The Jeep Wrangler is one of the most legendary American vehicles ever produced. Birthed from the military Jeeps of old, the Wrangler has long been the go-to vehicle for 4x4 enthusiasts seeking the most extreme vehicle they could find for a reasonable price. But the Wrangler is more than that. It’s a brand in and of itself with the spirit of adventure at its heart.

While many CUVs and SUVs boast about their versatility and capability off the pavement, the Wrangler will soldier on well past the point where most these vehicles have to turn back. The Wrangler’s persona is so well established and its reputation so well-known that anyone who wants to be seen as the adventurous type has considered purchasing a Wrangler.

2018 Jeep Wrangler Sahara in black

The Wrangler’s customer base is diverse and those customers' needs vary. The majority of Wranglers sold don’t see much use off-road. In fact, Jeep’s fine PR folks told us that only somewhere between 25 to 35 percent of Wranglers really get put to the test off-road. The majority of these vehicles take to city streets and rural highways like every other vehicle.

With all this in mind, we weren’t sure what the new 2018 Jeep Wrangler would really be. Would FCA go all-out after its majority of pavement-happy shoppers or would the company stick to its roots? Jeep recently invited us to drive the new 2018 Wrangler on roads and trails just outside of Tucson, Arizona, to find out. Here’s what the new Wrangler is really like.

It’s Better Looking, Easier to Use, and Modern

2018 Jeep Wrangler front end

Jeep obviously has something with the Wrangler’s boxy style. The vehicle has always had a similar shape and the new 2018 model is no different. While there are modern styling cues, the brand actually went back to many of its heritage models to pull styling elements from the early Jeeps and make this new 2018 Wrangler fit in.

The iconic round headlight shape is still there, as is a seven slated grille design. The headlights intrude on the grille design a little bit just like the old CJs. The headlights themselves are very modern in that they have a round-shaped halo LED bulb and a few other LEDs inside the round housing. This is a fantastic mixture of old aesthetics and new technology. The LED version of the headlight is the upgraded one as there's a less advanced version for lower trim levels.  The square taillights are new, too. Jeep has two different styles, a standard square taillight and a LED version with a slightly different shape.

2018 Jeep Wrangler rear

There are also some fender vents on the new Jeep that are functional, in that they help with aerodynamics. We were told that air gets stuck under the hood of the previous versions of the Wrangler and the fender vents are designed to let that air out. We usually aren’t huge fans of fender vents in general, but these don’t look too bad and are warranted because they actually do something. There are not like the fake fender vents you see on a lot of midsize sedans. 

As far as ease of use goes, the 2018 Wrangler is the best ever. It used to be the case that when you bought a Wrangler you just had to accept that some things were going to be difficult. Well, not everything is as easy as with other cars, but the 2018 Jeep Wrangler marks a massive improvement. The soft top now slides into place via groves instead of using finger-slicing zippers, the hardtop is similarly easy to remove and comes off in a series of panels, and there’s now even a power retractable soft top that can be operated at speeds up to 60 mph.

2018 Jeep Wrangler cabin

Inside the cabin, things are modern, though not exactly spacious. There are numerous spaces for your phone around the cup holders and a useable center console storage space. Jeep did cheap out and use nets on the doors instead of actual storage bins. This was supposedly done to make the doors easier to remove, but we see it more as a cost-cutting measure.

Gone are the days of driving Wranglers with no infotainment system. The 2018 Wrangler gets four different systems with either a 5.0, 7.0, or 8.4-inch display. The next-gen Uconnect system is available on models with the 7.0 or 8.4-inch screens. This new version of the infotainment system includes things like Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and navigation. We didn’t have a chance to get into a base Sport model and test out the basic system but even that has to be better than the basic radio that the 2017 model comes with.

2018 Jeep Wrangler infotainment

From a safety standpoint, the Wrangler is up to date, too. Jeep said there are over 75 active and passive safety and security features on the new model. Rear backup cameras are standard across trim levels, and some advanced safety features include blind-spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, all-speed traction control, four standard airbags, and Uconnect Customer Care.

New Powerplants, Better Driving Dynamics, and More Civilized

2018 Jeep Wrangler Sahara black

There are three engines for the new version of the Wrangler, and there’s a plug-in hybrid variant coming a few years down the line. For 2018, the choices will be either a revised version of the 3.6-liter V6 mated to a six-speed manual or eight-speed automatic transmission that makes 285 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque, or a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with eTorque technology mated to only an eight-speed automatic that makes 270 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. A 3.0-liter EcoDiesel V6 with an eight-speed automatic will be available come 2019. We got to spend time in both the 2.0-liter four-pot and the 3.6-liter V6 (manual) during our time with the vehicle.

