The icon lives on

The Jeep Wrangler has been an icon of American independence since 1941 when the U.S. Government commissioned a small, go-anywhere vehicle that could support troops heading into battle. It was the Willys Overland company that won the design, and with the help of the Ford Motor Company, built thousands of MB Jeeps.

Fast forward to 2016 and the Jeep spirit lives on within the Wrangler. The current Wrangler, known as the JK, got its start in 2007. An interior refresh in 2012 followed by a welcomed powertrain update in 2013 has kept the JK fresh, with sales far exceeding any Jeep vehicle in the past. Much of that success is thanks to the Wrangler Unlimited – the four-door version of the SUV.

With room for five, all the capability of the standard Wrangler JK, and an exploding aftermarket support system, the Wrangler took off. Jeep sold more than 202,000 Wranglers in 2015 alone – surpassing 2014’s quota by some 27,000 examples. In fact, Wrangler sales have consistently grown by roughly 20,000 units since 2011. What other vehicle can say the same?!

Nevertheless, the Wrangler JK’s run is coming to a close. Jeep’s parent company, FCA, is now burdened with the daunting task of creating a new Wrangler – something that appeals to the masses yet somehow stays true to its roots. The Jeep loyalists are a tough bunch to please, so the new generation of Wrangler has to excel at everything. It has to handle better, offer more creature comforts, and more in-dash technology, yet still be cleanable with a garden hose, inside and out.

Rumors have been slowly surfacing, so we decided to piece together what we had. This original rendering is based on both hearsay and solid information from FCA brass. Take a look below for both front and rear renderings. This is our best estimate of what the 2018 Jeep Wrangler JL will look like.

Update 05/20/2016: Speculation from a Wrangler forum suggests three separate roof types and a turbocharged four-cylinder. The details are outlined in special sections below.

Continue reading to learn more about the Jeep Wrangler.

Exterior

The outside of the next Wrangler will be a mixed bag. It will carry some new looks and features, but will have to retain much of its iconic styling. First and foremost, the seven-slot grille should unquestionably make its return, though it will likely have a more aerodynamic slant rearwards. The same will be true for the windshield. It’ll still be short and squarish, but the front glass will have a slipperier shape to help the Wrangler’s fuel economy. Sadly this slant and increasingly tough safety standards likely mean the demise of the folding windshield.

"Pedestrian safety and aerodynamics will likely keep the molded plastic park-bench bumper up front, though a new design is expected"

Pedestrian safety and aerodynamics will likely keep the molded plastic park-bench bumper up front, though a new design is expected. It’s possible the gap between the bumper and fenders will be filled, much like the European-spec Wrangler JK.

Out back, our sources tell us the next Wrangler will receive Renegade-like taillights. This means the Jerry can-style X-pattern will be used. The rear bumper will again be plastic, with a tow hook and optional receiver hitch hanging below. The spare tire is expected to remain attached to the tailgate.

Now for the controversial stuff. The Jeep freaks over at Allpar are saying the Wrangler JL’s top will be dramatically redesigned. No longer will the Jeep come with a removable hard top or canvas soft top that cover the Sports Bar roll cage. Rather, the roll-over protection will be integrated into the non-removable roof structure. The B-pillar and C-pillar will create hoops over the passenger compartment. Thick bracing within the pillars will drastically increase the Jeep’s ratings. These pillars will also have bracing between them, connecting the windshield to the B-pillar and then to the C-pillar. The same will be true for Wrangler Unlimited models, though they will have a D-pillar.

This isn’t the end to open-top Jeeping, however, as the JL will have removable panels on the top and sides. These panels will fit between the non-removable roof pillars and offer plenty of airflow through the cabin. The removable roof panel could take after the one found on the Jeep Renegade. Best of all, we expect the doors to still be removable.

On that note, Jeep may address the legality of removing doors by relocating the side mirrors to the body. This would keep Jeep owners from having to purchase aftermarket mirror solutions to drive legally without their doors.

