, which seem to be for the better. These axles are not backward compatible to a JK axle. Both front and rear axles sport next-generation gear sets; axle tubes are a different size etc… Wheel bolt pattern remains the same, so if you’re upgrading and keeping your wheels from your JK they will fit just fine.

More room has been added in the wheel openings and the new style of flare is two pieces and seems to be easy to pull apart to add even more tire room rather than the typical cutting and trimming JK owners have been doing for the past 10 years.

I’ll sum it up as an improved if not ground breaking new model. It’s still a Jeep Wrangler, and  drives like a Jeep Wrangler, on- and off-road. It will offer all the off-road prowess a Jeep owner wants which is currently uncontested in the mid-sized SUV market, and the aftermarket will fill your garage with all the customizable parts you can think of. It also comes with all the road quirks most do not look for, but you can live with those to have the Wrangler you want with that top-off driving experience we are all used to.

Now we can all await the new Jeep JT truck!




Categories: Features, Off-Road Plus