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  • 2018 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 4X4 review - image 1
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The 2018 Jeep Wrangler is no longer a one trick pony.

The Jeep Wrangler is one of the few true design icons of the auto industry, right up there with the Porsche 911 and Mercedes-Benz G-Glass. It should come as no surprise, then, that like Porsche and Mercedes, Jeep didn't want to mess with a good thing when it came to its all-new 2018 Wrangler.

But while at first glance it might not look like much has changed with the new Wrangler, pretty much everything has. From the chassis, to the interior to even the roof design, almost everything in the 2018 Jeep Wrangler is new and improved.

What is it?

As always, the 2018 Wrangler is a boxy and capable SUV. In a world of sleekly styled soft-roaders, the Wrangler is an old school standout. However, with the Wrangler's 2018 redesign, Jeep has proven that you can teach old dogs new tricks. The new Wrangler is still highly capable off-road, but its on-road manners have been greatly refined. That refinement has also seeped into the Wrangler's interior, where you'll now find premium feeling, and looking, materials, and a radio from this century.

The 2018 Wrangler is still a convertible, but Jeep has added simplicity to the SUV's roof for the new model year. The base roof configuration is still a soft top but Jeep has made it much easier to use thanks to some clever engineering — there aren't any more zippers to be found here. For maximum simplicity, the Wrangler will also be available with a Sky Slider roof, which is basically a hardtop with a fabric part in the middle that rolls back like and oversized sunroof. Buyers can also opt for a rigid hardtop that includes two removable roof panels at the front.

On the powertrain front, early versions of the new Wrangler will ship with Jeep's familiar 3.6L V6, paired either to a standard six-speed manual or an optional eight-speed automatic transmission. A turbocharged four-cylinder is also coming, but that engine will be available exclusively with the auto. A diesel powertrain is also in the works for the Wrangler.

What's it up against?

The Wrangler pretty much stands alone in its class, but buyers might also test drive the capable Toyota 4Runner.

How does it look?

Kind of like the old Wrangler, but that's not a bad thing. As I mentioned earlier, the Wrangler is a design icon with styling roots that date back to the 1940s. People expect a certain look from the Wrangler, and with the 2018 model, they got it.

But that's not to say the Wrangler's look is a complete carryover, far from it. Jeep has just made smart changes in all the right places. The top of the Wrangler's seven-slot grille is now angled back at the top, which not only gives it a more modern look, but also improves the SUV's aerodynamics. Headlights are still round, but now adopt LED accents in higher-spec models to give the Wrangler a distinct look at night. Around back its the same story with familiar square taillights that have been upgraded to LEDs. Those new-look rear lights also house the sensors for the Wrangler's newly available blind spot monitoring system.

And on the inside?

Similarly, the Wrangler's interior has been updated to modern specs without losing its Jeepiness. The overall look is familiar, but materials are now soft touch and even include some nice touches like double stitching on the doors and dash.

This new Wrangler has also been blessed with the latest version of Chrysler's Uconnect infotainment system, so it gets a big touchscreen touchscreen display in the dash that can run Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. There's also another color LCD screen located between the Wrangler's analog gauges.

Physical control knobs are chunky and feel well suited to the Wrangler's off-road vibe. Push buttons are easy to use and clearly labeled, but the window controls are a bit wonky. They're still toggle style, but their downward-facing orientation makes them slightly tricky to use.

The biggest improvement to the Wrangler's interior, however, is its fit and finish. The last Wrangler kind of just felt like a cheap SUV inside, but the 2018 model has a much more premium feel. And everything also feels like it's screwed together better — you don't get the squeaks and rattles like you did in the last Wrangler. Wind noise is still a bit of an issue, but that's just part of the Wrangler experience.

But does it go?

The 2018 Wrangler obviously isn't a performance Jeep like the grand Cherokee Trackhawk, but the 3.6L V6 under hood, rated at 285 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque, had no problem zipping along our Rubicon test vehicle. That pep was probably aided by a six-speed automatic transmission that really let us wring out the big V6. An eight-speed auto is an available option. Jeep says you can expected 19mpg in mixed driving from the Wrangler, but we averaged closer to 16mpg in mostly city driving.

Although fuel economy is still a weak spot for the Wrangler, ride comfort is not. The Wrangler is well behaved on paved roads with its new suspension system providing a surprisingly smooth ride. Even the Rubicon's big off road tires, with their thick sidewalls, contribute to a less jarring ride over bumps and potholes. And despite the BFGoodrich's chunky treads, we really didn't notice any excessive tire noise during highway cruising.

Jeep hasn't managed to iron out all of the Wrangler's truck like attributes — the chassis can still get a bit unsettled if you hit a bump mid-corner — but the ride quality improvements for 2018 are nothing short of amazing.

Leftlane's bottom line

With the 2018 redesign, Jeep has managed to remove most of the Wrangler's faults without neutering its defining traits. It really is the best of both worlds — the 2018 Wrangler can function as a normal SUV while still looking like a really cool Wrangler. And that should please everyone, from the hardcore off-roaders to the daily commuters.

2018 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 4X4 base price, $40,495. As tested, $49,275.

Customer Preferred Package 23R (leather seats, premium wrapped dash and doors), $1,495; Cold weather group, $595; LED lighting group, $895; Electronic infotainment system group, $1,295; Jeep active safety group, $795; Hard top headliner, $525; Remote proximity keyless entry, $495; Black Freedom-Top 3-piece hardtop, $1,095; Body color fender flares, $395; Destination, $1,195.

Photos by Drew Johnson.