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Review of the 2018 Jeep Wrangler Sahara Unlimited: It’s All Good

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I have a deeply detailed memory, dating to my early teens, of the feeling of freedom I felt during joyrides in my step-brother’s 1989 Jeep Wrangler YJ. Seared in my brain are moments of splashing through the mud, the wind creating aural havoc with the canvas roof, the “sound” of the 4.2L engine, the copious amount of oil that needed to added periodically, the long gear shifter bolted directly into the floor and a bunch of other details, some more pleasant than others.

At the time, we took particular joy in tracking around on icy and snowbound roads in search of motorists stuck in the ditch, so that we could help extract them – all so we could brag afterward about the Jeep’s superiority. I also remember driving on (very long) trails in the summer until we arrived, exhausted, at destination.

When I think back to the Wrangler of that era, what comes to mind first and foremost is that we got pretty solidly shaken, rattled and rolled – and I loved it! I’ve never had that experience in any other vehicle since then, and I understand fully how the Wrangler, despite having evolved over the past 75 years, was and remains utterly unique. It’s of another species, with its own genetic code, conceived for off-roading.

Photo: K.Lajoie

But what does the future hold? Not having access to a functioning crystal ball, I have nothing of use to say about that. But I can talk about the present: I recently had the chance to drive the modernized Wrangler of today. Fully redesigned for 2018, the model has been improved across the board.

Styling-wise not much of the Wrangler has changed in the past several decades; no one can seriously say this new vintage is not “authentic”. But whereas the old Wrangler had real charm despite its slowness and lack of refinement, Jeep’s engineers have created an extraordinary machine for the 2018 model-year. Adapted to modern life, it retains the qualities that made it such a legendary vehicle.

This is an SUV that is more rugged, more comfortable and more fuel-efficient (though still not exactly stingy on gas). Its engines are more advanced, and it’s loaded with more available options and more technologies than ever, and it delivers a smoother ride that’s much less brutal on the human body.

As a young mother, I discovered in the 2018 Wrangler a vehicle that could very capably fulfill my daily transportation needs thanks to its new, more civilized side. But as an old-time Jeep lover, I loved that it can still off-road like no other, and in all seasons!

Photo: K.Lajoie

The exterior
The eighth generation of this iconic 4x4 has gained more window acreage, especially in back where the window is noticeably larger. This comes thanks to a lower belt line that allowed for including bigger windows.

The Sahara Unlimited edition I drove is, in my view, the most elegant Wrangler offered this year, with its chrome elements and dressed-up alloy wheels. The Rubicon version, reviewed here, sports a more aggressive look, with its over-sized wheel arches that are designed to accommodate that edition’s standard 33-inch wheels.

The overall weight of the SUV has been reduced, meanwhile, through the use of high-strength steel for the chassis, which is still a ladder frame build, and of aluminum for a number of components like the doors, hood, rear hatch and windshield frame.

Photo: K.Lajoie

The result is a model lighter by 90 kg but which gains in stiffness, which has a positive impact on fuel economy and driving pleasure. The Sahara and Rubicon models also get LED headlights and fog lights (as an option); this definitely improves visibility, and I found it particularly reassuring when driving at night.

The new available power-retractable Sky One-Touch roof allows you to fold back the full-length canvas top with a push of a button, which is a first for a Jeep model; I loved its practicality. I the options catalogue, meanwhile, there are dozens of available combinations for the doors, roof and windshield, so you can create your own personalized Wrangler very easily.

You know what else is easy? Taking it apart! Or at least, the doors and the roof, and folding down the windshield. This year it’s even easier to remove the hard top. On the old model, you needed to remove 28 bolts to remove the windshield; the new 2018 Wrangler requires only taking off 4!

Photo: Jeep

The interior
The interior the new Wrangler is a much more refined space than before, though here too Jeep’s engineers have done a superb job of retaining the model’s DNA. Better materials were used throughout the cabin, particularly in the big editions. Curiously, the Sport base model still features manual windows. Though if there’s one model in which that’s OK, it’s probably the Wrangler.

The streamlined central console and the addition of push-button start are positive additions as well to the new Wrangler.

Legroom and headroom are both excellent in the front row; passengers there will find the Sahara Unlimited more than comfortable enough - though I wouldn’t put the comfort level quite up there with a latest-generation SUV. The seats could do with a bit more padding to make them absorb human bodies and their curves a little better, for example. But still, for a Wrangler, the new edition represents a big step forward.