Forum Speculation

The news comes from jlwranglerforums.com, which says it has a trusted source at the dealership level. Further explanation from forum member “Administrator” to Jalopnik clarifies the information even more. Supposedly, the Wrangler JL will have a power soft top, a hardtop glass panel, and a true three-piece hardtop.

The power-folding soft top option will alleviate the various zippers and Velcro connections, making open-top wheeling a push-button exercise. While this might infuriate Jeep purists, the vast majority of modern Wrangler buyers will surely love the added convenience. Even with the premium soft top option on the current Wrangler JK, removing the top comes after generous debating and weather-checking.

Next, “Administrator” says the Wrangler JL will offer a “true three-piece hardtop.” What that means exactly is still unknown, but we suspect it will be a new version of the current Freedom Top, which has two T-top-like panels that can be easily removed. The remaining top over the second row and cargo area is still removable, though it requires several hex screws be removed and at least one other person.

Lastly is supposedly a hardtop glass panel option. Think of it as a hard top with a massive panoramic sunroof. This will give the JL that open-air feel without the trouble of removing panels or flaps. Perhaps Jeep will even include a large moonroof section that allows for fresh air. We’d expect this to be the premium option, probably coming standard on the Sahara model. Hopefully this roof is removable, at least with the help of several friends.

Interior

There’s no rumors about what Jeep has in store for the Wrangler’s interior beside the inclusion of the rotary shift knob for the ZF eight-speed automatic. Nevertheless, there are two things we’d bet on: one, the interior will offer an upgraded level of technology, and two, it will still be a rough-and-tumble cabin that can be washed out with a garden hose.

On the tech front, we expect Jeep to offer FCA’s 8.4-inch Uconnect infotainment system as an option. Base model Wranglers will likely use the 5.0 Uconnect system. Both will be a fantastic upgrade from the current (and very outdated) Uconnect system found in the Wrangler. Bluetooth, satellite radio, navigation, third-party applications, and so forth will be common things with the 8.4 Uconnect system.

When it comes time to clean up after a trail run, the Wrangler’s carpet will be easily removable, exposing the metal floor pans and removable rubber grommets that act as drain holes. The seats will likely come standard with a tight-weave cloth for easy cleaning, while leather will be optional.

Drivetrain

The 2018 Wrangler’s drivetrain is another questionable area, though the rumor mill has been churning out ideas about powerplants, transmissions, and suspension parts. The 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 is likely to make its return as the volume engine. It could get a healthy power bump – perhaps to 300 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque. The engine will come mated to the much-anticipated ZF eight-speed automatic transmission, replacing the antiquated five-speed automatic. The new gearbox should help with added fuel efficiency and smoothness. We fully expect the six-speed manual transmission to return as well. Jeep folks would riot the day the Wrangler no longer offers a clutch pedal.

"The big news, however, is the likely addition of the 3.0-liter EcoDiesel"

The big news, however, is the likely addition of the 3.0-liter EcoDiesel. The turbodiesel V-6 borrowed from the Ram 1500 will be the premium engine option, offering up as much as 240 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque. It will mate to the ZF eight-speed auto for sure, but whether Jeep engineers could (or would) offer it with a manual transmission is unknown. Let’s hope they do.

The EcoDiesel will be the engine most dedicated off-roaders will choose, thanks to the massive amounts of low-end torque and smooth throttle response. Wrangler Rubicon models with their super-low crawl ratio will hardly need throttle modulation at all when navigating over boulders.

Speaking of 4WD, the Wrangler will most definitely come standard with a part-time transfer case. Jeep would be wise to forego electronic shifting, favoring instead the old-school shift lever for engaging the front axle. The transfer case will allow for rear-wheel drive, neutral, 4WD high-range, and 4WD low-range. Rubicon models will come with locking front and rear differentials and the electronically disconnecting front sway bar.

