Seventh-generation off-roader refines the formula

The seventh-generation Jeep Wrangler has been unveiled at the Los Angeles motor show, ahead of an Australian launch late in 2018.

The new SUV is larger than before, with a bigger wheelbase, and will be offered in three variants (Sport, Overland and Rubicon) with a choice of 2.2-litre diesel or new-generation 3.6-litre Pentastar V6 engines. All engines will mated with an eight-speed automatic transmission in Australia, with no manual option at launch.

Exterior design

The new Wrangler clearly carries the character of those before it. Jeep head of design, Mark Allan, admitted his team played with a range of concepts, but ultimately stuck with what the world has come to expect of the off-roader.

“We allowed the guys to in the beginning, really go crazy, we did sketches that scared even us… I had a design teacher that told me you have to do all the wrong answers to prove the right answer so we did that,” Allan told the media at the unveiling in L.A.

“We decided early on that it wasn’t going to move too far away from what Wrangler is visually, it’s one of those rare automotive icons that never went away so it’s not retro – but a 911 is going to look like a 911 and a Wrangler is going to look like a Wrangler.”

Overall, the new Wrangler is slightly bigger in every respect. From the headlights to the doors, every part is bigger – the new car shares no panel with the outgoing model.

It sits on a larger body-on-frame platform (60mm longer in the four-door, 35mm longer for the two-door) – a requirement for more internal space, and to house the new eight-speed automatic transmission.

Allan says the idea was ‘down the street, it would still look like a Wrangler’. The changes are perhaps most evident on off-road focused Rubicon versions, which have the ability to house 33-inch tyres by virtue of their higher fenders and narrower bumper.

The fenders can be black or body coloured, but there is an optional removable steel bumper and unique, vented bonnet for better heat management when rock-crawling.

For all Wranglers, the rear spare tyre has been moved about 3.5cm lower, and now houses the rear camera inside it. Allan says this was a big point of contention for the team. The lower-mounted spare now allows for better rear visibility.

The new Wrangler has even undergone wind-tunnel testing, which sees aerodynamic improvement of around nine per cent over the old car. A reshaped bonnet and little spoiler at the rear are major contributors to the slipperier 0.454 coefficient of drag.

Those new head- and taillights are now capable of housing LED systems on the higher-spec models, with the addition of daytime running lights also contributing to the new nose. Base models come with halogen headlights.

The new Wrangler has the option for six different wheel designs, in either 17- or 18-inches. There have also been changes to the soft-top, which no longer requires zippers for removal. The side panels now come off with latches, snapping off to give the car a safari look.

The doors (two bolts) and the roof still come off, and the windshield still folds down. Jeep says the process is much easier than before, as a nod to the bare-bones early Wranglers.

"With this new vehicle, there was a lot of talk upfront: 'should we keep this function that nobody uses?'" Allan said.

"Engineering hates it, manufacturing doesn’t like it for painting or assembly and the customers certainly weren’t asking for it. But we fought for it and kept it. One of the most unique experiences you can have is to put the windscreen down… you can do it up until 30mph, then you will hate life after that."

The windshield frame is aluminium, and can be attached to the bonnet when folded. Allan says the designers pushed for – and eventually won – the right to put the Jeep badge on the flanks instead of the nose, because the design is already iconic and, perhaps more crucially, instantly identifiable.

Interior Design

The man behind the 2018 Wrangler’s interior, Chris Benjamin, says the idea behind the new cabin was to modernise, but keep the authenticity and appeal of driving a Wrangler.

Real metal plating, complete with visible (real) bolts in the air-conditioning surrounds, works with rubber-moulded touch points to give the new Wrangler a rugged feeling.

There are soft door bolsters, and the Wrangler carries four blank auxiliary switches that can be hooked up to accessories – such as additional lights. The off-road controls reside in the lower centre stack.

The instrument cluster and infotainment system come in a range of sizes depending on variant, running from 3.5- to 7-inches for the former and 5.0, 7.0 or 8.4-inches for the latter. The infotainment system runs the latest version of FCA UConnect, which now supports CarPlay and Android Auto.

There are more storage spaces around the cabin, including large smartphone holders and, crucially, cup holders being capable of holding more than (or less than, in most cases) giant American-friendly cups. The centre console can hold a full-size iPad, and houses multiple USB points.

Jeep's original 'Y' motif is visible on the steering wheel, and the gearstick carries a traditional Jeep silhouette. There's also an old-fashioned information plaque on the tailgate of all '18 Wranglers.

