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Icon of the Jeep Brand: All-New 2018 Wrangler

By Steve Wheeler, March 24th, 2018

It's serious business when an automaker redesigns its most iconic and recognizable vehicle. So, when Jeep decided it was time to work on the next generation Wrangler -- which is sold in more than 150 countries worldwide -- it was a pretty big deal.

Manufacturer photo: The 2018 Jeep Wrangler delivers unmatched off-road capability with legendary four-wheel drive and is produced with more than seven decades of 4x4 engineering experience
Manufacturer photo: The 2018 Jeep Wrangler delivers unmatched off-road capability with legendary four-wheel drive and is produced with more than seven decades of 4x4 engineering experience

Jeep designers and engineers were given their marching orders some three years ago for the 2018 Wrangler. They were told that not only did they have to improve the Wrangler's off-road performance, but they also had to modernize the Wrangler's design and improve its on-road performance and comfort as well. But they were instructed not to mess with traditional Jeep design cues, and for good measure, they also needed to improve fuel economy. No pressure, right?

When Jeep was ready to unveil the 2018 Wrangler, the company invited automotive journalists to the high desert northwest of Tucson, Ariz., to get a first look. After a full day of driving the 2018 Jeep Wrangler -- on the highway and in the desert -- it was apparent that the Wrangler designers and engineers were paying attention. Improved off-road performance, check. More modern design, check. Improved on-road performance and comfort, heck yeah. And does it still look like an iconic Jeep Wrangler? Absolutely.

"This is the icon of the brand," said Scott Tallon, head of the Jeep brand in America, right before turning dozens of auto journalists loose in the Arizona desert to test drive new Wranglers.

When engineers redesign a car, they often have limitations placed on them by accountants and lawyers, but Tallon and other Jeep officials said that wasn't necessarily the case with the all-new Wrangler. The most important thing was maintaining and improving the Wrangler's off-road performance.

Manufacturer photo: The 2018 Jeep Wrangler delivers unmatched off-road capability with legendary four-wheel drive and is produced with more than seven decades of 4x4 engineering experience

"Every time there was a fork in the road (during the design process) the enthusiasts won," said Mark Allen, head of Jeep design.

The Jeep design team gave the legendary seven-slot grille an updated look that now shows both of the outer grille slats intersecting with the headlights. Dozens of different door, top and windshield combinations allow for endless configurations.

The new Wrangler is about 200 pounds lighter than the outgoing model. The hood, windshield and doors are aluminum, and weight savings were also achieved through the use of lightweight, high-strength steel in the frame. The result is a Wrangler that performs better and has a more comfortable ride on the road.

I drove a 2017 Wrangler from Baton Rouge to Dallas, and I can tell you the 2018 Wrangler has a much-improved ride over the 2017 model. The new Wrangler doesn't have what you'd call a refined ride, but it no longer feels top heavy or floaty on the road. Also, the Wrangler's new eight-speed automatic transmission has two overdrive ratios, resulting in improved driving dynamics and a quieter ride.

A 3.0-liter EcoDiesel V-6 (2019 availability) and an all-new 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder join the engine choices in the Wrangler lineup, while the 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 engine is upgraded for 2018.

Manufacturer photo: The 2018 Jeep Wrangler delivers unmatched off-road capability with legendary four-wheel drive and is produced with more than seven decades of 4x4 engineering experience

I also drove the Wrangler on Arizona highways, then turned off-road into the rocky desert hills outside of Tucson. My driving partner and I pulled our bright red wrangler up to a steep hill of boulders and rocks, put it in 4Low manual, and eased it slowly to the top of the hill. Skid plates below the Wrangler absorbed the hits as the Jeep bounced up the hill, unscathed and ready for more.

The Wrangler can ford up to 30 inches of water, and has excellent ground clearance and approach, breakover and departure angles. It can tow up to 3,500 pounds with an available towing package.

Designers paid attention to detail in the new Jeep, listening when owners said they didn't like the previous model's push-button door handles. The new Wrangler has door handles that pull to open, but don't look much different from the push-button handles. There's also an available power soft top that opens with the push of a button. A push-button start button is also new for 2018.

Inside the cabin, the new Wrangler has a 7.0- or an available 8.4-inch touchscreen with the most advanced and largest display Uconnect system display ever offered on Wrangler. It operates the fourth-generation Uconnect system and now sits prominently atop the center stack. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are supported.

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