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FIRST ROAD TEST: 2018 Jeep Wrangler

 Icons are dangerous blessings. A carmaker lucky enough to have stumbled upon creating one will bask in their brilliance up until the time comes for an update – one false move could mean certain catastrophe. Of all the iconic cars from the past 125 years, few have survived generations and decades like the Porsche 911 and Jeep Wrangler

2018 Jeep Wrangler

Both of these automakers need walk on eggshells when their product goes under the knife. Truth be told, although the 911 has kept its rear-engine configuration, it has undergone far more serious changes in the last 50 years than Jeep – they made only one mistake in 75 years and that was to put square headlights on the 1986 YJ. Otherwise, the Wrangler’s only just evolved from one rare generation to another.

The new Wrangler: For one and all?

The new JL Wrangler is, cover your eyes if you’re a purist, the most civil and refined ever. Has Jeep abandoned three quarters of a century of production off-road vehicle dominance in order to please and accommodate 68-year old aunt Doris who is shopping for something different than her bingo partners’ Chevrolet Malibu and Toyota Camry? No, they’ve not. And, yes, they have.

I review a new Wrangler almost every year and quip about the fact that I love this Jeep, but only one week at a time. I’m convinced that there are many buyers out there that would love to join the ranks of Wrangler owners but a brief test drive convinces them otherwise. Jeep is in the middle of a world-wide full-scale assault on the utility vehicle scene. They delivered 1.4 million new Jeeps last year in 200 markets, assembled at 10 plants across the globe. Now that’s a mouthful. 2017 is looking very promising.

Tools for off-roading

This new Wrangler has crossed over from the hyper-specialized vehicle to a daily-able conqueror of all types of surfaces. True to form, the JL can still out-pace and out-climb any other truck off-road. The basic Sport and Sahara feature the Command-Trac 4X4 setup with its 2-speed transfer case, 2.72:1 low range gearing and Dana solid front and rear axles. Crawl ratios are serious at 48.18:1 with the 6-speed manual transmission and 44.20:1 with the 8-speed automatic. Optionally, the Sahara can be outfitted with Jeep’s Select-Trac full-time AWD with locking 4-HI and 4-LOW thanks to its full-time t-case.

2018 Jeep Wrangler

The Rubicon is the Wrangler for those that play to win. The Rock-Trac 4×4 system’s transfer case offers has a 4:1 low gear ratio. Further to that, it gets all-new Tru-Lok electronic locking differentials and an electronic front sway-bar disconnect. And if you love to crawl more than anything else, the Rubicon’s 84.2:1 (6M) and 77.2:1 (8A) crawl ratios that you could walk your old overweight dachshund and never stall the engine.

At the launch event, we scaled up some of the most severe rock-strewn off-road paths I’ve ever experienced. The stability, grip and power at the Wrangler’s disposal seem to defy gravity and logic. What’s impressive is that all the driver need do before such an undertaking is flip a few switches and move a lever. For these exercises, the tires were slightly aired-out for a larger footprint.

All the right power

About the power. The new 2018 Jeep Wrangler JL returns with the tried a tested 3.6-litre V6 with 285 horsepower and 260 lb.-ft. of torque. Available with the 6-speed manual or 8-speed auto, it remains a sure and safe bet. However, if you’re a betting person and were looking at the V6 with the autobox, $995 is all you’ll need extra to spend to get FCA’s new 2.0-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder, derived from the Alfa Romeo Giulia’s engine.

This one punches out 270 horsepower and 295 lb.-ft. of torque on tap at very low rpm and essentially transforms the Wrangler into an unexpectedly entertaining driver. It includes an eTorque system features a start/stop function. Briefly, this setup works as a small battery that maintains accessories while the engine is off. It can even turn off the engine when coasting or when the engine is decelerating. Patient customers will have access to an optional 260 horsepower and 442 lb.-ft. of torque 3.0-litre turbocharged EcoDiesel V6 for 2019.

Really is all new

It is important to note that this JL Wrangler is all-new, with only a few items from the JK carried over. The new body and frame are now 200 lbs. (90kg) lighter thanks to the extensive use of high-strength steel, aluminum and magnesium. The old body-on-frame construction is firmed up which translates into an overall far more refined and relaxing Wrangler to drive.

The retuned suspension matted to a slightly longer wheelbase catapult to ride quality to a level never before seen in this Jeep all the while still allowing the Wrangler to ford through 76cm of standing water.

As a seasoned SUV pro, you can spot the subtle yet important changes made to the new Wrangler. The revised keystone grille, raked back windshield, and integrated turn signals are all and parcel to its lower drag coefficient. The cabin to has been overhauled with an equal amount of restraint design-wise but don’t be fooled, the instrument panel has been more modern and packed with the latest connectivity and communication technologies. The new seats could use more lumbar support on the passenger side but more importantly, this Wrangler’s interior could be the first in the truck’s history that owners will hesitate to get dirty.

At just shy of $34k, the 2018 Jeep Wrangler Sport 2-door is not inexpensive but there are no substitutes. The $41,745 4-door Sport can now realistically double as smart family utility vehicle alternative. With options, a Rubicon can easily top $50,000.

If you’re in the market for a Wrangler, this is the best overall version to ever leave an assembly line. It will be in showrooms right after the Holidays. Aunt Doris will never have to worry about getting to the bingo hall early in order to find parking anymore in winter…

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