Jeep Wrangler SUV (2018 - ) review
The Jeep Wrangler is something of a unique proposition in the SUV world, mixing off-road ability that only a Land Rover Defender or Mercedes-Benz G-Class can match with enough refinement to make it work on-road as a daily driver.
The Auto Trader expert verdict: ★★★★★ ★★★★★ 3.0
The Jeep Wrangler builds on a great heritage to rightfully stake its claim as one of the most competent off-road vehicles you can buy. It also looks cool and comes with a higher quality interior and a better infotainment system than previous Wranglers. Yes, its off-road ability does lead to compromises on the road, but these compromises are fewer and less severe than in Wranglers of old, and it’s more civilised than some other hardcore mud-pluggers we could name. If you want the ability to crawl up the north face of an Alp, but still need the ability to pop to the shops in (reasonable) comfort, then the Wrangler should be on your shortlist
- Huge off-road ability
- Well-finished interior
- Four-door is reasonably practical
- Only basic safety systems and a low crash test score
- Above average running costs
- Lacks composure on the road
Interested in buying a Jeep Wrangler?
How good does it look?
The Jeep Wrangler has an iconic and upright shape that features cues linking it back to the original Willys Jeep of the 1940s. Buyers choose from a two-door version or a four-door model with a longer wheelbase. They also have the choice of a removable hard-top or a soft fabric roof.
That upright design features plenty of practical elements. To ease removing the doors (yes, you can remove the doors, and that’s not something offered by any rival), the correct tool size required is stamped into them and there’s a useful grab handle to lift them off. Meanwhile, a full-size spare wheel is bolted onto the side-hinged tailgate, and it doesn’t impinge significantly on rearward visibility.
All versions feature alloy wheels, while the Rubicon version looks even more rufty-tufty and has special mud tyres as standard. Buyers have a wide palette of colours to choose from and plenty of customisation options, including the worthwhile Overland pack.
What's the interior like?
The Wrangler’s interior is utilitarian in its design, and it’s also highly functional. You sit close to the near-vertical windscreen, with the door shutting right up against your side, which is pretty unique, but ultimately less comfortable than other modern SUVs. Engine revs and speed are displayed on easy-to-read dials with further driver information on a configurable digital display in between, and the whole dashboard is quite chunky and upright, suiting the image of the car. It’s either trimmed in leather or finished in coloured plastic, depending on the model.
The centre touchscreen is within easy reach and surrounded by a rugged rubberised frame. Below this sits the easy-to-use climate controls. Between the front seats, and almost as large as the gear level, is the selector for the four-wheel-drive system. Behind that are usefully sized cupholders with a neatly integrated slot to hold a large smartphone. Rubicon versions gain additional switches for serious off-roading.
The other interesting thing about the Wrangler’s cabin is that it’s designed to be washable, though we don’t fancy trying to get dried mud out of all the nooks and crannies.
How practical is it?
The Wrangler is available in two forms, the two-door and the four-door, and the car’s performance in this area depends greatly on which one you pick. The two-door’s practicality is rather limited. The two rear seats are (just about) roomy enough for adults, but climbing through the small aperture that’s made by sliding the front seats forward is pretty difficult and not exactly graceful. And that's on the passenger side; try it on the driver's side, where the steering wheel gets in the way, and things get even more difficult.
The boot is also tiny at 203 litres, and if you want any more luggage room, the single-piece rear bench means you have to fold both rear seats down, effectively making your Wrangler into a two-seater.
The four-door, on the other hand, is much better. There are three rear seats instead of only two, and they’re surrounded by a good bit more space than in the two-door. The boot is also considerably larger at 548 litres, so you can take plenty more kit with you on your travels into the wilderness. What’s more, the rear bench folds down in two portions, giving you more versatility on how you use the space available. On both versions, the side-hinged tailgate makes the space rather awkward to get to when you’re in a tight parking space, and you have to flip up the rear window separately, but it’s not too much of a faff.
Given how rugged the Wrangler is, it’s no surprise that the interior features some practical storage solutions. A deep glovebox and cargo nets on the doors provide added space, while there’s enough room between the cupholders and centre storage bin for other items. Along with two USB ports, there are four 12-volt power outlets dotted around the cabin.
What's it like to drive?
