Love it or hate, there is no denying that the Wrangler is a one-of-a-kind vehicle.
Car Class: Avis/Budget; Enterprise/National/Alamo – Specialty SUV; Hertz/Dollar/Thrifty: Standard SUV
Availability: All major rental car agencies
Alternatives: Ford Edge, Hyundai Santa Fe, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Kia Sorento, Nissan Murano
|Drive off||Walk away|
|Off road capability||Vague steering|
|Cool factor||Fuel economy|
|Open air experience||Driving position|
Tracing its roots back to the Willys Jeep from WWII, the Jeep Wrangler is another unmistakable automotive icon. Packing a distinctive look and unique features such as removable doors and fold down windshield, the Wrangler have garnered a cult following over the years. While the Wrangler have always sacrificed on-road drivability for off-road capability, Jeep engineers have been hard at work making the redesigned JL Wrangler appeal to a wider audience, most of whom will never take their vehicle off-road. Have they succeeded? This week, we continue our Jeep rental journey with the all-new 2018 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara.
As standard, the Wrangler is powered by the ubiquitous 3.6L Pentastar V6 found in many other FCA products. In this application, the engine produces 285 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. Unlike the previous generation however, the Wrangler is also available with an optional 2.0L turbocharged 4-cylinder that makes 270 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. Unfortunately, we have yet spot any Wranglers with the 4-cylinder on rental lots. Replacing the antiquated 5-speed automatic, all engines are now mated to a 8-speed transmission. While power output has not increased over the last generation, the new transmission makes the most of the available power. As a result, acceleration is much improved. It will never set the world on fire, but at least we don’t feel the engine straining to get up to speed. Another benefit of the new transmission is improved fuel economy. Jeep claims the Wrangler will achieve 12.9L/100km on the highway and 10.2L/100km in the city. During our time with the vehicle, we averaged 12.8L/100km in mostly stop-and-go traffic, a respectable figure given the size of the vehicle.
Riding on 18-inch wheels with all-season tires, the ride remains typical Wrangler. While we noticed the improved body stiffness in our hardtop model, bigger bumps send a jarring shudder through the entire cabin. Despite being much improved over the last generation, it’s one of the choppiest ride we have experienced in a vehicle. On the highway, we are pleasantly surprised by the amount of cabin noise. Despite the blocky profile, road and wind noise are kept in check. Don’t get us wrong, it’s nowhere near S-class quiet but at least we can carry a conversation without raising our voices. On the other hand, steering is, for the lack of a better word, vague. Even at low speeds, constant adjustments to the steering wheel are necessary to keep the vehicle tracking straight, which can be fatiguing over longer drives.
With such a tall body, visibility in the Wrangler is generally good. The big and square windows afford a clear view of the environment around the vehicle. Despite the upright windshield, the view over the hood remains unimpeded for the most part, except for the front fenders, which are hidden from the driver’s line of sight. As a result, we had to more than once guesstimate the vehicle’s width when making tight maneuvers. Definitely not fun when you are navigating narrow city streets. New for 2018, a HD (we really mean it) rearview camera is standard across the range and is something that we appreciate given poor rear visibility caused by the spare tire.
Comfort and Convenience
Being the mid-trim, our Sahara rental comes fairly equipped with features such as a 8.4-inch Uconnect 4 infotainment display with Apple Carplay, Android Auto, Garmin navigation and 4 USB ports, Alpine sound system, dual zone automatic climate control, push button start, 8-way manual adjustable driver seat, easily removable front roof panels and household power outlet. Sadly, active safety features such as automatic emergency braking and lane keep assist remains unavailable in the Wrangler. Only blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert are optional although we have yet to spot any rental Wranglers equipped with the feature.
Climbing inside, the JL Wrangler feels like a luxury vehicle compared to the previous generation. Replacing the hard plastics of yore, soft touch materials and contrasting stitching elevate the overall quality in the cabin. While not going to be as durable, we are more than happy to trade a few years of wear and tear for a comfortable place to rest our elbows. In addition, the strip of metallic effect trim surrounding the air vents, instrument cluster and infotainment screen adds a splash of colour to the otherwise drab cabin. While leather is available, our rental is equipped with the standard cloth seats. Supportive as they are, it was difficult for us to find a comfortable driving position despite the addition of a telescoping steering wheel. Perhaps it had to do with the inability for the front of the seat bottom cushion to be tilted, which left thigh support something to be desired. On the bright side, the 2-way lumbar support meant our backs were well supported during our drives in and out of the city.
