The long-awaited and comprehensively leaked 2018 Jeep Wrangler was finally revealed in November, but it’ll be later this year before we see the latest generation of the iconic off-roader in Australian showrooms.
When it lands, the 2018 JL Wrangler will have benefited from extensive testing in rugged central Australia, with international engineering heads John Adams and Bernie Trautmann basing themselves out of Alice Springs.
Adams is the overlord of the Wrangler’s entire engineering program, and Trautmann is responsible for developing and fine-tuning the most important aspect of the package: its off-roading toughness and capability.
The program, carried out through the middle of January, was put together with the goal of collecting final hot-weather data and performance results, both for right-hand-drive production and for our region in general.
Australia’s part in the program follows testing carried out in overseas regions including Brazil, China, India and Russia.
“Australia presents some incredibly unique driving environments so it was in our best interest to visit and understand if there were some new learnings that we could apply to the development of the new Wrangler – specifically for this market,” Adams says.
“Explicitly, we were looking at the effect of Australia’s corrugated roads on long-range and high-speed drives which are common for much of the country’s population outside of the cities – and how our suspension tuning processes these inputs, combined with the extreme heat effects on our engine, transmission and cooling system management temperatures.
Adams says the company is aware that, like others, our market demands a chassis and drivetrain tune suited to local conditions. He says it’s for that reason the program was launched; “to investigate if there’s anything we could be doing differently when it comes to delivering the Wrangler for Australia”.
The Australian program comes on the back of what Jeep claims was 6.2 million combined kilometres of prototype testing, from Arizona’s 58-degrees-celsius heat to the negative-40-degree cold of Alaska. The legendary Rubicon Trail played its part, too. Of course.
For its tour of the Australian outback – where the temperature was a mere 45 degrees, bring your jackets and beanie – Jeep freighted in two JL Wrangler engineering prototypes: a 201kW/400Nm four-cylinder petrol two-door Rubicon, and a 213kW/353Nm Pentastar V6 four-door Rubicon. The latter will be familiar to many, but the former is a new unit.
While they were in town, CarAdvice had the opportunity to fire a handful of questions at Bernie Trautmann. Check out our Q&A below.
CarAdvice: What was the biggest challenge you faced developing the JL and how did you overcome it?
Trautmann: One of the biggest challenges, it’s not only increasing the capability of the vehicle off road but also increasing the dynamic performance on road. One of the things we’ve done is we’ve increased the footprint of the vehicle. Increasing the footprint of the vehicle means still has to remain nimble and one of the biggest obstacles when you increase the wheelbase is ensuring the nimbleness and the turn circle of the car.
One of the things we were able to do is, while increasing the footprint, increasing the interior spaciousness, we have a tighter turn circle so the vehicle has become more nimble on the trail.
Tell us some of the ways you’ve set the Wrangler up for owners to modify their vehicle?
So, with the footprint on the car, we’ve honoured the typical iconic live axles. The vehicle has the ability to receive a two-inch lift kit that we offer by MOPAR. We’ve also went ahead and increased the tyre envelope area so that you can package with the two-inch lift a 35-inch tyre without having to manipulate the suspension. That’s a really big thing for our customers because we know a lot of people like to modify the car, like to increase the ground clearance.
Interior-wise, one of the things we’ve offered as well is the auxiliary buttons. There’s four buttons on the IT now that are fully integrated where the customer can further customise the vehicle. We know there’s a lot of addition these days with LED fog lamps, pull bar lamps, things of that nature. These can all be hardwired into the vehicle so you don’t have to add any auxiliary switches. You have those already built in and that’s a really nice feature.
How hard is it to find the right balance between on and off-road performance?
So over the last few days we had the opportunity to experience the Outback and some of the unique driving conditions. One of the things that piqued our interest are the corrugated roads and longevity of these roads.
Talking to customers here, locally in Alice Springs, they go on these long treks that might be two, three days. That kind of long stretch on that type of road surface is something of interest to me and my team. What I was able to do with my time here is pick up some accelerometer data, which we’ll take back and these will measure the amplitudes and frequencies of that corrugation.
That’s something of interest, to our suspension [team], to take a look at our shock performance and our pushing performance.
What conditions have you found here that are different to the US or any other testing location for that matter?
I don’t think right now we’ve really found anything that is unique to the performance of the vehicle. I think one of the things I’m pleased with was the performance on the corrugated roads, the connectivity in the vehicle when driving.
So the vehicle’s very stable even though these roads are extremely choppy. We’ve also got to experience some loose sand. We’re looking at transmission, cooling temperatures.
Have there been any surprises with the JL’s performance here in Australia?
I think everything that we’ve done, development-wise, has kind of proofed-out here and it shows that everything is normal. It meets our bogies and our goals. So, we’re very happy in the performance of the vehicle here in the Outback.
Can we expect to see more Jeep engineering assessments in Australia?
I think there’s definitely opportunity for that. The data, of course, we’re empirical. Data speaks for itself. We’ll go back home. We’ll take a look at that data with our extended team. We kind of scrub through the file. We look at the different amplitudes and frequencies and what that means to our vehicle.
Down the road, if that means further development work, potentially there’s opportunity to come back out here with a larger team, more equipment to do some further data collection.
Being your first time to Australia, were you aware of the passion Aussie’s have for the Jeep brand?
So we’ve always heard about the Outback and we’ve seen a lot of photos. Talking to people out here I think the Jeep is a natural footprint for this type of terrain. I think there’s a natural fit for our capabilities, the types of surfaces you guys drive on, not only the corrugation but the loose sand. We did a lot of rock climbing.
I think the vehicle itself is a perfect fit for this type of environment. People we’ve met on the street and talked about it, there’s a lot of hype about Jeep.
Click through to our gallery for more photos of the 2018 ‘JL’ Wrangler testing in the Aussie outback.