Review: 2018 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon

Dear Readers:
For years, Hooniverse and I have been providing you with exacting, original, and interesting content. Other than comments and votes we have never asked for anything in return.
Until now.
The month of January is an important one; it is the month of the most important holiday of the year – my birthday. I won’t ask for your good wishes, phone calls, thoughts, or even any small bullshit gifts. I don’t need any of that. But what I do need is the new 2018 Jeep Wrangler. Because it’s awesome.

Yes, as the previous owner of a CJ and TJ, I say it’s that good…

The new JL Wrangler has been hyped for a long time. Not so much by FCA but by Jeep enthusiast and journalists. This is a product that’s both difficult and easy to improve on. It must appeal to off-road enthusiasts while remaining comfortable for those using it as a convertible commuter vehicle. It must retain its familiar Jeep styling while being quiet, modern, and able to meet all the latest safety standards. There were many things that could be improved upon with the JK but changing things too much will upset a lot of people.
Outside, on first glance, not much has changed. In fact, the differences between it and the JK are subtle at best. Most visible are changes to the lights, front blinker location and shape, new LED on the fender, and the shape of the taillights. There is a very subtle bodyline along the side, as if to increase the width of the door. Pay attention and you’ll notice additional fender vents. The rear license plate is now neatly integrated into the rear bumper as opposed to just being randomly slapped on under a taillight.

In the few days that I spent with this Rubicon, no one really asked about it or more than glanced at it. It was basically invisible to other Wrangler drivers. Two people, one a Jeep enthusiast, asked if in fact it was the new Wrangler. I don’t know if that is good or bad. A new car is supposed to be noticed, but at the same time everyone wanted the Jeep to remain the Jeep.
The bigger news is inside. From materials to the overall layout, everything is changed and improved. But at the same time the overall layout remains very familiar. The dash benefits from things seen in other FCA models, such as the gauge cluster display and the Uconnect infotainment system. This was a loaded Rubicon model, so it had 12V sockets, USB ports, and even a 120V AC household plug input. There’s a handy new optional feature that’s a pack of pre-wired and fused auxiliary switches, which will surely come in handy for those LED light-bar installs.

The most important changes are the ones making life with the Jeep easier, albeit this is stuff that’s been in other cars for years. Keyless entry is now available, so you can just keep your key in your pocket. An available heated steering wheel is there to go along with your heated seats. A Wrangler factory first is a back-up camera and beep-beep sensors. There are also blind-spot and cross path sensors. Finally, the hardtop is available with a headliner, which reduces road noise and provides some insulation. Those who got their Wrangler mostly to fight winter weather and not rock-climbing should consider the optional full-time 4WD transfer-case.
But parts of the interior could still use improvement. The bottom cushion on the front seats is too short and the seat does not slide back far enough for those over six feet tall, which is probably a fair amount of Jeep buyers. The sitting position therefore feels slightly cramped, close to the steering wheel, and vertical. There is no dead pedal and one is desperately needed. Access to the rear seat still stinks, so for anyone thinking of actually using the rear seats, even for kids, I strongly recommend the Unlimited model.

The roll-bar is much different than it was on the JK. It now seems less integrated and more like a roll-cage now. There are now front tubes whereas before the windshield served as part of the roll-over protection. This allows for simplified fold of the windshield. You can now fit your hand between the vertical parts of the roll-bar and the doors or the hard-top. The soft-top and Freedom Top hardtop are the only choices at this time but a power hybrid soft/hardtop is coming and I predict it will be a big seller.
The rear fold-and-tumble seat itself is almost completely unmodified since the original ‘87 Wrangler. When the backrest is folded it also releases the bottom tumble locking mechanism, so just the backrest cannot be folded. This allows the whole seat to tumble forward during breaking, possibly crushing whatever was in front of it, such as my camera bag. To be secured, the rear seat has to be completely folded, tumbled forward, and secured with Velcro stamps.

The one good thing about the rear seat is its integrated folding headrests. They can be folded to increase rear visibility and they don’t need to be removed when the seat is folded. On the JK, the headsets had to be removed for the seat to fold. They would then roll around the trunk or forever disappear in the garage. The part holding them in place had the tendency to snap, too.
The new Wrangler is currently available with only one engine, the V6, but a turbo-four and diesel are coming. The carryover 3.6-liter V6 that makes a healthy 285 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. There is now an annoying start/stop feature, but the big improvement here lies with the eight-speed automatic transmission. It transforms this powertrain. The acceleration is much better and power delivery is far smoother. Highway driving is better, too. At 75 miles per hour, the engine hovers around 2000rpm. The 6-speed manual transmission comes standard on all models but we are past the point of it having any functional benefit over the automatic other than choice.

