Tracing its lineage back to 1941, where its great, great, great granddaddy operated as a nimble reconnaissance vehicle for U.S. forces in WWII, the 2018 Jeep Wrangler is nearly as much about heritage as it is about off-road prowess. Long before we knew it as Wrangler, this outrageously capable 4×4 built a following that has grown in number and loyalty.
Through the decades and a parade of owners, the Jeep brand has managed to maintain its grip on many of the basics that make a Wrangler a Wrangler, only because the engineers, designers and product specialists within Jeep fought tirelessly to keep it pure. Today, purists within the brand don’t need to defend the big things like retaining Wrangler’s body-on-frame architecture or keeping it exclusively 4WD, and they feel they have the freedom and the support from current owner FCA to tinker around the edges to reinforce Wrangler’s 75-plus-year heritage.
We recently sat down with Wrangler chief engineer Brian Leyes, head of Jeep design Mark Allen and interior designer Ryan Patrick Joyce to suss out a few of the elements in the next-gen Wrangler they believe enhance its rich heritage. One thing is for sure: There’s a direct line from the past to the present.
Liberal use of real metal in the cabin was a conscious design decision calling back to the CJs. Real metal screws hold interior pieces together and can be spotted on the grab handle and shifter, and the bezels surrounding the HVAC vents are chrome plated.
It wouldn’t be a Wrangler without the legendary 7-slot grille. For 2018, though, designers reached back to the early CJs for the grille shape. Whether calling it Keystone or trapezoidal, the grille shape now tapers in width from the top to the bottom. Additionally, like the earliest CJ, the large round headlamps encroach a bit into the two outer slots.
Again, as with the CJ, the brand logo appears on the Wrangler’s side rather than the front. On the 2018 Wrangler, you will find Jeep directly below the A-pillar near the bottom of the front quarter panel.
Wrangler has always favored function over form. Never intended to be prettiest in show, Wrangler’s strength has always been in getting the job done. Nothing is a better example of this than the instrument panels in the Jeep YJ. A salute to the horizontal, the IPs in these Jeeps were narrow top to bottom with the gauges lined up in a straight row across the dashboard. These were the inspiration for the next-gen Wrangler IP in which the top section, or brow, of the dashboard flows straight across the width of the cabin. The HVAC vents, the key round gauges and even the touchscreen are arranged horizontally within this section painted in the exterior color.
Swing Gate Plaque
For no other reason than they thought it was cool and that owners would love it, Wrangler product folks added another retro touch duplicating the metal information plate found on old CJs. Screwed into the swing gate of every 2018 Jeep Wrangler is an aluminum plate providing some exterior measurements, water fording information, location of the assembly plant and an American flag.
We would have never noticed this had it not been pointed out to us, but the horn pad in the center of the steering wheel surrounding the Jeep logo includes three indentations at three o’clock, six o’clock and nine o’clock. This is a nod to the 3-spoke steering wheel found in the YJs.
Arguing that horses don’t have windshields, designers saved the Wrangler’s lay-down folding windshield in its 2018 redesign. Apparently, there were a few among the decision makers involved in the 2018 Wrangler who wanted to make the windshield fixed, citing that almost no one ever folds down the windshield. Those who supported retaining the folding windshield countered that folding the windshield on the current Wrangler requires removing nearly 30 bolts and takes about 90 minutes. Eventually the purists won out, as did the future owners of the next-gen Wrangler. Folding down its windshield takes three minutes and calls for removing four bolts.