Grab the tried-and-true? Or hope the redesigned ’17 is as good or better? Big questions surround the all-new Jeep Wrangler.

2017 Jeep Wrangler

2017 Jeep Wrangler

What changes will make the 2017 Jeep Wrangler different?

Everything – except a rock-solid focus on staying the No. 1 off-road compact SUV. Wrangler’s first full redesign since model-year 2007 will also aim to improve fuel economy while maintaining a unique image that appeals even to people who’ll never venture from the pavement. Dimensions won’t change much and two-door and longer four-door Unlimited-version body styling will return. So will body-on-frame engineering with solid axles front and rear, a setup that’s archaic but critical to Wrangler’s rugged character. New will be most components under the sheetmetal, including the engine, transmission, and chassis. A pickup-truck version is also in the works.

Why should I wait for the 2017?

To get what may arguably be the most comfortable, yet capable, Wrangler ever, not to mention being among the first to own the new pickup version. When rumors of the redesign surfaced, fans became nervous that Jeep-parent Fiat Chrysler Automobiles would move away from the vehicle’s time-tested design and off-road aptitude. Based on recent spy photography and other leaked tidbits, they need not have worried. Wrangler will continue to use its tried-and-trusted truck-type build, eschewing civilizing influences like coil-spring suspension or, heaven forbid, crossover-type unibody construction. It might, however, adopt some aluminum frame components to decrease curb weight and fuel consumption. Expect the lineup to reprise base Sport, mid-level Sahara, and top-end Rubicon trim levels for all body styles. There will probably be more than a few special-edition models, but exactly what they will be is anyone’s guess at this point. The pickup version will likely be available in extended and crew cab body styles, each with four conventional doors.

Check out our 2018 Jeep Wrangler Preview for the latest info

Should I buy a 2016 model instead?

Unless you absolutely, positively must have one of the (many) “limited edition” 2016 Wranglers, we think it’ll be better to wait for the new one. The redesigned model looks like it will have many worthwhile updates that will make it a better vehicle, both as a daily commuter and as a weekend warrior. This is an extraordinarily popular vehicle, with more than 200,000 sales in calendar 2015. Resale values are also strong despite having, at best, average reliability. As such, you’re not likely to get much of a discount on this vehicle, even though it’s in the final year of its current design.

Will the styling be different?

Yes, if only subtly so. Wrangler’s look is one of the auto world’s most iconic, and designers won’t mess with it. Expect the prominent seven-bar grille and round headlights to return, along with chunky wheel arches and character traits like removable doors and as much as 10 inches or so of ground clearance. Aerodynamic considerations will dictate more rake to the windshield and nose, but the ’17 will be instantly identifiable as the latest in a linage that traces its basic appearance to its World War II military origins.

Any mechanical changes?

Count on it. While the basic structure will generally remain the same, the 2017 Wrangler’s biggest mechanical change will be its automatic transmission. The outgoing model comes with the choice of a 6-speed manual or a 5-speed automatic. We expect the former will carry over for ’17, but the latter will be updated to an 8-speed. This should improve throttle response and fuel economy. The sole engine will likely remain Chrysler’s “Pentastar” 3.6-liter V-6, but it may be retuned deliver about 290 horsepower, an increase of 5 over the outgoing model. Torque should remain unchanged at 260 pound-feet. All models should come standard with part-time four-wheel drive (4WD) that includes low-range gearing for off-roading, but the system should not be left engaged on dry pavement. Uplevel models should continue to offer Jeep’s Rock-Trac system, which can apportion torque with greater precision to handle severe off-road conditions, such as climbing over rocks and ascending/descending sharp inclines.

Will the fuel economy improve?

Almost certainly thanks to (hopefully) lower curb weights and the new automatic transmission. Fuel-economy estimates will be released closer to the new models’ launch, but we’d expect at least a 1-2 mpg improvement in city/highway/combined mileage for manual-transmission versions and as much as 3-4 mpg with the automatic. For reference, 2016 two-door models rate 17/21/18 mpg with either transmission, according to the EPA. The four-door Unlimited rates 16/21/18 mpg with the manual and 16/20/18 with the automatic. All models will continue to use 87-octane regular-grade fuel.

Will it have new features?

Aside from the new mechanicals, the 2017 Wrangler will probably have a few new standard features. Bluetooth connectivity and a rearview camera will probably become standard across the board (they are currently optional on most trim levels). Otherwise, Wrangler will continue to be a pretty basic vehicle. Items most buyers take for granted, such as power windows and locks and remote keyless entry will probably be optional. Leather upholstery, heated seats, an upgraded audio system, and in-dash navigation should also be optional.

How will 2017 prices be different?

They’ll go up, and probably by more than the usual year-over-year inflation you typically see. Prices start fairly reasonably, as long as you keep in mind that Wrangler lacks equipment that is standard on most every other compact-class rival. A two-door Sport with manual transmission will probably start at about $25,000, inclusive of destination fee, which was $995 on the 2016 Wrangler. The Sahara will likely check in at about $32,000 and the Rubicon at $35,000. Four-door versions of these vehicles will likely carry a premium of about $4,000. Figure on another $1,500 for the automatic transmission, $2,000 for the hard top, $2,000 for the upgraded audio and navigation systems, and $1,500 for leather upholstery. Expect a fully loaded Rubicon Unlimited to top out at around $45,000. We think the pickup truck will split the difference between the standard Wrangler and the Unlimited.

When will it come out?

Release date for the redesigned 2017 Jeep Wrangler is in late 2016 or early 2017.

Best competitiors

Chevrolet Colorado, Land Rover Discovery Sport, Nissan Frontier, Nissan Xterra, Subaru Forester, Toyota 4Runner, Toyota Tacoma

What change would make it better?

Less weight and a more modern automatic transmission. And the pickup version is the answer to a lot of prayers, giving Jeep loyalists an entry in the resurgent compact/midsize truck segment.

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]