The things that have not changed are experienced while underway. It’s still a body-on-frame vehicle with stick axles and it drives like one. Handling seems unchanged. It’s top-heavy, but the turning radius is phenomenally short. Avoid high-speed highway curves and you’ll be fine. Emergency maneuvering will be more dramatic than in cars but it’s all certainly controllable. The seating position is high and you feel like you’re on the vehicle, near its very edge, as opposed to being in it – typical Jeep.
Despite the slightly more slanted windshield there is still a good amount of wind noise, which is to be expected in a square-bodied vehicle that can be taken apart with basic hand tools. The optional Alpine audio system does a good job covering the road noise. Still, if you’re looking for isolation or you enjoy conducting meaningful conversations about our purpose on earth, I suggest you get a Lexus.

Those who enjoy modifying their Wranglers will be happy to know that they won’t really need to do that. The Rubicon comes with 33” BFGoodrich KO2 tires and it looks like it has enough room for 35s. The tires are specific to the Rubicon with a new C load rating that’s previously been available only in E load in 285/70-17. C load rating means lighter tire with better highway ride but lower payload and thinner sidewall. There are steel bumpers and rock sliders. The headlights actually illuminate the road. Third brake light mounting is designed in such way that spacers can easily be installed to allow for bigger spare tire mounting. But right out of the box the Rubicon is a heck of a lot more capable than many modified TJs.
But there is one very big problem with the new Jeep Wrangler – its price. What was once a cheap off-road capable utility vehicle, perhaps a fun alternative to the common car, has become a comfortable accessory for the upper middle class. It’s not alone. The Ford F-150 is right there with it, along with a bunch of other vehicles. Jeep don’t care. Wranglers have been selling in huge numbers and obviously people are willing to pay. But still…

The base 2-door Wrangler starts out at almost $27,000. For that you get a soft-top with un-tinted windows, a manual transmission, crank windows, the soft top with full doors, cloth seats, a set of steel wheels wrapped in crappy undersized tires, and no air conditioning. I am actually grateful that a model such as that exists as I know a lot of people who have bought such Wranglers. And it’s not as stripped as it seems as it still has Bluetooth, an eight-speaker audio system, the back-up camera, keyless entry, tire-pressure monitoring, tow hooks, skid plates, fog lights, two USB ports, two 12v sockets, steering wheel audio controls, and a fully illuminated console. That’s a lot more than a TJ or a JK came with. Still, almost 30 grand is far from affordable for many fresh-out-of-college car buyers that bought Wranglers in past years.
There are currently four models available: Sport, Sport S, loaded Sahara, and the super capable Rubicon. The model shown here is an almost fully loaded two-door Rubicon with an as-tested price of $49,570. That’s insane and it doesn’t include the color-coded top and fenders, remote entry, or the new Active Safety Group. The four-door Unlimited model adds $3500 to each model.

After ten years we finally get a new Wrangler. It is undoubtedly the best Wrangler ever. It hasn’t undergone a revolution but rather a careful evolution. It’s the little things that really make the big difference here. Those who have a late fully-loaded JK would have a hard-time justifying a purchase of the new JL. Others, with older Wranglers, those desiring more refinement from their Wranglers and willing to pay for it, and especially first-time buyers will find a lot to love in the JL. I certainly loved it and I think it would make a fantastic birthday gift for me.  

Disclaimer: FCA provided the vehicle for the purpose of this review. All images copyright Kamil Kaluski/Hooniverse 2018.

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8 responses to “Review: 2018 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon”

  1. Damasconian Avatar

    Great review Kamil. A $50K Wrangler doesn’t sound right but the reviews have been so positive that maybe we need to adjust to the new normal. You fit so much information in your reviews, I love that efficient style of writing.

    1. Kamil K Avatar

      Thank you!

    2. outback_ute Avatar

      Agreed, nice work. It seems like the new Wrangler is a great evolution of the species with several items that you wonder why they were not previously part of the design such as the arrangement of the folding windscreen or the handles to make carrying the doors easier.
      On the pricing front how does it get to $50k? I think the base price for the Rubicon is under 40.

  2. jeepjeff Avatar

    A quick google indicates that in 1997, a 2 door sport (base model with the 4.0L) started at $17,000. These folks: think that’s around $26,000 today. Yes. There was a model down in 1997, the SE with the 2.5L 4-banger. There isn’t an equivalent being offered today. $27k sounds like it’s mostly inflation rather than the trucks themselves being pricier.

  3. Zentropy Avatar

    Excellent review.
    Once we had kids, I sold my 360 V8 CJ-7, thinking it was the responsible thing to do. While I often miss it, it truly wasn’t practical for my situation. A JL-UL, though, might fill that romantic longing but actually work for the family. It’s definitely on my shopping list when it’s time to trade in my current wheels, but with that steep price, I’ll be forced to look at used ones.

    1. Kamil K Avatar

      Yea, you can totally get a deal on the used ones and save yourself five bucks! 🙂

      1. Zentropy Avatar

        Wranglers do hold their value, but current resale is inflated because of low gas prices. I’m not due another vehicle for another few years (my wife and I generally keep our cars for 10), and I expect fuel costs to increase during that period. I’m guessing I can buy a 4-yo model for at least 25% less than new.

  4. boxdin Avatar

    Jeep dealer TV ads around here show 20% discount off of MSRP. A person probably do a little better than that. Proof of overpricing !