Jeep Wrangler Poised to Remain A Solid Adventure Vehicle in 2017 and Beyond

Few vehicles embody the utility, adventurous spirit, and sheer capability of Jeep’s venerable Wrangler.  Whether you’re lured by the cavernous 4 door Unlimited, the 2 door titan of off-road ability, (or now the confirmed rumors of a 4 door Pickup variant in the works), the Jeep Wrangler has remained a favorite for off-road enthusiasts and outdoor explorers alike – selling stronger than ever in 2014 with figures nearly twice that of the current models’ introductory year back in 2006.  It’s also for many, the seminal car of the West – being ultimately capable of just about anything a driver can throw at it – right off the showroom floor.  Whatever combination of ingredients it is that creates this success, the Fiat/Chrysler brass has quickly learned not to mess with a winning formula for the up and coming 2018 models, even tossing in some consumer reassurance that the next gen Wrangler, to be dubbed the JL, will be the most “…capable Wrangler ever.”  So what’s ahead for the FCA JL?

2015 Easter Jeep Safari concepts

2015 Easter Jeep Safari concept

Here’s the top 5 updates that are coming to the 2017-18 Jeep Wrangler

1.  Solid Axles

First and foremost, before anything else, there will be no Independent Front Suspension (IFS) for the Jeep Wrangler JL.  Automotive News reports that the next-gen model will stick to floating solid axles both rear AND FRONT (for those who follow, this is the Wrangler’s Special Sauce)  This one single vehicular part controls so much of the destiny of this truck – perhaps more than any other.  Likewise, the presence of a solid axle similarly controls the destiny of this truck’s acceptance in the motoring community.  Without it, all street (or dirt rather) credibility is lost.

Dana, it is rumored, will be tapped again to be the manufacturer of Wrangler’s new axles.  It seems that late last week, Dana was granted a tax abatement by city officials in Fort Wayne, Ind., for a $49 million investment in new machinery and equipment for its Dana Light Axle Products plant there.
The plant makes important components for the Dana 44 axles that come standard on the Wrangler. Keep in mind that a spokesman for Dana would not comment on whether the investment in the plant involved the next-generation Wrangler.

2.  4 Door Wrangler Truck

Rumors of a Wrangler based pickup truck have circulated for a decade or longer – being teased & tempted by the AEV BRUTE for the past several years.  But Fiat Chrysler America head, Sergio Marchionne, has finally confirmed that it’s coming.  There’s even real evidence to show for it in the pictures below.  It’s been more than 20 years since Jeep has offered a pickup and the new one is expected to hit showroom floors in 2018 as a ’19 model.  The spy shot below seems to depict a current model JK generation cab, mated to an experimental truck-box and what might be a JL generation chassis, judging by the wheel to wheel opening placements.

Jeep JL Pickup Prototype

Jeep JL Pickup Prototype – peeped from our Instagram feed

2. Body on Frame Construction

Dodging another bullet, the 2018 Wrangler will remain a Body On Frame (BOF) configured vehicle.  This decision comes in lieu of the alternative, the more widely used Unibody type of construction.  This feature, similar to the Solid Axle above, is the other most important piece of automotive make-up that differentiates a Wrangler from it’s peers.  As a result of the decision to remain BOF means that the Wrangler will likely continue to be built in it’s long hometown of Toledo, OH as Chrysler only has 2 plants capable of that kind of construction technique.

3.  Aluminum Body

Chalk this one up as rumor still.  The challenge is, given the constraints above, how does Chrysler update and improve the Wrangler for the modern era of fuel efficiency and other concerns?  Solid axles and BOF construction are relatively heavy compared to IFS and Unibody cars/trucks, so Fiat is contemplating other more creative solutions to reduce the off-roader’s weight.  Enter Aluminum body panels – similar to Ford’s recently updated F-150.  While a viable option, cost of retooling Toledo for aluminum remains the overriding concern.  Because of the construction methods needed to make an aluminum body, Chrysler would have to upgrade it’s facility and install all new equipment. That would require both a significant investment in tooling and time to shut down the highly profitable plant to make the switch.

4.  An 8 Speed Automatic

Less important to some ‘Jeepers” but still important to the car buying audience in general, will be the availability of Chrysler’s thoroughly modern 8 speed automatic transmission.

“The 8-speed transmission is currently paired with gasoline and diesel engines in the 2014 Ram 1500, Jeep Grand Cherokee and 2014 Dodge Durango. We plan to use this transmission in all of our rear-wheel-drive vehicles, except for heavy-duty versions of the Ram pick-up truck and the SRT Viper,” the company wrote in the filing.  “<It> reduces fuel consumption by more than 9 percent over the five-speed transmission it replaces.”

5.  A smaller V6 engine

This, made possible by the change in body construction – from steel to potentially aluminum, would also help give the new Wrangler a boost in fuel economy.  Essentially, the lighter weight afforded by the aluminum would make way for a smaller top tier engine to replace the current 3.6 liter.  Together, these things should bring the MPG up from the current model’s 17/21 City/Highway rating.  Interestingly, there has been no mention of a diesel option lately…

6.  A diesel engine… maybe

Well, at this point, we’re only mentioning it because it’s rumored, unconfirmed, and very desired.  It’d be nice to have the option, so keep your fingers crossed.