When a manufacturer has a vehicle they make that is popular, sells, and has a fan base best described as “rabid”, approaching a new generation of the model becomes a harrowing experience for all involved. Unlike a crossover or a minivan, you can’t afford to completely clean-sheet the design unless you want to risk losing the entire fanbase. You don’t want to just gloss over the old model, otherwise you risk appearing to give up on the model and again, alienate the potential buyers who were looking forward to an updated version. New technologies and advancements are a tempting offer, but too much and you risk pissing off the purists who stoke the fires that keep the sales charts looking good. And just in case you didn’t have enough on your plate, you also have to deal with government rules and regulations that keep changing by the minute, so it seems. From an outsider’s perspective, you have to hand it to companies that can keep one model going for decades…the Porsche 911, the Ford Mustang, the Land Rover Defender…all were changed incrementally and gradually, and while keen eyes can tell you where the upgrades were, the companies focus on change for the better, focusing on what is needed and not alienating the loyal fan base.
Jeep might have the worse end of the stick than even Porsche and Ford, because the Wrangler is one of the most modified vehicles ever made, has a fan base that spans generations, and has a lineage that traces back to the 1940s. Entire brands have passed along under the genealogy of the new model, the JL Wrangler. From the outset, replacing the JK Wrangler was going to be difficult, but replacing it had to happen…in this industry, being ten years old or older in design is viewed as a Bad Thing and familiarity breeds contempt. We’ve had our hands on JK Wranglers before (both in this Test Drive from last year and when we went off-roading in Maine a couple of years ago, courtesy of BF Goodrich) and there is nothing we can say bad about them. JK Wranglers are versatile, useful, and could be optioned as mildly or as wildly as you wanted. But with the JL coming out, there were fears. Fears that the body-on-frame construction would go away. Fears that the solid axles would go away. Fears that the Wrangler would become more like the Renegade cute-ute and less like the Rubicon Trail master legend that most people think of. FCA tried to alleviate those fears during the JL’s gestation period, but until the official photos started to come out, everybody was waiting on baited breath.
The 2018 Wrangler Unlimited Sport that Martin Autoplex got in is as fresh off the truck as you can get. This Unlimited Sport is a good representation of what FCA expects to sell the most of. It’s not a full-kill Rubicon, and it’s not the Thrifty Rental special. This is pretty much what you could expect to find on a dealer’s lot any day of the week. No, I didn’t go off-roading…call it a fail if you want, but I’m not calling the dealership and explaining how I sank a brand-new Jeep I don’t own outright with less than twenty miles on the clock frame-deep in the super-saturated wilds of Kentucky. Instead, look at this as what it would be like to live with…before you get to ordering the new bumpers, the lift kit, and so on and so forth, because who leaves a Jeep dead-nuts stock? Scroll down for more…
(Thanks to Scott and Brian at Martin Dodge/Chrysler/Jeep/Ram for the Jeep, NCM Motorsports Park and VFW 1298 for photography locations!)