The 2018 Jeep Wrangler JL Needs A V-8 Option
Think of it as a modern AMC 304 in the Jeep CJby Mark McNabb, on
The 2018 Jeep Wrangler JL is the hottest SUV right now. It’s not often Jeep reworks its most popular model, after all. Much of the buzz centers on the Wrangler’s new powertrain choices, which include the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder “Hurricane” and 3.0-liter EcoDiesel V-6, along with a revised version of the familiar 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6. Jeep fans and journalists alike are praising FCA for adding a fuel-sipping four-cylinder and the torquey yet efficient EcoDiesel, but there’s still something missing – a V-8.
Raise an eyebrow if you want, but Jeep actually has a rich history of offering V-8s in the Wrangler’s predecessor, the CJ. It started back in 1972 with the CJ-5. See, American Motors Corporation had bought Kaiser Jeep in 1970 and soon replaced Kaiser’s engines with its own, including the 3.8-liter and 4.2-liter straight-sixes. There was also a four-cylinder that carried the Hurricane name, which is directly referenced in the 2018 Wrangler JL’s new 2.0-liter turbo-four. But, the most desirable engine was the AMC 304 cubic-inch V-8. This 5.0-liter produced 150 horsepower and 245 pound-feet of torque. While those aren’t big numbers by today’s standards, that was impressive power amid the Arab Oil Embargo and tightening government fuel economy and emissions regulations. The power was especially robust in a short-wheelbase SUV.
The 304 V-8 made the jump to the longer CJ-7 when it debuted in 1976. Sadly, the V-8 was phased out during the 1981 model year, leaving the 4.2-liter inline-six as the largest and most powerful engine option.
But, modern times are different. Dodge builds an 840-horsepower Challenger, Jeep has a 707-horsepower Grand Cherokee, and the Wrangler is ripe for getting a mild V-8 behind its seven-slotted grille. Keep reading for my thoughts on the matter.
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Should Jeep Build a V-8-Powered Wrangler?
Jeep could very easily offer a V-8 Wrangler, call it the Golden Eagle like V-8 CJs of yesteryear, and people would eat it up.
Heck yes, Jeep should! Besides the typical American response of pleasure to excess and approval of power, a V-8-powered Wrangler has two things going for it – history and customer desire.
History is playing an ever more important role in how automakers operate. Retro styling is still in vogue and tying modern vehicles to those in the past in meaningful ways is the new thing. Jeep could very easily offer a V-8 Wrangler, call it the Golden Eagle like V-8 CJs of yesteryear, and people would eat it up. Throw on some retro graphics – you know, like that awesome golden eagle “screaming chicken” on the hood or maybe just a smaller logo on the fender, and boom – instant classic and assured sales success.
Jeep could very easily offer a V-8 Wrangler, call it the Golden Eagle like V-8 CJs of yesteryear, and people would eat it up
As for customer desire, Jeepers want a V-8 Wrangler, and it shows in the aftermarket. A number of companies provide swap kits for LS and Hemi conversions, and companies like American Expedition Vehicles will happily do the work and warranty the craftsmanship. Those LS and Hemi swaps usually consist of 4.8-liter, 5.3-liter, and 6.0-liter small-block Chevy engines of the LS series and the 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 found in several FCA products. Both the LS and Hemi are also available as a brand-new crate engine. Regardless of brand, it’s clear Wrangler owners want a V-8.
What Engine Should Jeep Use?
Jeep wouldn’t have a V-8 Wrangler ready until 2019, if not after.
Well, the most obvious answer would be the omnipresent 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 found in everything from the Dodge Challenger to the Ram pickup from 2003 on. The engine makes anywhere from 357 to 395 horsepower and 389 to 410 pound-feet of torque, depending on application and model year. The Hemi obviously fits in the outgoing Wrangler JK’s engine bay, and it’s doubtful Jeep make the area smaller, so the Hemi should have no problem fitting in the Wrangler JL.
There’s just one problem.
Rumors are swirling the 5.7-liter Hemi will cease production after 2019. That would be a problem since Jeep wouldn’t have a V-8 Wrangler ready until 2019, if not after. It makes sense why FCA is looking to kill the 5.7-liter; its basic design will be 17 years old. It needs an update, which consequently, might see its displacement drop from 5.7 liters to 5.0 liters – a 304-cubic-inch displacement.
This new V-8 will surely come with direct fuel injection and turbocharging, along with the current fuel-saving tricks like cylinder deactivation and variable valve timing. Of course, this is pure speculation, but the Mopar-obsessed folks over at Allpar.com seem to think a smaller-displacement Hemi V-8 is in the works, too.
Dropping back to a 5.0-liter would not only accomplish the smaller displacement needed to improve fuel economy but would also tie in perfectly to Chrysler’s past. Plenty of AMC and Jeep vehicles came with the venerable 304 V-8, though Chrysler, Dodge, and Plymouth products used completely different V-8s. Still, the connection is there. Then again, FCA could use the 340, 318, or 273 cubic-inch displacement sizes (5.6, 5.2, and 4.5 liters, respectively) or could introduce something without a retro spin. But what fun is that?
A V-8 would likely improve the Wrangler Unlimited’s somewhat limited towing capability.
On a more practical side of customer wants, a V-8 would likely improve the Wrangler Unlimited’s somewhat limited towing capability of 3,500 pounds. Perhaps we’ll see improvements with the 3.0-liter EcoDiesel V-6, as well. Towing will be an even bigger factor with the upcoming Wrangler-based pickup, the Scrambler. A leaked spec sheet shows the Scrambler is rated to tow 6,500 pounds with both the 3.6-liter Pentastar and 3.0-liter EcoDiesel. The 2.0-liter apparently won’t be offered. Adding a V-8 might just boost the Scrambler’s towing beyond the 7,700 pounds available with the Chevrolet Colorado diesel.
Regardless of displacement, the Wrangler deserves a V-8. Not only would it recall Jeeps of old, but it would also boost the Wrangler’s appeal. The V-8 model would be the perfect platform for adding larger axles, massive tires, and all the heavy-duty equipment that tends to accompany a rock crawler. That, and imagine the V-8 mated to a six-speed manual and fitted with a throaty aftermarket exhaust. If that doesn’t get your blood pumping, you’re probably reading the wrong website.
Read our full speculative review on the 2018 Jeep Wrangler JL.
Read our full review on the 2017 Jeep Wrangler JK.
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