There are four interior packages on offer. Sport models come with a ‘heritage’ pack, including tan stitching and fabric seats, while the Rubicon gets red-detailing to match the exterior as part of a "redical red' pack.

The top-spec Overland gets a ‘grillz’ premium pack, with high-gloss silver finishes and tungsten highlights. There's an optional premium pack for the full-leather interior treatment, too.

Engineering and off-road ability

Chief engineer for the new Wrangler, Brain Leyes, says his team focused on offering better on- and off-road ability, backed by a desire to save weight. Depending on spec, the new Wrangler is between 45 and 91kg lighter than before.

Some of these weight savings result from the use of high-strength aluminium, which has been used for the doors and hinges, bonnet, fender flares and magnesium swing gate. There track- and stabiliser-bars are now hollow, while aluminium engine mounts and steering gear work with a larger, lighter master cylinder to round out the diet.

"We start out with the most important thing for Wrangler, where it got its reputation, that’s always off-road capability. We never want to mess with that formula, we want to improve on that. The big hitters for us, that make it the most off-road capable vehicle, is ground clearance, articulation, technology and traction, water fording. All of this is what we were focusing on,” Leyes said.

Although it maintains a body-on-frame structure, the new car is a new design and engineering effort from the ground up. The car now has an approach angle of 44 degrees, break-over angle of 27.8 degrees, departure angle of 37 degrees and a ground clearance of 276.8mm. It has an improved turning circle (down 15cm) with 762mm water fording, and 1587kg of towing capacity (with the right options boxes ticked.

Protection for the fuel tank, transfer case and automatic transmission oil pan is provided by four skid plates and bars on all models except the Rubicon, which is enhanced with heavy-gauge tubular-steel rock rails. Basically, it's going to be significantly more capable off-road than before.

Leyes says Jeep stuck with what makes the Wrangler a truly off-road capable vehicle, and didn't compromise on that capability.

"We maintained solid front and rear solid axles, there were some concerns that we would go away from that, we stuck with that. That’s our tried and true model, it’s the best thing for us in for off-road conditions,” he said.

Both two-door (17.4:1 ratio) and four-door (15.6:1 ratio) models have an electro-hydraulic power steering system as standard equipment, with the wheel going from lock-to-lock in 3.5 turns on two-door models, and 3.2 turns for four-door cars.

In the North American markets, the Command-Trac 4x4 system with 2.72:1 crawl ratio is standard on Sport and Overland models, while the Rock-Trac 4x4 system with a “4LO” ratio of 4:1 and Tru-Lok differentials are offered standard on Rubicon variants.

For Australia and other international markets, the only option is the Selec-Trac (even for the Rubicon), which provides a full-time two-speed transfer case that Jeep says 'allows the driver to set it and forget it'. This provides the same low range and axle ratio as the Rock-Trac system.

Engines & Transmission

Although it'll be offered with four engines in other markets, Australia will take only the 2.2-litre turbodiesel and the 3.6-litre new-generation Pentastar V6 petrol.

The diesel offers around 147kW of power with 450Nm of torque, while the new V6 manages 212kW and 353Nm of torque. Both models are offered exclusively with an eight-speed transmission, coupled to a two-speed transfer case with full-time four-wheel drive.

The front axle is capable of fully disconnecting to reduce parasitic drag and improve fuel economy, but Leyes said the feature does not compromise off-roading ability.

The internationally-available turbocharged four-cylinder 2.0-litre petrol has 201kW and 400Nm, but Jeep Australia has chosen not to include the drivetrain at launch.

According to Leyes, more then 6.2 million kilometres of testing was conducted as part of the Wrangler’s development with New Zealand, India, China, Brazil and North America used as main testing areas. Australia will get market validation testing early next year.

Mopar accessories

With over 98 per cent of Jeeps sold with some Mopar but, it isn't surprising that more than 130 accessories will be available for the Australian market. These include everything from aesthetic updates to lift kits, larger tyres and – for the first time – a snorkel and roof racks.

Safety & Pricing

The biggest omission here is autonomous-emergency braking, which is under consideration – it’s a requirement for five-star safety rating – but, at this stage, we believe won't be available for launch in Australia.

Pricing is unconfirmed, with more information set to become available as the Jeep prepares for the car to arrive in late 2018, likely to be known locally as the 2019 Jeep Wrangler.

Gallery

Click here to see over 200 images of the new Jeep Wrangler in Overland (Sahara in overseas markets) and Rubicon trim.