First drive: 2018 Jeep Wrangler JL in Austria

First drive: 2018 Jeep Wrangler JL in Austria

The all-new Jeep Wrangler, codenamed JL, has officially been launched in the Middle East and we got a first-hand experience of its capabilities in an event in Spielberg, Austria. The Wrangler, synonym to off-roading prowess, has improved from the outgoing Wrangler JK, which has been around a solid 11 years.

We were fairly surprised to show up at the event with a bunch of Dubai-registered Wranglers waiting for us at the Jeep Camp, an annual off-road event organised by the Jeep Owners Group. The Wrangler is an important model from the brand, as it is like the mascot for the brand, bearing the flag that Jeep as a brand take their off-roading seriously, maybe more so important after the fall in popularity of the Jeep Cherokee over recent years.

Looking at the exterior, it is instantly recognisable as a Wrangler. Outside they have added some old elements such as the headlight corners bulging on to the radiator slits, inspired from the Jeep CJ-Series and the slight bend in the front grille, a design element taken from the YJ-Series. The windshield also has more of a slant to it.

Skin-deep, the new Wrangler JL is a bigger car. This in turn has increased interior space and rear passenger leg room, especially on the 4-door version. The structural rigidity has also improved by using higher strength steel but the weight has been reduced by putting aluminium roof and door panels. This helps the body-on-frame Wrangler shed up to 45 kg from the outgoing model.

The Jeep Wrangler still retains the ability to remove body panels by yourself, with the new Wrangler making it a lot easier for the customer. With the previous generation, the roof was quite a tedious process but with the new one, it is just a few hooks to unlatch. In a demonstration by Jeep, you can remove the door and roof panels, all by yourself in less than half-an-hour. There are a few bolts to remove, which can be placed in specifically labelled compartments in the trunk, to reduce the chance of losing them. The windshield can even be folded forward. Expect to see a lot more open top new Wranglers this coming winter.

The interior has more quality materials now, with the Sahara and Rubicon models getting more of the leather treatment. Even the standard equipment has improved, with the Wrangler Sport getting a touchscreen for the infotainment system.

The engine has been carried over from the older model, the 3.6-litre V6 “Pentastar” motor, which produces about 285 hp and 352 Nm of torque. Acceleration and fuel economy numbers have been improved, thanks to the new 8-speed automatic transmission replacing the ancient 5-speed. Manual gear lovers will be left disappointed though, as it will not be offered anymore.

In our test drive, the acceleration was certainly more punchy with the shorter gearing and quicker shifts. Do not expect a quiet ride though, as wind noise really starts to creep up above 80 kph, while in the Wrangler Rubicon, there is constant road noise because of the all-terrain tyres.

The electronically assisted steering has replaced the hydraulic steering in the new Wrangler, so some of the feedback has reduced. You really feel the difference off-road as you are not fighting with the steering wheel while driving over the rough stuff. While some may say that’s the fun part, others will welcome the added comfort and control.

On the road, Wrangler claims there has been an improvement in ride quality but don’t expect it to be too different from the old one. Expect to feel the bumps on the road and obviously don’t take corners too fast. The Sport and Sahara models are certainly more comfortable on the road than the Rubicon variant.

It’s off-road that the new Wrangler shines. We tackled some rough mud and gravel trails in the off-road course set for us which the Wrangler, now with even better ground clearance and approach angles, did with relative ease. The Wrangler Rubicon is fitted with BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A KO2 tyres. With the shorter gearing and better tyres, the Wrangler should, in theory, be better at riding the desert dunes we are more familiar with in this region. Not like the old one was a slacker, with our experience from the local Jeep Jamboree events.

So the new Jeep Wrangler is slightly bigger, faster and lighter. It also has slightly better fuel economy and is slightly more comfortable. The Jeep Wrangler JL is certainly no revolution but does everything better. For us, the big pluses are the new infotainment system and the fact the body panels can now be removed without having a degree in structural engineering. With the sad demise of the Toyota FJ Cruiser and Nissan Xterra before that, we are glad the Jeep Wrangler is still around.

Photos by Jeep. Video voiceover by Tammam Rayya and edited by Raies Imam.

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