The Sahara Unlimited being a four-door, I was also able to try out the back row. And good news, I was able to do that easily, even 8-months pregnant! Accessibility, therefore, is excellent. Once in, though, legroom isn’t phenomenal. My two-year-old in his car seat found the space for his little feet a little cramped when someone was occupying the seat in front of him.

Photo: Jeep

The trunk is relatively small, and the sideways-opening door isn’t the most practical when you’re in a crowded parking lot. Overall, the interior of the Sahara Unlimited is undeniably higher-end, if not quite luxurious. Another point worth mentioning is the noise level inside. It’s definitely far less deafening than previously, but even with the hard top, the Wrangler is still pretty noisy.

The overall package in terms of technologies is far superior to what you found in Wranglers of old. The rectilinear dashboard is highly practical and the commands are intuitively placed. Available this year are three different screen sizes (5.0-, 7.0- or 8.4-inch); on the two biggest of those you can access Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as well as the 4th-generation Uconnect system.

The powertrains
For starts the product offering includes the trusty 3.6L Pentastar V6 engine (output: 285 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque); this by the way is the best-selling engine in Canada. This year Jeep has added a stop/start function to the engine, which is wedded to a standard 6-speed manual gearbox or a new optional 8-speed automatic transmission.

Photo: Jeep

Also available is a new 2.0L 4-cylinder turbo that generates up to 270 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque, available only in combo with the 8-speed automatic. This powertrain also incorporates e-Torque technology, a hybrid system that includes the stop/start function and electronic assistance to smooth out the transmission’s shifting and power being produced by the engine, and smart charging of the battery through regenerative braking.
FCA is promising a third powertrain option shortly, in the form of a 3.0L EcoDiesel V6 producing 260 hp and 443 lb-ft of torque; it’s currently in use in the RAM 1500 and the Jeep Grand Cherokee. It also will be bolted exclusively to the 8-speed automatic transmission, adjusted to handle the added power. This powertrain, when it becomes available, will be offered only with the 4-door version of the Wrangler.

On the horizon in 2020 is a plug-in variant of the model… but that’s a let’s-wait-and-see proposition!

Photo: K.Lajoie

Two advanced 4x4 systems are offered this year, as well as a revised suspension and modified shocks for a better equilibrium between on-road agility and off-road capability. Torque and road grip have also been improved when driving on slippery surfaces such as sand, now or ice; this comes courtesy of the available Trac-Lok auto-locking rear differential.

Four skid plates and reinforcement parts do their bit to protect under-carriage components when driving on trails.  

Maximum towing capacity for the Wrangler is 3,500 lb, when fitted with the available towing package.

Photo: K.Lajoie

At the wheel
Jeep wanted to improve (even more!) the off-road capabilities of the Wrangler, and it’s mission accomplished, in my view. In its segment there’s simply no one model that can come close to matching its ability to go almost literally anywhere! At the same time, as mentioned, on-road comfort and ride-smoothness was a parallel focus. I found that the suspension negates road-surface imperfections better than before, and the new turbo engine delivers torque and acceleration with verve.

Overall the drive is more stable, more pleasant and more comfortable; the braking system has also been revisited and improved. I would go so far as to say that this is the first Wrangler to be as pleasant to drive on the road as off it.

Fuel consumption, though it is 10% improved in comparison with the previous model, is still nothing to write home about. My week with the SUV ended with a figure of 13.2L/100 km (driving only in two-wheel drive).

Photo: K.Lajoie

The Wrangler is a wonderful toy, though it isn’t a cheap one with its price tag that can climb above $50,000. But in a segment populated increasingly by models that look like clones of one another, it retains an utterly unique and distinct personality and look.

The manufacturer has produced a long list of options that allows buyers to heavily personalize their Wrangler to suit their needs and tastes. This is better than imposing expensive equipment packages that include a ton of functions that won’t necessarily be used.

The wild card with the 2018 Wrangler is its reliability – we’ll have to wait and see about that. Then there’s the nostalgia people may feel for the old version’s price point. The new Wrangler costs about $6,000 more than the model it’s replacing.


Two-door models

Wrangler Sport: From $34,195
Wrangler Sport S: From $38,145
Wrangler Rubicon: From $46,595

Four-door models

Wrangler Unlimited Sport S: From $41,995
Wrangler Unlimited Sahara: From $45,995
Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon: From $48,995
Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon with all the options: $63,266 (depending on province)


Toyota 4Runner…
…and that’s about it.

2018 Jeep Wrangler Sahara
jeep wrangler 2018
2018 Jeep Wrangler Sahara
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Photos pf the 2018 Jeep Wrangler Sahara Unlimited

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