Last year, when Jeep announced they would be redesigning and replacing their top selling Jeep Wrangler JK platform that has been around for the past ten years, we knew it would be a tough task to build a worthy replacement for it. Since its release in 2007, the Wrangler JK and JKU (Unlimited) have sold like hot cakes, with over two million units being sold worldwide. With such a huge following behind them, especially in the off-road world, we knew it would be hard to beat.
Since their release, the new Wrangler on the JL platform have been a very hot item with tons flying off dealership lots. Being as the new Wrangler JLs were released part way through the model year, Jeep also kept production of the Wrangler JKs going alongside the JLs for a while so that being said, you could purchase or order a 2018 Wrangler JL as well as a 2018 Wrangler JK. Confused yet?
Very recently, we had the opportunity to take a brand new Wrangler JL Unlimited Sahara in the very attractive “Mojito!” Green and compare it against a brand new Wrangler JK Unlimited Sahara in “Billet Metallic”. While they are both similar in ways, they are two entirely different beasts.
When looking at the new JL versus the previous JK platform, you’ll notice plenty of differences on the exterior. While the general shape is still true to it’s Wrangler heritage, almost every aspect of the exterior styling on the JL has been massaged and changed in some way for a generally more defined and sleek appearance from it’s LED lighting to the raised fender flares.
The JL features a lowered belt line with larger windows for better outward visibility and the windshield has been angled back more for improved aerodynamics. While we did notice improved visibility on the JL versus the JK, visibility out of the JL seemed to have diminished a slight bit however it could be due to a larger rear view mirror. However, with this new angled windshield, we would hope it would be a bit more resilient to rock chips as it’s a common fact that JKs go through windshields like nothing because of their basically flat design which is very prone to rock chips. Another small upgrade is the new hood latch system. The rubber hood latches on the JK’s were prone to failure, causing the hood to fly up in some cases. The new 2 part hood latch system on the JL’s should definitely cure that problem.
New to the JL, you can order an all-new “Sky One-Touch” power retractable top however our test unit came equipped with the always popular “Freedom Hard Top”. When removing the front Freedom Top panels, we found the overall process of removing them had been upgraded entirely on the JL. Gone are the two annoying twist knobs on the JK that made you reach back uncomfortably to screw them in. Instead, the JL features easy latches which combined with lighter top panels enable a quicker and more user friendly removal and installation process. We’re still curious to see if Jeep finally fixed the ever famous water leak problem the bulk of JK platform vehicles face but time will tell with that one.
The interior and technology on the new JL is where you will see the biggest change as basically everything has been redesigned for the new platform. Technology is where the JL soars miles above the JK. Our JL Sahara test unit came equipped with a Keyless Entry-N-Go system with push-start so gone are the days of fumbling around for your keys or sticking a key in the ignition.
There are USB and media ports galore in the interior. In fact, we counted 7 total; 4 regular USB ports and 3 micro-USB ports along with 12V accessory outlets and a 115-volt AC outlet; a huge upgrade over the minimal amount found in the JK. We also liked the 4 AUX switches found on the dash of the JL which we are sure can be programmed for aftermarket accessories. You no longer have to drill holes in the dash to mount a light bar switch.
Another huge upgrade with the JL is the gauge cluster and the center media unit. A brand new LED instrument cluster replaces the very outdated dot-matrix display found on the JK platform. This all new cluster features a 3.5- or an available 7-inch LED display. The 7-inch LED display allows the driver to configure information in more than 100 ways including current media being played, tire pressure, or digital speed readout. We really liked the advanced vehicle diagnostics found in the new cluster such as battery voltage, oil pressure and water temperature. The JL’s new cluster also features off-road screens such as Roll-Angles and other useful information for off-roading.
A 7.0-inch or an available 8.4-inch touchscreen on the center of the dash houses the fourth-generation Uconnect system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. This new design replaces the very outdated unit that is found on the JK’s, a unit that goes back to 2008. The fourth-generation Uconnect system enhances the user interface and system performance with quicker start up times and improved screen resolution. The JL is packed full of safety and security features such as Blind-spot Monitoring, Forward-Collision Warning, Rear Cross Path detection and the ParkView rear backup camera; all new technology that you could never get on a Wrangler before.
The seats in the JL are just as comfortable as the ones found in the JK and come in either cloth or leather with accent stitching. We did find the rear seats in the JL Unlimited were still awkward to get in and out of like the JK, a minor issue that has always plagued the Wrangler platform. Heated front seats are still an option however cooled seats are still not available. New for the JL is a heated steering wheel. We always wondered why Jeep never offered it on the previous JK platform, even in their top of the line Rubicon when lowered priced Jeep models such as the Compass and Patriot had it.
While we quite like the newly redesigned interior, we can’t help but wonder how long all of the fancy buttons and electrical equipment will last with those that take their Wrangler off road. Plenty of times we have seen JK Wranglers with the entire dash board and interior coated in mud, dirt and water. With the JK Wranglers, it was fairly easy to pull the carpet out and rinse the body tub out. With all of the added technology on the JLs, we’ll be curious to see how long it will be before people start having electrical issues with these if they take it off-road.
We also noticed both Wranglers had quite a bit of wind noise, however the JL had a fair bit less than the JK, we’d assume due to the better aerodynamics.
Like the JK, the new JL continues to utilize the proven five-link coil suspension configuration. The roll center height has been raised and the spring rates have been re-tuned along with the shocks to provide a comfortable ride when traveling around town which we definitely noticed. Driving the JK felt like driving a bucking bull at times, especially when hitting a bump in the road or going over train tracks. The general ride quality of the JL has definitely been upgraded over the JK.
The standard engine in the JL is the 3.6L Pentastar V6 engine that was used in the later model JK Wranglers and delivers 285 horsepower and 260 lb.-ft. of torque however the 3.6L V6 now features Engine Stop-Start (ESS) as standard equipment. A 3.0L EcoDiesel V6 and a 2.0L Turbocharged four-cylinder with eTorque technology will also be available on the JL at some point. An all-new six-speed manual transmission is standard on all Wrangler JL models equipped with the 3.6L V6 and the new-to-Wrangler eight-speed automatic transmission is optional. The new eight-speed automatic is a big upgrade over the old five-speed automatic as we found our JL test unit with the eight-speed automatic to have generally more pep where we felt the JK was almost struggling to get out of it’s own way sometimes.
Overall, the new JL is a lot more refined and brought up to current times than the JK however in our opinion, the JK still remains the best bang for your buck off-road vehicle. If you are looking for a SUV that has great city characteristics but still has off-road capabilities for that weekend at the lake, the JL is a great choice. If you are a big off-road enthusiast who loves to go off-road often, the JK is probably the better choice due to it’s simpler design. That being said though, the JL is still going to be a strong force to be reckoned with in the off-road community. Regardless, both rightfully hold their own place in Jeep’s history and you can’t go wrong with either.
We’d like to give a huge thank you to Kyle Sethi and the team at Abbotsford Chrysler in Abbotsford, British Columbia for allowing us to take two of their beautiful Jeeps out.