The same, only better? Big questions surround all-new 2018 Jeep Wrangler

2018 Jeep Wrangler

2018 Jeep Wrangler

What changes make the 2018 Jeep Wrangler different?

A full redesign — its first one since 2007– that should revitalize this iconic 4×4 from the inside out, but without treading far from its traditional look or reputation as one of the most off-road capable rides in the U.S. It’ll retain the current generation’s basic dimensions and two-door and “Unlimited” four-door body styles. It’ll also continue to ride sturdy body-on-frame engineering with solid front and rear axles and coil springs. But it’ll realize needed weight savings by trading some steel body panels for lighter aluminum. Underhood, a V-6 could remain standard, but may be joined by diesel V-6 and turbocharged gas four-cylinder engines. And while it may not arrive until model-year 2019, a four-door pickup truck version is expected to join the lineup.

Why should I wait for the 2018?

To be among the first to experience Wrangler’s latest blend of modern tech and traditional toughness. You’ll probably pay more for the pleasure, but an ’18 should return more resale value than a ‘17 come trade-in time. Improvements in comfort, refinement, fuel economy, and features with no compromise to character or overall performance means it should be worth the wait. Expect a 2018 lineup similar to the outgoing version’s successful core roster of base Sport, upscale Sahara, and off-road-specialized Rubicon models. Also expect Jeep to continue to pump out myriad trim and equipment variations with names like Willys, Altitude, and Hard Rock.

Should I buy a 2017 model instead?

It’s in its 11th model year – an eternity for a motor vehicle these days – but still plenty appealing, be your motivation on-pavement fun, off-road adventure, or lifestyle lift. You may also be tempted to avoid potential reliability snafus associated with a brand-new model in its first year in production. Buying a ‘17 means avoiding what’s apt to be a significant price hike. And while resale values will probably take a hit when the redesigned Wrangler is released, they should remain among the best for any vehicle on the road.

Will the styling be different?

Yes, but Jeep’s task is to make the redesigned 2018 Wrangler look fresh but familiar. That means just enough styling tweaks to visually update the exterior, while retaining the classic two-box appearance. The four-door Unlimited will again ride a wheelbase – distance between the front and rear axles – that’s about 20-inches longer than that of the two-door model. That’ll again give it far more rear-seat room. And a body about 20 inches longer will again provide it with about 25 percent more cargo volume overall and nearly triple the space behind the rear seat.

Speculation and spy shots indicate the ’18 Wrangler’s front end should look largely the same, with Jeep’s trademark seven-slot grille and the front windshield perhaps raked rearward a bit for improved aerodynamics. Likewise, round headlamps will probably remain, though they will likely be LEDs. The front turn signals could migrate from below the headlights to the leading edge of the front fenders. A revised rear end could also feature a nominally raked back window. And it will probably borrow the “X-pattern” taillights from the Jeep Renegade crossover: they’re intended to remind you of gas “jerry” cans, a nod to Jeep’s military heritage.

Fabric folding tops are a tradition likely to continue, but reports suggest Jeep might ditch the current generation’s removable rigid roof for a permanent structure that would provide added structural integrity; it would feature multiple pop-off panels for open-air driving. Other classic touches like exposed door hinges, a flip-up rear window and side-opening tailgate, and large rectangular windows will probably carry-over to the next generation.

The interior will almost certainly get a full makeover, and could borrow cues from the subcompact Renegade. We’ll likely see large round gauges flanking a configurable display, large round air vents, and the latest version of Fiat Chrysler’s Uconnect touchscreen multimedia system at the center of the dashboard. Expect to see large grab handles, and assorted classic Jeep styling touches throughout the cabin, as well as assorted visual “Easter eggs,” like Jeep grille graphics or Wrangler cut-outs, like those incorporated throughout the Renegade’s interior.

Any mechanical changes?

Expect new powertrains along with assorted mechanical updates to make the 2018 Wrangler more refined overall while improving performance on-road and off. The current “Pentastar” 3.6-liter V-6 is expected to continue as the base engine, albeit with some engineering tweaks to wring out more power and better fuel efficiency. Expect about 290 horsepower, up from 285, with torque unchanged at 260 pound-feet.

Be prepared for a new 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine with as much as 300 horsepower to be a more powerful and fuel-efficient option. The choices are also likely to include the 3.0-liter turbodiesel V-6. This EcoDiesel is sourced from Italy’s Fiat, parent company of the Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge, and Ram truck brands. It’s currently available in Jeep’s midsize Grand Cherokee SUV and in the Ram 1500 pickup truck, where it delivers good fuel economy plenty of low-end torque (420 pound-feet in the Ram 1500) to the benefit of on-road acceleration and off-road grunt.

