• Car Review

Review: 2018 Jeep Wrangler

By David Undercoffler | November 20, 2018

Autolist rating: 3/5
But would we buy it? Yes
Price range: $29,440 - $52,695 before options but including destination

Key takeaways

  • All-new, fourth-generation Wrangler was introduced for 2018.
  • One of the most capable off-road vehicles you can buy today.
  • Yet it’s still comfortable for daily, on-road use.
  • Cargo space in the back is limited because of roll bars and interior panels.
  • Can get expensive (topping $50,000 for loaded models).

What is it?

The Wrangler is an iconic SUV that Jeep has been making for decades. Preceded by the CJ models, the first-generation model to wear the ‘Wrangler’ nameplate was introduced in 1987.

The Wrangler has standard four-wheel drive, and it comes in two or four-door configurations with either a removable soft top or a removable hardtop. You can fold down the windshield and remove the doors too, for maximum fun and exposure while you’re off-roading.

2018 marked the debut of the fourth-generation Wrangler, known internally at Jeep (and to Jeep fanatics everywhere) as the JL.

While the JL comes standard with a V6 engine, the big news for this new generation is the addition of two new engine choices: a turbocharged four-cylinder and a diesel.

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The 2.0-liter turbo four is optional, and it makes 270 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. It comes only with an eight-speed automatic transmission.

The 3.0-liter EcoDiesel is also optional and won’t be available until 2019 and will only be offered on four-door Wranglers. It makes 260 horsepower and a stout 442 pound-feet of torque. Like the turbo four, this diesel will come only with an eight-speed automatic transmission.

The standard Pentastar V6 carries over from the previous generation, and it makes 285 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. It’s paired with a standard six-speed manual transmission or an optional eight-speed automatic.

Depending on the trim level, the Wrangler has either part-time or full-time four-wheel drive.

The trim levels are Sport, Sport S, Sahara, Rubicon and the top-of-the-line Moab. The Sahara and the Moab are four-door only. The Sahara is a more road-oriented trim while the Rubicon and Moab promise more off-road capabilities.

What’s good

TLDR: Handles on- and -off road adventures with ease, backed by stout build quality

  • On-road liveability. We weren’t surprised by what the Wrangler can do off-road; that’s been its strong suit for decades. But we were surprised by how easy the Wrangler was to live with for on-road driving. Its ride and handling are smooth and predictable, the cabin is comfortable and spacious for passengers and the engine has plenty of refined power.

  • Off-road chops. As we said, this came as no surprise since it’s a crucial hallmark of the Wrangler. But the model we tested was the more road-oriented Sahara model -- on smoother street tires, no less. Even so, on a rough, off-road course full of heavily modified Jeeps and trucks, our tester held its own and never got stuck or ran out of traction.

  • Build quality. The Jeep not only looks burly and tough, but it’s bolted together well and the interior fit and materials feel solid and high quality. This helped ease the sticker shock of our test model; it actually felt upscale inside.

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What’s bad

TLDR: Too many recalls already, roll bars eat away at cargo space

  • Quality control. This new generation of Wrangler hasn’t been on the market for very long, but already it’s been the subject of six recalls by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. That’s a lot in a short period of time. That’s not to say this is an unsafe vehicle, but it is something that buyers need to be aware of to ensure they’re staying on top of all necessary recalls and repairs.

  • Tight squeeze. While there’s plenty of room for passengers, the Wrangler has less cargo room in the back than you might think. Blame those pesky rollover bars hidden underneath the roof. When you look inside, you can see they take up a lot of room that would otherwise be used to haul your stuff.

  • Expensive. Yes, a base, two-door Wrangler starts at under $30,000 and will do nearly anything you want on and off-road. But once you start adding features to the nicer trim levels, the prices get high. Our loaded Sahara test model came in at just over $50,000, and a loaded Rubicon four-door model with the optional turbocharged four-cylinder and nearly every option available hits more than $58,000. Yikes.

5 stars of execution

Safety Features? NO

  • We were disappointed to learn that many active safety features that are becoming common throughout the industry aren’t even offered on the Wrangler.
  • These include pre-collision alerts and braking, lane-departure warning and lane-keep assist.
  • Things like blind-spot monitoring, rear parking sensors and rear cross-traffic alert are bundled into a package that’s optional on most trims.

