The Willy’s Jeep was the first off-road 4×4 vehicle that wasn’t a tank or a big army truck. First unveiled in 1941, this quarter-ton vehicle quickly gained popularity among the American army and allied forces, for its go-anywhere ability and simple, robust mechanicals.
While it might be hard to find a Jeep on the battlefield nowadays, it’s popularity as a civilian vehicle has never really been tarnished, and sells in fairly big numbers around the world.
That has been a head-scratcher for me, because, I’ve driven plenty of Jeep Wrangler variants in the past, and while some have been fine, most have been fairly terrible to drive!
The worst one was the 2017 Jeep Wrangler Chief edition I tested two years ago, which was -in short- awful in every possible way. In fact, it was the worst vehicle I had driven in 2017, by a long margin. I think I know why its model designation was “JK” – because it was a joke!
In 2018, Jeep introduced a new generation of the Wrangler – model designation, JL – and it looks to be far more improved over the model it replaces. But, looks can be deceiving! To find out what it’s like, I recently spent a week with one – here’s what I found out!
Styling: A Wrangler has to look like an evolution of the original Willy’s Jeep, otherwise its loyal following will drop. Given the constraints this creates, the new Wrangler JL looks very good! The designers certainly did a fantastic job of keeping up with the traditional shape, but adding elements that bring it up to date, such as the LED lights in the front fenders which work as daytime running lights. Jeep designers and engineers have also made it easier to open up all sides of the vehicle – for that true, open air experience – and have, for the first time, added a power operated canvas roof that works like a sunroof – you might not have time to take body panels on or off, but it is great to open the roof and all windows at the touch of a button.
Interior: Step inside, and the changes are even greater! Jeep has given the Wrangler JL a completely new interior, that not only looks better, but everything is more logically placed, and the quality of fit and finish is at a level never before seen on this nameplate.
I particularly loved the look of the gear lever and the drive mode selector – they look far less agricultural now. The seats are actually comfortable now, so you can spend a few hours in this thing, and there is plenty of room for a family of five in the four-door Unlimited model.
I also liked the new gauge cluster, which can be personalized to display the information you want, along with the infotainment system screen, which has pages for when you’re doing proper off-road stuff!
Any complaints? Even after spending a week with one, I couldn’t find anything that bugged me enough to complain about this interior – it’s that good.
Powertrain: Things get even more interesting under the hood, where you’ll have a choice between two engines. There is the familiar 3.6L Pentastar V6 motor that is found in just about everything made by Chrysler, Dodge, and Jeep. In this application, it produces 285 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque. This engine can be mated to either a six-speed manual or an eight-speed automatic transmission.
The other engine option is a turbocharged 2.0L four-cylinder unit, that produces 270 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque, plus it can provide an additional 90 lb-ft of supplemental launch torque, thanks to its eTorque technology which is a 22 hp electric motor that works to not only assist with its start-stop system, but also provides that initial push when you accelerate away – so be in no doubt, this little four-cylinder Jeep gets up and goes like a bunny that has just spotted a snake! Suprisingly, this motor is not available with a manual gearbox, the only transmission it comes with is an eight-speed TorqueFlite automatic; but that is fine, as this auto-box is very smooth, and shifts quickly, and you can put it in manu-matic mode for when you need to hold a low gear when off-roading.
Driving Dynamics: My tester came equipped with the 2.0L motor – not that this was obvious when I jumped in and started driving. This is a very smooth engine, and with the amount of low-end torque available, it sprints so effortlessly, you’d think you have a much larger engine under the hood.
Not only does it leave the line rapidly – Zero to 100 km/h in about 6.6 seconds – but its performance at speed is just as impressive. The turbo spools up quickly, and would overtake just about anything with ease – gone are the days when a Jeep Wrangler couldn’t even get out of its own way!
On top of that, the whole driving experience is far better than any Wrangler I’ve ever driven before. Wind noise at highway speed is much improved, the steering doesn’t have that play at speed that Wrangler’s were notorious for, and the chassis doesn’t vibrate like a ill-balanced washing machine when you go over a pot hole – just about anyone would enjoy driving this Wrangler, and no excuses for liking it are necessary.
Fuel Economy: Ahh… the consumption of fossil fuels have always been a weak point for the Wrangler, but even that is not much of a concern now. I averaged 11.8 L/100 km in my test cycle (170 km of highway driving + 130 km of city driving), which is a lot better than what I had achieved with the Wrangler Chief a few years ago (14.6 L/100 km). My test numbers would have been better still, if I didn’t enjoy its turbo performance as much as I did.
Price: The 2019 Jeep Wrangler range starts in Canada from $33,695. The four-door Unlimited models start from $41,495 – which gets you the Sport S trim. My Unlimited Sahara tester, with all its abundant options, stickered at over $60,000 – so if you are not careful with the options list, things can get pricey!
Verdict: I have always like the image of the Jeep Wrangler much more than I liked driving one. Finally, with this new JL model featuring the 2.0L motor, I’ve finally found a Wrangler I actually enjoyed driving, too.