the car junkie daily magazine.


BangShift Test Drive: 2018 Jeep Wrangler JL Unlimited Sport 4×4 – Rest Easy, It’s Still Every Part A Jeep!

BangShift Test Drive: 2018 Jeep Wrangler JL Unlimited Sport 4×4 – Rest Easy, It’s Still Every Part A Jeep!

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…

Truth be told, the Wrangler deviated from it’s original CJ heritage back in the mid 1980s, but tell that to legions of fans who still see the old Willys Jeep somewhere within the confines of the Wrangler. Imagery sells cars, and the Jeep has held on commendably well.

I’m personally stunned that the outside hood latches were kept, but this goes with the whole argument about the purists: you couldn’t ditch things like these without the Jeep faithful noticing. So, like any other Jeep, you pop two side-latches, pop the catch lever underneath the hood, and…

…you’re greeted with one of a few engine options. On this JL, we had the 3.6L Pentastar V6, rated for 285 horsepower and 268 ft/lbs of torque. It will get the job done, no questions asked. Newly available is a 2.0L turbocharged four cylinder that’s rated for 270 horsepower and 295 ft/lbs of torque. You can get the six-speed manual with the six, the four requires the same TorqueFlite 8 automatic that this JL came with. The 3.0L EcoDiesel is still rumored to be happening, but with the diesel issues flying around, we will see.

The body is more evolution than revolution, the only way this was not going to be a bad thing. The window openings are larger than the JK’s, the spare tire sits lower on the tailgate, the rear license plate is integrated into the bumper instead of being put onto a lifted block on the body (about time!) and liberal use of aluminum in places such as the doors, hood and front fenders is welcomed for weight savings.

Everything on the body exists for a reason…there is no styling just for styling’s sake unless it’s to evoke nostalgia (see: grille.) That vent behind the front fender, for example, is to relieve some underhood air pressure, and the body line under the windows adds some strength to the aluminum doors. The windshield has more of a rake than the JK, but it’s still bolt upright compared to most late-model cars and trucks.

The interior is such an upgrade from the JK that I don’t quite know where to begin. It is still every part a Jeep…the materials are durable, the gauges and infotainment look great and are intuitive, and all of the rotary knobs for HVAC and manual stereo control have a great feel to them. And notice: a transfer case shift lever! And one thing I didn’t get a quality picture of, but you’ll be happy to have: a button that shuts off that irritating stop-start feature in automatic-equipped vehicles. I forgot to push it once. Unlike a Grand Cherokee rental I drove last year, the operation is not seamless in this Jeep. Why it’s there in the first place in a Wrangler is beyond me.

The center readout can tell you just about everything you ever want to know about what’s going on with your Wrangler, but look at what you get standard: speedometer, tach, a PRNDL for automatics, fuel, temperature, and where the transfer case is. That’s an acutal permament readout, not just a chosen screen. NICE!

This is the Uconnect 4 seven-inch display. And it is just fine for what you could need it for. The stereo hits nicely (the optional Alpine sound system helps, of course) but if you are ready to hit the trails, you can call up a compass, an inclinometer, and in the gauge pack a diagram showing how much steering angle you have going on. Remember, this isn’t a Rubicon!

Easter eggs…easter eggs everywhere. Gotta admit, this one is pretty cool. That being said, I’d rather see a six-speed shifter here. Nothing against the TorqueFlite 8 at all…it’s a fantastic transmission and in 4Lo, holds gears beautifully.

Note: the optional extra auxillary switches. They are an option, but if you’re making lists of what you’re going to do to your JL, just go ahead, get them, and save yourself from cutting up the dash.

Want room? The four-door has it. You’ll never confuse it for a Lincoln inside, but four adults can sit in here in comfort just fine with plenty of headroom and manageable legroom for a full load. With just a driver and front passenger, don’t worry, you’ll be just fine. Seats are nice and supportive, and for the driver, everything is in comfortable reach.

Without question, this is my most favorite detail on the Wrangler: this vehicle information tag that is located on the tailgate. The measurements are in line with what you’d find on a military vehicle’s information plate. If anyone from FCA is actually reading this: Do this across the board for all Jeep products!

Rejoice, roof removal is still in the cards! You can pop out the “Freedom Panels” over the driver and front passenger like T-tops for a targa roof effect, but popping off the back section still requires hand tools and a buddy to help.

And just in case you don’t have hand tools at the ready, don’t fret: you’ll get everything you need in a neat little kit in the glove compartment. Thoughtful!

And in case you lose that, just check the hinges…they’ll tell you what tool you need.

There are two different styles of taillights for the JL. This is the basic setup, a racetrack ring with a light in the center. There is a second version that has an hourglass shape to it…that is the taillight with the blind-spot monitoring system embedded inside.

Those who will take their Jeeps off-roading will probably go straight for a lift kit. Those who will leave their Jeeps alone probably won’t go any further than a road like this rocky track at NCM Motorsports Park’s rallycross course. But just in case you found yourself in a situation, know that the JL, even in stock form, is still a competent off-roader. In the Sport, you’ll get the NV241 part-time transfer case, a Dana 30 axle up front and a Dana 35 in the rear, geared to 3.45. In this JL, the rear axle is a Dana 44 with a limited-slip.

Finally, price. The Wrangler Unlimited Sport 4×4 bases at $30,495 and this one stickers at $42,755. Package options bumped the price up: Customer Preferred Package 24S, which is a lot of interior niceties, power windows and locks, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, tinted windows and those 17×7.5 wheels, hit the hardest at $3,200. The TorqueFlite 8 automatic trans was $2,000. The Alpine Premium Audio System was $1,295. The black hard-top setup was $1,095, but you also gained the rear window wiper with washer, defroster, and panel storage bags. You delete the soft top with this option. The Technology Group, which brings you the Uconnect 4 system, the seven-inch display screen, an Android/Apple-compatible media system, satellite radio and air conditioning with auto temp control was $995. The Trailer Tow and HD Electrical group, which added the auxillary switches, the Class II hitch with both seven and four-pin harnesses, a 240 amp alternator and a 700 amp battery, was $795. The side steps were $695. The Dana 44 rear axle upgrade was $595. And finally, the Convenience Group, which is remote start and a universal garage door opener, was $395.

(Thanks to Scott and Brian at Martin Dodge/Chrysler/Jeep/Ram  for the Jeep, NCM Motorsports Park and VFW 1298 for photography locations!)

  • Share This
  • Pinterest
  • 0

3 thoughts on “BangShift Test Drive: 2018 Jeep Wrangler JL Unlimited Sport 4×4 – Rest Easy, It’s Still Every Part A Jeep!

  1. Gary

    I enjoy these vehicle reports. My wife is convinced she wants one of these. She’s never driven one.
    I want an SRT8 Jeep.
    The struggle is real…

  2. crazy canuck

    still need a base model option with lockers and 44s front and rear and at least 3.73s . nice to see led lights up front as an option though

Comments are closed.