Sat. Apr 20th, 2024
2018 Jeep Wrangler

2018 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon

“I was accosted in the hallway by an engineer,” Mark Allen tells me. “He’s like, ‘we’ve gotta get rid of the folding windshield.’” The head of Jeep design explains that, for manufacturing, the Wrangler’s traditional hinged windshield is a hassle, basically another door to paint, align and seal. Hardly anyone uses it.

2018 Jeep Wrangler

But a flip-down windscreen let the United States Army ship the original Jeep to combat zones in wooden crates. When it comes to the Wrangler, the descendent of the truck that won World War II, Jeep never thinks too far outside that box.

So the all-new 2018 Jeep Wrangler has a folding windshield. It’s massively improved: Just four bolts to remove, compared to nearly 30 on the previous generation. You don’t have to disassemble the front half of the roll-bar anymore—the new body-color cage finally has A-pillar bars, and a header bar keeps the rear-view mirror and visors in place. The tool comes in the console.

Why hang on to this throwback feature? “For shipping,” Allen says with a smile. “And sometimes there’s a guy in the back with a Howitzer.”

Parked next to a JK, you’d swear the JL is smaller. Scaling, the designers call it. A bigger grille and headlamps, narrower bumpers and fender flares, and a wider stance make the new Wrangler’s added inches disappear. In a way, it makes the JK disappear, too—the JL is styled as if the previous Wrangler never existed, like time leapt straight from the beloved 1996-2006 TJ to 2018.

The Rubicon now rides on 33-inch tires (largest ever fitted to a factory Jeep), with locking differentials front and rear, an electric-disconnect front sway bar, and a full suite of skid plates. The fender flares sit two inches higher on the body than Sport and Sahara models; the wheelwells have clearance for 35s.

Three drivetrains were available to us: The familiar 3.6-liter V6 with either a six-speed manual or a new eight-speed automatic, and an all-new 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, automatic only. Diesel and plug-in hybrid options come later.

With 285 horses and 260 lb-ft on tap, the V6 manual is peppy fun, save for the occasional clutch-frying off-road moment. The long-throw, narrow-gate shifter is now cable-operated, no longer a hand-shaker coming straight from the gearbox. The reverse-lockout ring feels like it belongs on a fire truck.

Wrangler buyers put up with driving dynamics your grandparents would have found outdated, quirks you’d complain about in a thousand-dollar used car. They did it because the open-topped Jeep was charming, engaging, like nothing else in its price range. “There’s just so much homogenization going on in the world,” Allen told me. “Wrangler stands out from that.”

Jeep didn’t just keep the charm in the 2018 Wrangler. The automaker enhanced it, made it easier to access the joys that a no-roof, no-doors 4×4 has always promised. The result is amazing. Even if you don’t fold the windshield down.