10 Things the 2018 Jeep Wrangler Must Have

Apr. 25, 2017 By Seth Parks
We theorized about some of the features we saw on the Safari possibly previewing the 2018 Wrangler JL. Here's a list of must-have items we believe the next-generation Wrangler needs to have. Photo: Josh Burns

The success of the Jeep brand is inextricably hitched to a single nameplate – Wrangler. And as Wrangler sales have exploded, so too have Jeep’s. Consider that Wrangler sales have increased in 12 of the last 15 years, while Jeep’s overall U.S. sales have doubled from 460,000 to 920,000 over the same period.

Wrangler is a sales enabler, making it worth far more to Jeep than simply its sales totals. This unique lifestyle product is both a high-volume seller and an aspirational halo vehicle. Jeep cannot afford to deliver the redesigned 2018 Wrangler as anything less than what the market has come to expect, a modestly priced open-topped fun machine with a range topping trim capable of tackling the most challenging off-road terrain. 

Here are 10 must have features that will ensure Wrangler’s appeal to both lifestyle and off-road shoppers, as well as maintain Wrangler as the branding platform upon which all other Jeeps are built. Plus one feature Jeep can let go.

Previous spy photographs suggest Jeep is working on a new version of its three-piece hardtop. Photo: Brian Williams

1. Removable Top
A fixed top Wrangler does not a Wrangler make. And the MySky style removable window panels that work in the Jeep Renegade simply will not do. The 2018 Wrangler requires a fully removable soft top with a hard top option. Based on early spy photography, it looks like Jeep understands this and may be updating the current multi-panel Freedom Panel Hard Top with an even more flexible arrangement.  

2. Hose-Out Interior
Most owners do not take a hose to their interior, but unlike just about any other vehicle, they can. Take out the carpet in a current Wrangler, remove the drain plugs, either cover or avoid spraying the dash, and you can in fact spray down the interior. Like many features on modern automobiles, it’s not their use but rather their availability that counts for lifestyle buyers. And for the legitimate off-roaders among us, cleaning your rig after hard use is a legitimate chore that’s made a little easier and more entertaining if you can take a hose to it.       

The new Wrangler appears it will have new LED lighting, but what other updates can we expect? Photo: Glenn Paulina

3. Live Axles
Most committed off-roaders value the robust simplicity of solid front axles, front and rear. And while live rear axles remain common, live front axles are a dying breed. A live front axle offers improved articulation versus IFS and is easier to lift. Moreover, its simple compact packaging is easier and less expensive to manufacture. Lifestylers would not understand or care if Wrangler were to abandon its traditional live front axle, but such a move would degrade its off-road cred and corrupt its value as a branding platform. Despite rumors to the contrary, we believe Wrangler will retain its coil sprung live axle set up front and rear.

4. Seven-Slot Grille
Jeep will not abandon its iconic seven-slot grille. In fact, they have fought to establish the exclusive right to it for decades, going so far as to sue GM over its use of seven slots on the H2 grille. They may have lost that battle, but they won the war when GM killed the Hummer brand and the chance to bring the Wrangler-fighting H4 to market. The seven-slot grille is here to stay because it is a significant branding tool used to connect the entire Jeep lineup with Wrangler. Editor Josh Burns noted of the recent Safari concept at Easter Jeep Safari that its grille in particular might tease the design we’ll see on the new Wrangler JL.

MORE: 2017 Easter Jeep Safari Coverage

A manual transmission was spotted on a test mule previously, and we think it's something Jeep will bring back on the JL. Photo: Brian Williams

5 . Manual Transmission
We all know the manual transmission is dying. According to Edmunds, fewer than three percent of new vehicles sold in the United States last year had a stick. However, a quick search on Autotrader shows that of the 29,000 2017 Wranglers sitting on dealer lots across America, 9.3 percent have three pedals. Wrangler buyers have spoken – they demand manuals 3 to 1 versus auto buyers in general. And Wrangler buyers abroad are likely even more keen to shift themselves. Based on consumer demand, along with images of Wrangler development mules equipped with six-speed manuals, we believe Jeep will make the new Wrangler available with a manual transmission.

