It’s been a more than a year that the media has spent speculating about the new 2018 Jeep Wrangler JL. Another few months that we’ve been treated to a virtual deluge of actual coverage, reviews and photographs of the new model since it’s unveiling. Since it might be a few months until the new JL becomes a common sight around town, this coverage has helped us develop a fairly strong first impression based on what we’ve seen. Or is it more of a pre-disposition?
Working for a company that makes part for Jeeps, we’ve had several JL’s on order for quite a while now. We’ve waited earnestly, accepted delay after added delay and grown rather impatient to finally accept delivery of our first JL- a startling 2018 Unlimited Rubicon in white.
To be honest with you, the initial hours that passed after the arrival of our newest Jeep kinda resembled that of a crate full of supplies being dropped by airplane into the territory of some uncivilized native tribe. There was instant chaos, barely enough room to stand around the Jeep’s perimeter as every sort of intrigued employee carefully evaluated seating amenities and interior trim all while design engineers systematically deconstructed every mechanical assembly they could access. Measuring dimensions and gauging hardware specs with wild abandon and I’m not even sure the factory paint was dry yet.
For those reasons, I held the new JL at a reasonable distance, ignoring my obvious curiosity until the furor recedes; choosing rather to absorb what others initial observations were about what they had seen and sensed. Not adopting those opinions as my own but rather making them my “foster opinions” until that day that I would become a worthy of experiencing the JL for myself and creating my own opinions, at which time I would then leave my old foster opinions off at the end of an old country dirt road in hopes of them not finding their way home again.
For the large part, everyone around spoke very highly of the newest Wrangler. Testifying to its greatly refined interior, improved dash layout and tasteful red accent stitched upholstery were common remarks. The exterior held some obvious changes but nothing groundbreaking. I was taken back a little by someone who noted that the new JL was not a completely new design- not far enough removed visually from the prior JK’s appearance. While I can see some merit in this viewpoint, I can say that choosing to start over from scratch when revamping a successful platform would likely be an unwise choice for an automotive designer to make. It goes back to the old saying “dance with the one that brung ya” that seems to make the most sense. Wiping the slate clean of all the facts, figures and framework that got you to where you are today would likely bolster your failure, certainly in the eyes of those you hope to satisfy the most.
Once the initial peak of enthusiasm had passed, I began seeking an opportunity to get behind the leather-wrapped wheel and take our new JL for a test drive. At each inquiry, the Jeep was perpetually involved in some cumbersome short-term relationship with some random guy with an Engineering degree and wandering hands. Parts of her would be strewn across the shop floor as she was endlessly measured and made the subject of countless test-fitments. All of which impeded my desire to take her out for a spin myself; a chance to build an opinion all my own and not tainted by others prejudices. And so I waited.
The amount of pre-release pandemonium that surrounded the new JL was unlike anything we’ve seen before. Not just for Jeep but for most any vehicle. The fact that the JL is an extensively-re-imagined successor to an off-road icon that has been around for the better part of a century meant that everyone in the automotive community seemed to be watching. Watching. And judging. In the first few weeks since release, Jeep enthusiasts have taken the new JL on everything from test drives and off-road excursions to cross-country treks, evaluating every facet of the Jeeps design in real world scenarios; letting us all in on their conclusions and sparing no details. Prospective buyers of the new JL have more carnal knowledge of what they’re in for than any other new car can boast. We all know how great knowledge is and how limited it can be until it is paired with experience.
One particular outlet took a brand new Wrangler JL 4-door and converted it into a stretched wheelbase custom 2-door riding on 42” tall tires in a ridiculously cool off-road build. While such a build does not provide as much insight into the stock JL’s credentials, it does speak very highly as to the strength of the foundation on which they built off of. Much like the prior JK served as the base for just about anything the enthusiast could dream up- the new JL delivers the same in spades.
As of today, I can proudly declare that have been able to drive our new JL for a grand total of 5.6 miles and have attained a top speed of 51 mph. While this is neither noteworthy or grounds for forming a very detailed opinion, I can tell you that the road manners of the new JL are much improved over any JK I have ever driven and the driving experience, however short, was far superior in comparison. Heck, I think the JL might have even met my expectations which were pretty lofty. The 3.6 liter Pentastar power plant in our Rubicon seemed to provide a much smoother transfer of power than on the previous platforms. I can’t wait to experience the long-awaited 2.0 I-4 turbo diesel and accompanying 8-speed automatic on a muddy trail somewhere and as soon as it is available…hopefully more than 6 miles away. We can dream, can’t we? OlllllllO