Iconic Jeep Wrangler gets makeover while keeping classic look

Most people won't even notice it when they see it, but the 2018 Jeep Wrangler is all new -- yet it looks very familiar.

It was time for a clean-sheet design for Jeep's off-road vehicle, but the designers and engineers knew that it had to retain its basic look, which goes back decades to World War II.

The trademark vertical grill is still flanked by round headlights, but they're composite lights with LED functionality. On the edge of the front fenders, LED signals and running lights show a definite modern side, and the traditional square taillights are LED as well.

Technology has brought lighter materials to the body for weight savings, including extensive use of aluminum and even magnesium.

Reducing weight was part of readying this iconic vehicle for the future, along with better fuel efficiency. Engine choices include a V6, a new turbocharged 4-cylinder and a V6 diesel arriving in 2019. A 6-speed manual transmission is standard, and a new 8-speed automatic is optional . The 2018 Wrangler also features automatic stop-start to save fuel at stoplights by shutting the engine off and then immediately restarting it as soon as you need to move. The stop-start feature can be deactivated by the driver via a button on the dashboard.

But even with modern touches, the folks at Jeep knew they couldn't mess with the Wrangler's off-road capability. This vehicle has such a dedicated following of four-wheeling enthusiasts that one company official told me bluntly, "there's no way we could have screwed this one up."

Yes, the off-road chops of the Wrangler were retained and even enhanced, but there have been improvements to how it behaves on the street as well -- for those drivers who rarely leave the pavement. There is now all kinds of available safety technology, like blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic warning and an amazingly sharp rear view camera.

These options can add up on the window sticker, obviously. While the base price for a two-door Wrangler with a soft top and manual transmission is about $24,000, the red four-door Wrangler Unlimited Sahara was loaded to the gills and had a bottom line sticker price that just topped $50,000.

That's actually one of the appealing things about the Wrangler to enthusiasts: the fact that it can be so customized right from the factory. Different engines, different four-wheel drive systems, different roof configurations, and so on. Then, many buyers go further with aftermarket customization. The Mopar division of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (Jeep's parent company) has prepared a whole slew of accessories for the new Wrangler.

The Wrangler is somewhat crude, on purpose, with things like exposed hinges and bolts. While that may turn some people off, it's exactly what Jeep enthusiasts want. And even with the Jeep brand never doing especially well in reliability surveys, the company easily sells every single Wrangler it can build.

So keep an eye out for this new version of an automotive icon. You might notice the 2018 Wrangler on the road soon, or you might not notice it at all because it looks just like the familiar Jeep -- on purpose.
Copyright © 2021 KABC-TV. All Rights Reserved.