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In an industry predicated largely on reinvention, the Jeep Wrangler is an anomaly. One of only a handful of vehicles whose evolution can be plotted on a straight line, its design has remained faithful to the original for decades. Buyers have routinely responded in kind, the production line at Jeep’s Toledo, Ohio, assembly facility working overtime to satisfy demand. While that single-minded approach preserves the Wrangler’s iconic status, it places some restrictions on those tasked with shepherding the four-wheel-drive sacred cash cow through the 21st century.
Change Is a Relative Concept
Beneath the new Wrangler’s familiar outward appearance, the designers and engineers have done a thorough job weaving modernity into the template. Mark Allen, head of Jeep brand design, tells us that the project began with “way-out sketches” that were used to get creative juices flowing. Tiny elements of those designs, such as the “keystone shape” of the grille, the way the headlights invade the outer grille slats, and the full-length rain gutter—which doubles as a handy attachment point for roof-rack systems—were products of these early concepts.
They also resulted in the slightly increased rake of the windshield, a measure taken with great care to preserve the classic Jeep profile; Allen claims that one more degree in either direction “really whacks it out.” This makes improving the Wrangler’s aerodynamics a challenge, and although there are a few small adjustments, they’re hidden wherever possible. The windshield still folds flat, and—thanks to a separate, nonfolding header bar connecting the A-pillars—the process is streamlined. The new four-bolt procedure also leaves the rearview mirror in place. Additional classic features such as the removable doors remain, only now the tool required to loosen the T50 fasteners is included; should you lose it, the T50 designation is stamped into the aluminum hinge as a handy reminder. (Optional half-doors will come online for 2019.)
An entirely new steel frame with five boxed crossmembers serves as the Wrangler’s backbone, while next-gen Dana front and rear solid axles hang from the coil-spring suspensions front and rear. Weight-saving aluminum is used not only on the hood as before on the JK-generation Wrangler (which continues on for 2018 alongside the brand-new model) but also for the new JL’s fenders, doors, hinges, and windshield frame. The enlarged tailgate is composed of a cast-magnesium assembly with an aluminum exterior skin. Aluminum engine mounts and steering gear, hollow steel anti-roll and track bars, and a larger yet lighter brake master cylinder all contribute to the weight-saving effort. The wheelbase increases by 1.4 inches to 96.8 in the two-door model, while the four-door’s axle span grows 2.4 inches to 118.4. Overall length is up, too, with the two-door stretching another 2.5 inches to 166.8 and the four-door up 3.5 inches to 188.4, both including the spare tire mounted to the tailgate. Allen told us that an indicator of the JL’s subtle expansion and improved outward visibility is that “every piece of glass in the JL is larger than that of the previous Wrangler.”