The Jeep Wrangler has always compromised on its on-road ride and handling in the name of exceptional off-road ability, and the current generation, while more secure and comfortable than what has gone before, is no different. Admittedly, the Wrangler can go places that owners of most other SUVs wouldn’t even dream of attempting thanks to its four-wheel drive, low-range gears and selection of other off-roading hardware. It’s also partly thanks to soft suspension that allows a lot of wheel movement. In fairness, it can deal with potholes better than most normal cars and you certainly won’t think twice having to mount a kerb. However, there’s a constant jitter to be felt the whole time, and undulating surfaces can have the body bouncing around.
It wouldn’t be fair to criticise the Wrangler too much for its shortage of handling precision, but the fact remains that the steering is very slow and overly light, and the loose body control means you’ll find yourself slowing down for bends much more than you would in other SUVs. This sensation is exaggerated on the Rubicon model, which features extra suspension travel and special tyres. It’s also worth noting that the four-door Wrangler feels more secure on the road - and rides marginally better - than the shorter model.
How powerful is it?
As with every other aspect of the Wrangler, the engine choices are simple. A 2.2-litre diesel provides 200 horsepower, ensuring brisk performance, especially in terms of low-down muscle. An eight-speed automatic gearbox shifts up and down the gears smoothly, although it could react quicker when you ask it for more acceleration. It's a rather agricultural-sounding engine, too, and there's a bit of vibration to be felt, but many will argue that this reflects the rest of the car's character.
There’s also a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine available, that delivers 272 horsepower and is also mated to an eight-speed automatic gearbox. It’s properly strong, with lots of pull from low revs, and it’s smoother and quieter than the diesel as well.
Engines aside, the wind rushing over the front window and door mirrors makes a fair amount of noise, and there’s more from the wide tyres underneath you. Choose a version with knobbly off-roading tyres, and noise levels will increase dramatically.
How much will it cost me?
Choose the diesel engine over the petrol if you need to keep your running costs down over longer distances, because it’s easier on fuel. There’s not much in it on purchase price between the two- and four-door versions, so we’d suggest that the bigger car is worth paying the extra for as, not only is it a sight more practical, but it’ll retain its value and appeal to more buyers when it comes time to move on.
There isn’t much else on the market quite like the Jeep Wrangler within its segment. The Suzuki Jimny is more affordable, but much smaller, while the Mercedes-Benz G-Class is much more expensive. Nonetheless, against mainstream SUVs, like the Kia Sportage and Volkswagen Tiguan, the Jeep looks expensive, thirsty and inefficient.
How reliable is it?
The current Jeep Wrangler is too new for there to be meaningful reliability data available, and even though it’s been around for years, the old one isn’t included in Warranty Direct’s Reliability Index study. Jeep features in the bottom half of the manufacturer standings in that study, but the brand is still well clear of the foot of the table. Our owner reviews don’t report many reliability issues with the car, either, which should provide some peace-of-mind, and owners are widely known to put their cars through demanding situations few other cars would endure.
How safe is it?
Unlike most modern SUVs, which offer six or more airbags, the Wrangler gets just four, and all of those are up front. So, those in the rear have to rely solely on their seatbelt for crash safety. You do get the basic systems such as anti-lock brakes and electronic stability control, plus electronic aids to reduce the risk of rolling over.
Jeep offers more driver assistance technology to monitor blind spots and the area behind when reversing. There’s also a reversing camera, but you don’t get any of the fancy automatic braking, automatic parking or adaptive cruise control features that you might expect from a car in this section of the market. The Wrangler scored a very poor one star out of five in crash tests by safety organisation Euro NCAP, which is highly unusual for a brand-new car. Testers highlighted particular issues fitting child seats into the car.
How much equipment do I get?
The Wrangler range kicks off with the Sahara model, and even this one comes with quite a few creature comforts. The standard roster includes keyless go, cruise control, rear parking sensors, a reversing camera, climate control, powered windows and an 8.4-inch touch-screen infotainment system with navigation, eight speakers and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto. From there, you upgrade to either Overland trim or Rubicon trim, but while each upgrade costs the same amount, they get you very different cars. The Overland focuses on luxury, giving you heated leather seats, a headlining for the hard top and a few extra styling flourishes, while the Rubicon makes the Wrangler as hardcore as it can be, with knobbly mud tyres and a host of other no-nonsense off-roading gear.
The Wrangler is a car you buy with your heart rather than your head. It’s big, brash and unapologetic in its styling, which is a considerable part of its appeal. It also has a unique image that stands out from the crowd, making it one of only a few cars that are instantly recognisable. Few other vehicles can provide such capable off-road driving straight from the factory, either. No wonder it’s an off-roading icon.