The turbocharged four-cylinder is what we drove first. We drove the Sahara trim of the Wrangler Unlimited and our first thought about this engine was that it’s downright punchy. You can leisurely drive around in traffic without ever getting into the turbocharged power. If you need some extra oomph, simply press the pedal down and the little four-pot suddenly comes alive. It’s not a very linear power band, but it does offer plenty of power when you need it. We didn't notice the eTorque technology light hybrid system doing its thing at all. It's there to smooth automatic start/stop, provide electric power assist, and improve fuel economy, but its impact on how the vehicle drives is imperceptible.

2018 Jeep Wrangler four-cylinder engine

We drove the four-cylinder on the highway, country roads, some city streets, and a few trails and noticed an indicated 27 to 28 mpg. The four-cylinder's EPA numbers haven’t been released yet, but we wouldn’t be surprised to see a highway rating of around 30 mpg if driven conservatively.

The 3.6-liter V6 is a different animal. It offers smooth and linear power and the manual transmission is notchy and somewhat hefty. The clutch has a good feel to it, and it is not so heavy that your left leg would get exhausted in stop-and-go traffic. We only had a short time in the V6 model, but we found it very enjoyable. It’s not hard to drive this version of the Wrangler smoothly. The V6 model manages 18 mpg city and 23 mpg highway.

2018 Jeep Wrangler headlight close up

Speaking of smooth, the Wrangler's ride is improved on the road. It’s still not sedan smooth, but the body-on-frame SUV does a good job of fulfilling the needs of the folks who want to daily this vehicle on the street. Steering is more precise, though still vaguer than most other vehicles, and the Wrangler doesn’t lean as much in the corners as it used to. Still, it’s definitely not much interested in taking on a twisty road at high speeds. The new electro-hydraulic steering is well-weighted and calibrated. There isn't much steering feedback from the road.

You can tell that Jeep took its time to refine the overall on-road experience. The new Wrangler is quieter than ever before, even with the soft top. That being said, there’s still more road noise and wind noise that makes it into the cabin than in other vehicles. You can easily carry on a conversation, even at higher speeds, which is a plus and makes putting up with the noise levels tolerable.

It’s Still an Off-Roader at Heart

2018 Jeep Wrangler off-road driving

The new Wrangler is more enjoyable and civilized on the road, but that’s still not where it’s most comfortable. The thing thrives off-road. The Sport and Sahara models can handle more than most other SUVs, and the Rubicon can take on some of the toughest terrains out there. We did some pretty gnarly rock crawling with spotter guiding us along, and the only limitation was us as the driver. What struck us about off-roading in the Rubicon was just how sure-footed it felt. We took it nice and slow and followed our spotters, and the Wrangler never felt like it was slipping or strained to make it over the rocks and down the steep trails. It just kept moving with what seemed like no effort.

2018 Jeep Wrangler off-roading

The new Wrangler has better approach, departure, and breakover angles for both the two and four-door models. The Rubicon has the best numbers at 44 degrees (approach), 37 degrees (rear), and 27.8 degrees (breakover). The Sport and Sahara models get Jeep’s Command Trac 4x4 system that has a low-range for rock crawling, and the vehicle can be flat towed while in neutral. The Rubicon gets the Rock-Trac system that has even better gearing for off-roading, electronic locking differentials, and an electronic front sway bar disconnect. The Rubicon also has new Dana 44 front and rear axles as standard equipment.

2018 Jeep Wrangler pitch and roll

New for the 2018 model is the intuitive Selec-Trac full-time transfer case with four-wheel drive mode. This system is available on the Sahara model only and provides continuous power to the front and rear wheels. It's likely to be the choice of many folks who don't do much off-roading as it's the easiest system to use and is still quite good at getting you through difficult terrain. 

This is the Best Wrangler Ever

three 2018 Jeep Wranglers in a row

We think Jeep hit this new version of the model out of the park. They kept the vehicle’s iconic styling and ethos but improved most of the gripes we had. It still feels and looks like a Wrangler, but it offers modern amenities, a smoother on-road experience, and some serious off-road credentials. That’s not to say it’s faultless. You still have to want to drive a Wrangler and be willing to put up with more road noise less cargo space, and only decent driving dynamics. If you only plan on driving on the street there are better vehicles out there for you. That said, we know plenty of people will put up with the Wrangler’s quirks because they simply want to own one of these iconic vehicles.

2018 Jeep Wranglers driving off road.

If you were on the fence about this model and considering something a little posher, we suggest you take a long hard look at this new Wrangler, especially the higher trim levels before you decide. It’s better than before. Still, other SUVs and crossovers will be more comfortable and refined. For all those hard-core off-roaders, the Rubicon model is ready for you. Or, if you choose, buy the base Sport model and then aftermarket the crap out of it. There’s plenty of Mopar parts to outfit your model exactly how you want it.

The two-door Wrangler Sport starts at $26,995 the two-door Rubicon is priced at $36,995. The four-door Wrangler Unlimited Sport starts at $36,495, the Sahara model costs $37,345, and the Rubicon model retails for $40,495. If you look at the Wrangler’s competitors, you’ll see that this vehicle is a bargain.

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