Value? NO

  • As we mentioned, our test model (four-door Sahara Unlimited model) was just over $50,000. Yes, it had options on it, but nothing extravagant or superfluous. That’s pricey.
  • Other trim levels (not to mention the diesel or turbo four-cylinder) push that even higher without any dramatic features.
  • We do like the value on the base Wrangler though. For a tick under $30,000, you can get a manual, two-door Jeep with a soft top that will look good and be plenty capable off-road and plenty comfortable on-road.

Efficiency? YES

  • Surprisingly, the Wrangler isn’t the gas-guzzler you might expect. Our four-door model averaged 19.3 miles per gallon during our week of testing; not bad for a vehicle this size and with this kind of powertrain.
  • Our results were in line with the EPA’s projections, which are 18/23/20 MPG city/highway/combined.
  • The four-cylinder Wrangler is even better: 22/24/22 MPG city/highway/combined. Jeep hasn’t released the diesel fuel economy version yet.
  • Some of the credit goes to the lightweight aluminum Jeep used in the Wrangler’s doors, hood, fenders, windshield frame and other parts.

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Driving experience? YES

  • Pick your poison, the Jeep does it well.
  • On-road, our Sahara test model was more refined than we expected. Yes, some of the credit goes to the optional hardtop, but the interior fit and the quality helped keep wind and road noise at bay. The ride quality on-road was also impressive.
  • Off-road, the Wrangler shines. There’s little it can’t do, and this was the out-of-the-box Sahara edition. Imagine what the more burly Moab or Rubicon model could do -- then add the diesel’s torque.

Execution? YES

  • Jeep has a tough act to follow every time it redesigns the Wrangler. It needs to keep the (large, loud) fan base happy with its off-road capabilities and iconic look. But it also has increasingly tough emissions and crash regulations to keep up with.
  • Add to that Jeep’s goal of expanding the Wrangler’s customer base (which means pulling in more first-time owners who just want the rugged look).
  • With all this at stake, Jeep succeeded; this Wrangler JL toes the line perfectly. It’s rugged, handsome, capable, yet refined, and comfortable on-road.

Total Rating: 3 stars

What’s it gonna cost me?

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The base Sport starts at $29,440 for the soft-top, two-door, manual transmission model. This starter comes with the V6 engine, part-time four-wheel drive, a UConnect infotainment system with a five-inch touchscreen, 17-inch wheels, skid plates, tow hooks, a backup camera, keyless entry and fog lights.

The Sport S starts at $32,640 and adds unique 17-inch alloy wheels, upgraded soft top, a more advanced UConnect infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity and other miscellaneous goodies.

The four-door version of either the Sport or Sport S adds another $3,500, and the eight-speed automatic adds $2,000.

The Sahara model that we tested is four-door only and starts at $39,750. It adds a seven-inch UConnect touchscreen, 18-inch alloy wheels, side steps and body-colored wheel flares, a seven-inch digital instrument panel, dual-zone climate control and more.

The off-road oriented Rubicon starts at $39,440 for the two-door (the four-door model is $3,500 more). It comes standard with 17-inch wheels wrapped in 33-inch off-road tires, heavy-duty Dana locking axles, a more advanced full-time four-wheel-drive system, an electronic front sway bar disconnect and other goodies.

Finally the four-door only, limited-edition Moab version starts at $52,695. It comes with many standard features that are optional on lesser Wranglers.

These include unique steel front and rear off-road oriented bumpers, high-end leather seats, a different (but also sophisticated) full-time four-wheel-drive system, a standard hardtop roof with removable panels, an 8.4-inch UConnect infotainment screen, navigation, a nine-speaker Alpine sound system, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert.

Our pick? We’d keep it simple and choose a four-door base Wrangler Sport. Out the door for $32,940 and ready to conquer anything.

Also consider

For a rugged competitor that can handle on and off-road shenanigans, there aren’t many options.

Toyota’s Tacoma midsize truck is an excellent alternative if you don’t mind the longer wheelbase and the bed in the back.

Ditto for Chevy’s Colorado, though we prefer the Tacoma.