Surprisingly for a vehicle meant for open air enjoyment, our rental does not come equipped with any heated surfaces. That said, heated front seats and steering wheel are optional. Be sure to check the if your Wrangler comes equipped with these features, especially when renting in the winter months.
Ease of Use
Similar to the Grand Cherokee we had previously, our rental is fitted with the larger 8.4-inch Uconnect display with embedded Garmin navigation. Given that it is essentially a carbon copy of the Grand Cherokee’s system, please refer to that review for our impression of the system. Like most modern vehicles, the Wrangler comes with several charging ports including 4 USB, 3 USB-C and a household outlet. We are surprised to see to see USB-C ports and while their application are limited at present, it is great to see FCA future-proofing their vehicles.
Standard on the Sahara trim is a colour 7-inch display in the centre of the instrument cluster that displays various information including speed, fuel and temperature levels, trip, audio and phone information as well as vehicle status. We like the rugged look of the graphics that befit the vehicle’s character but we cannot get over how laggy some of the transitions are (especially when switching between menus). We are sure drivers will be more than happy to forgo some of the animations for snappier response times.
As one of the few vehicles on sale today that still has a manual part-time 4×4 system, the centre console consists of both the drivetrain and transmission shifters. Thankfully, both are easy to operate with clear and intuitive labels
Despite being classified as a mid-size SUV, the design of the Wrangler has interior space more akin to that of a compact SUV. Thanks to the boxy design, headroom both front and rear are in abundance with even the tallest of passengers fitting comfortably. Legroom, however, takes a backseat. Even with the driver seat adjusted all the way back, leg space remains tight for a 6-ft tall driver. Surprisingly, rear seat legroom remains acceptable even with the front seats at their most rearward position. Due to the protruding fenders, interior width of the Wrangler is limited. While 3 will still fit in a pinch, substantial body contact is expected.
To better enable the Wrangler to clear off-road obstacles such as rocks and debris, ground clearance is a class-leading 10 inches. However, this translates into a high cabin that may be difficult for shorter passengers to get in and out. Side steps are standard on our Sahara rental, but they themselves are so high off the ground that we much prefer stepping directly into the cabin. If you have small kids in your party, it will be wise to test the ingress and egress before committing to the Wrangler. Measured at 31.5 cubic feet, cargo space in the Wrangler is respectable and more than enough for a family’s week worth of luggage. Access, however, can be a challenge especially when parallel parked due to the swing out tailgate and pop up rear glass.
Love it or hate it, there is no denying that the Wrangler is a one-of-a-kind vehicle. Regardless of whether you are looking for a capable off-road machine or an open air experience, the Wrangler does it all. Driving the Wrangler this week, we felt like we are part of an exclusive club. Other Wrangler owners say ‘hi’ when passing by and we have more than once gotten the thumbs up. Aside from vehicles approaching six figures, we have never gotten so much attention on the roads. If you are looking for one of the ultimate American automotive legends, do yourself a favour and take the Wrangler on your next rental. You may not enjoy the experience, but at least you have been part of the club. After all, it is a Jeep thing.
Avis/Budget: Classified as one of the cool cars, the Wrangler is in a class of its own. At present, all Wranglers in the Avis/Budget fleet are of the previous JK generation Sahara Unlimited models equipped with navigation and heated seats. That said, as the JK gets phased out in 2019, we expect to see the JL models appearing in the fleet in the near future.
Enterprise/National/Alamo: As one of the first major rental car agency to introduce the JL Wrangler, Enterprise/National/Alamo currently has a mixture of both JL and JK Wrangler Sahara Unlimited models and classifies them in a separate category (Jeep 2-door/4-door). Nonetheless, if you are renting from National, Wranglers are a common sight in both the Emerald and Executive areas, which are accessible with a midsize reservation. To spot the new generation, look for the turn signals. While they are next to the grille on the JK Wranglers, the JL Wranglers have then moved to the front fenders.
Hertz/Dollar/Thrifty: Unlike the above companies, the Wrangler is classified as a standard SUV and unable to be reserved specifically. Similar to Avis/Budget, the current fleet consists of mainly JK Wrangler Sahara Unlimited models but we do expect the JL generation to be introduced in due time.