6. Front & Rear Lockers (Rubicon)
When the Rubicon was first released in 2003, its electronically locking front and rear Dana 44 differentials and 65.92:1 crawl ratio were groundbreaking for a stock rig. Combined with its two-speed NVG241OR transfer case and 31-inch Goodyear MT/R rubber there was nothing that could touch Rubicon for its modest $25,000 price tag. The Rubicon catapulted the Wrangler to cult status in the off-road community and further enhanced Jeep’s go-anywhere credibility. Using Autotrader data once again, 16 percent of current new Wrangler inventory is made up of Rubicons. Demand for this range-topping off-road rig has not only been sustainable but its backcountry prowess now defines the vehicle. The Rubicon, with its selectable front and rear locking diffs, is a pillar of the Wrangler lineup.

We've seen a TigerShark 2.0 in a test mule, and there has been rampant speculation that the VM Motori 3.0L diesel will make it's way onto the JL.

7. Optional Engines
The Pentastar V6 is a capable engine but is underpowered for the aftermarket upgrades owners pile on. Likewise, its 285 horsepower exceeds what many lifestyle owners need. And its 16 city 21 highway fuel economy is putting a dent in FCA’s already poor CAFE results. Jeep now sells around 200,000 Wranglers annually – it cannot afford to continue offering Wrangler with one compromise engine. We don’t know what exactly will be offered, but a smaller displacement turbocharged gasoline power plant, such as the rumored TigerShark 2.0 that was photographed inside a test mule, would likely suit the lifestyle set, while the torque-heavy VM Motori 3.0-liter diesel presently used in the Ram 1500 and Grand Cherokee would appeal to off-roaders.   

8. Light Weighting
Of course the 2018 Wrangler will be body-on-frame, which is an inherently heavy architecture. And weight, as well as drag, are the enemy of fuel economy. Jeep has already confirmed it will use steel for the body and frame, so look for aluminum in the doors, hood, and elsewhere. Wrangler will shed weight anywhere it can economically be eliminated. And as for drag-reducing measures, check the leading edge of the hood where it meets the grille as well as the fenders, trailing edge of the hard top, and under-body for subtle aerodynamic enhancements (like more angle to the windshield – something we’ve seen in photos and was also displayed on the Safari concept at EJS). 

9. Two-Doors
The death of two-door SUVs and now trucks is well documented. Few two-door SUVs remain and both GM and Toyota elected to kill the single cabs in their latest generation mid-size trucks. Consumers simply were not buying them. But the two-door Wrangler has a committed following. Autotrader indicates almost 25 percent of all 2017 Wranglers available on dealer lots are two-door. Even if that overstates the true take rate on two-door Wrangler, 40,000 units a year is plenty to justify retaining the original Wrangler form factor.    

10. Improved Storage
The paucity of storage in both the two- and four-door Wranglers is well known to every Wrangler owner. Jeep can address this shortfall through a variety of measures. First, it can simply make Wrangler larger, which it did in a big way when it launched the JK in 2007 with five-inches more girth. Don’t look for similarly significant growth with the next generation, but modest increases in wheelbase and overall length are likely. Second, Jeep can provide more binned and locking storage front, middle, and rear through improved packaging and more aggressive use of the space available. And then of course there will be the pickup variant for those in need of a greater hauling capacity.      

Folding Windshield
This holdover feature has been passed down through the decades across generations of CJs right up to today’s JK. It was inherited from the original military requirement for compact transportability and litter carriage. Few Wrangler owners use their rigs to carry injured comrades and even fewer transport them by CH-53. Not only that, eliminating the folding mechanism reduces weight, improves strength, and decreases drag. This feature is both unnecessary and highly unlikely to be part of the 2018 Wrangler.  

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