Forum Speculation

Though we still stand behind the theory of the 3.0-liter EcoDiesel and updated 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6, speculation is brewing about the Wrangler JL coming standard with a turbocharged four-cylinder. Supposedly designated the Hurricane, the engine is said to produce close to 300 horsepower and come mated to the ZF 850RE eight-speed automatic transmission. A manual gearbox should also be available.

What’s more, the four-cylinder could be the gasoline half to a gasoline/electric hybrid powertrain said to be coming further into the JL’s production. Yep, a hybrid Wrangler. While this is likely slotted to help improve CAFÉ numbers and appeal to “mall crawler” types, the hybrid will likely offer only mildly better fuel efficiency. The Hurricane will eventually make its way into other Jeep products, including the Cherokee, according to jlwranglerforums.com

Suspension & Frame

"The trade-off will be a rough, unsophisticated ride on the road, with truck-like cornering abilities"

Rumors had been swirling that Jeep would move the Wrangler to a four-wheel independent suspension system, but spy shots of Jeep’s testing mules suggest the Wrangler will stick to solid front and rear axles. For true Jeep enthusiasts, that’s a great thing. This means the traditional Dana axles should be present, as well as the multi-link and coil spring suspension system. This will allow for plenty of wheel articulation in off-road environments, especially for Rubicon models with the front sway bar disconnect. The aftermarket will also be able to offer more suspension lift and upgrade options for Jeep owners who want more capability.

The trade-off will be a rough, unsophisticated ride on the road, with truck-like cornering abilities. Still, those who truly want the Jeep lifestyle are generally happy to make the on-road sacrifices. The Wrangler’s frame will continue to be a fully boxed unit, though we suspect Jeep will use more high-strength steels, resulting in a far stiffer foundation. This, combined with the stronger roof section, will mean a much more ridged body structure.

Prices

Jeep is undoubtedly becoming more proud of its hot-selling Wrangler. With sales continuing to grow like weeds in summertime, the automaker will likely increase the entry price for 2018. Sadly this means the Jeep will move slightly upmarket and be harder to justify for those wanting a bare-bones off-road vehicle they can abuse on the weekends.

Currently, the 2016 two-door Wrangler carries a starting price of $23,895. For that you get crank windows, no air conditioning, and a manual transmission. Opting for the four-door Unlimited bumps the price to $27,695. For those wanting it all, the range-topping Rubicon Hard Rock with all the bells and whistles added tips the scales at $48,000.

The Wrangler JL will likely carry a base price of $26,000. The Unlimited will probably start at $32,000. Max prices with all the options added will likely break the $50,000 barrier.

Competition

Ford Bronco

The rumored addition of the Ford Bronco leaves off-roading fans hot under the collar for a hard-core Wrangler competitor. It’s still unknown what direction Ford is taking the new Bronco, but we’re hoping for a rugged SUV with real capabilities. This would mean the Wrangler would have more competition than it currently does.

The Bronco would come with EcoBoost power, an honest 4WD system, and an independent suspension system. The Bronco will most likely be better mannered on the highway, but will still give the Jeep a run for its money. It’s doubtful, but Ford could offer the Bronco in both two- and four-door versions to compete with both versions of the Wrangler.

It’s easy to imagine Ford bean counters and product planners drooling over the Wrangler’s recent success and sales growth, so they might actually let their engineering counterparts build a respectable hard-core SUV with few compromises. Only time will tell, however.

Conclusion

The next-generation Jeep Wrangler has huge shoes to fill. The current Wrangler JK has far exceeded anything the previous Wrangler and CJ models ever accomplished sales wise, while still holding true to that iconic Jeep image. The new model must be safer, more economical, and more technologically advanced, yet still act like a 50-year-old vehicle in the mud. It’ll be interesting to see how Jeep chooses to accomplish these traits.

We’re really looking forward to seeing how all this plays out, and will definitely keep you up to date with any breaking Wrangler news, so stay tuned to TopSpeed for the latest.

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    • Non-removable roof sections possible
    • Likely more expensive

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