By Greg Aragon
Few words inspire adventure and travel like Jeep. From its inception in the early 1940s, this first-of-its-kind off-road vehicle took soldiers to battle and civilians to thrilling, hard-to-reach destinations. In the process it became a legend.
So when I got a chance to test drive a new, 2018 Wrangler JL Sport for a week I jumped at the chance.
My getaway began when I picked up the keys to a shiny, black 2-door. The new JL model replaces the outgoing JK and is designed to celebrate Jeep’s off-road history, while improving comfort and on-road driving.
“Jeep has always represented the ultimate in capability and open-air freedom, and our all-new 2018 Wrangler protects that important legacy and takes it into the future,” said Mike Manley, Head of Jeep Brand – FCA Global. “The all-new Wrangler is instantly recognizable as a Jeep, staying true to the original, yet it is better in every way – delivering even more rugged capability, more ride comfort, more fuel efficiency courtesy of several advanced powertrain options, more interior comfort, more safety and more technology.”
New on 2018 models, the front windshield and grill are slightly more slanted for aerodynamics, the square backlights are set in, and there are air extractors behind the front fender flares to help cool the engine.
The Jeep Brand badge has been moved from the hood back to the side of the aluminum fender – a look reminiscent of past models. Add to this a set of 17-Inch, polished granite crystal wheels, side steps for easy entry, and a slick black soft top with tinted windows and the rugged, luxurious beast I was driving was looking pretty awesome.
After a quick walk-around, I opened the power doors, hoped in the driver seat and pushed the start button. That’s right; the new Wrangler has a push button start, which is something new to me. I then headed for Azusa Canyon in the San Gabriel Mountains.
Along the way, I cranked up the impressive Alpine Premium Audio System, with nine speakers, including a waterproof rear subwoofer, on the floor near the tailgate. The stereo is part of the Wrangler’s new Uconnect 4 media system that comes with a 7-inch touch screen, featuring AM/FM radio, available SiriusXM Satellite Radio, Bluetooth Streaming Audio, Voice Command, Hands-Free Calling, Apple Carplay, and Android Auto. The touch screen also doubles as a rear back-up camera when the Jeep is in reverse.
The JL is a Jeep dream to drive. It’s like a mix between a truck, a sports car, and a little tank. Mine was powered by the efficient 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 engine, with Engine Stop/Start (ESS) Technology that produces 285 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. ESS automatically shuts the engine off at full stops, and then re-engages for takeoff. The technology is engineered to help deliver an efficient performance, and can be disabled with the push of a button.
The Wrangler also came with a new eight-speed automatic transmission specifically calibrated to optimize shift points and deliver maximum torque to all four wheels. The vehicle gets about 17 city/23 highway miles per gallon (mpg).
When I got to the mountains I pulled into Camp Williams Café and General Store for lunch and to turn the soft top into a bikini top. This brings up another new innovation on the Wrangler. There are no more zippers to mess with. To take off the windows, you simply peel back the Velcro and pull the windows from the slots they are in; this is a big plus.
My next stop was the San Gabriel Canyon Off-Highway Vehicle Area. With more than 160 acres of rocky, sandy, river bottom to climb and play in, this was a great place to test the JL’s new four-wheel drive system. “The Command-Trac Part-Time 4×4 System with the NV241 GII transfer case offers legendary off-road capability and helps you conquer obstacles and tackle slick conditions,” says Jeep.
Other cool new features of the 2018 Wrangler include a front windshield that easily folds down; lightweight, high-strength aluminum doors, hinges, hood, fenders, and windshield frame; a magnesium swing gate; and the ability to drive through up to 30 inches of water.
For more information on the new Wrangler JL and other Jeep vehicles, visit jeep.com.