The standard transmission will probably again be a six-speed manual. Replacing an antiquated five-speed automatic alternative is likely to be the eight-speed automatic used in the Grand Cherokee. That should help performance and fuel economy. A more fuel-frugal gas/electric hybrid variant has been rumored, but don’t hold your breath.

One thing Jeep won’t jeopardize is Wrangler’s superior off-road prowess. To that end it should continue to come standard with a burly part-time four-wheel drive (4WD) that includes low-range gearing for off-roading, but isn’t intended for use on dry pavement. Higher trim levels should again offer Jeep’s Rock-Trac system, which can deliver torque with greater precision to the wheel or wheels that require it for the sake of conquering the most challenging off-road exploits, particularly negotiating rocks and ascending/descending sharp inclines. And the Rubicon will again be distinguished by beefier axles with numerically higher ratios, locking differentials front and rear, and an electronic sway-bar-disconnect system to maximize suspension articulation.

Will fuel economy improve?

Almost certainly. With stricter federal fuel economy regulations being phased in over the coming years, automakers are doing whatever they can to wring every mile from every gallon of gas. Generally, automotive engineers and designers can help boost fuel economy via powertrain revisions, weight reduction, and improved aerodynamics. Aside from some nips and trucks to reduce air drag at higher speeds, however, there’s only so much Jeep’s designers can change without sacrificing Wrangler’s recognizable brick-like appearance. And given the mandate to retain Wrangler’s brawny underpinnings and standard four-wheel-drive system, even a few aluminum body panels and a smaller four-cylinder engine can’t do much to cut more than a few hundred pounds. The ’18 Wrangler should remain rather heavy for a vehicle its size, especially compared with crossovers built from car-type “unibody” designs that combine body and frame into one, lighter structure.

Bottom line: expect Wranglers with the 3.6-liter V-6 to gain as much as 3-4 mpg over the current version with automatic transmission, and perhaps 1-2 mpg with manual. The 2017 two-door Wrangler rated 17/21/18 mpg city/highway/combined with the six-speed manual and 17/21/18 with the five-speed automatic. For the four-door Unlimited, 2017 ratings were 16/18/21 mpg with manual and 16/20/18 with automatic. in four-door versions. Turbo-four and turbodiesel V-6 versions could beat those numbers by several additional mpg.

Will it have new features?

Absolutely. Expect the 2018 Wrangler to offer a few added amenities it’s lacked, including an updated version of the Uconnect infotainment system with Bluetooth smartphone connectivity and the Apple CarPlay and Android Auto interfaces. A rear backup camera will likely come standard; they’ll be required in all vehicles beginning in calendar 2018.

Nonetheless, the entry-level Sport should remain very basic, with features considered necessities in other vehicles, such as power locks and windows and keyless entry, probably remaining optional. At that, expect the ‘18 Wrangler to again offer upscale items like heated seats, leather upholstery, and imbedded satellite navigation.

How will 2017 prices be different?

They should rise by a considerable amount, given both the full redesign and the growing demand for SUVs in general. The base Sport version should remain affordable, though keep in mind it should again come rather starkly equipped. Expect the Sport to start at around $26,000 (all price estimates assume the mandatory destination charge, which for 2017 is $995). The Sahara should start at about $33,000, with the Rubicon starting at about $36,000 and perhaps costing several thousands of dollars more than that with a full slate of options. Four-door Unlimited versions should again cost at least $4,000 more than the two-door models. Four-door pickup truck versions could add yet another $2,000 to the cost. Selecting the automatic transmission will probably add around $1,500 to the sticker price, likely with an upscale audio/infotainment system going for $2,000 and perhaps $1,500 or more for leather upholstery.

When will it come out?

Look for a release date for the 2018 Wrangler during the second quarter of 2017.

What changes would make it better?

The 2018 Wrangler should be a far more amenable ride with less weight to drag around and a more efficient automatic transmission channeling power to the pavement. The 2.0-liter turbo-four engine should eventually become the standard powerplant for the sake of improved fuel economy across the line, with the turbodiesel V-6 being the upgrade that bolsters both the Wrangler’s low-end torque and mpg. We’d love to see the new Wrangler come with a refined suspension that doesn’t beat up its occupants as much over potholes and broken pavement, yet remains off-road ready. Likewise, we’d like to see Jeep engineer the vehicle’s interior to help minimize road noise at highway Meanwhile, adding pickup-truck versions to the line is such a no-brainer we wonder why it hasn’t happened sooner. (Actually, it did–the vehicle was last offered in a Scrambler two-door pickup rendition from 1981-1985.)

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]