If you thought the only thing significant happening in 2017 was the inauguration of a new president, think again. Rumor has it that a new Jeep Wrangler is set to replace the current JK as a 2017 model in mid-to-late 2016. With Jeep currently able to sell pretty much every Wrangler that rolls off the assembly line—to the tune of nearly 13,000 a month in the US alone for 2013—you might think the company is reluctant to make significant changes. So far, Jeep peeps have been pretty tight-lipped about what features this new Wrangler might have. Unfortunately, it’s still probably many months before we get a chance to see spy shots of the JK-replacement rolling around under a camo-wrap cover. Luckily, there is still time, and maybe some Jeep heads will read this very article and incorporate some of the features we want to see on the next Wrangler.
Solid Axles Out
As enthusiasts, of course, we all want to keep the solid axles under our beloved Wranglers. Solid axles are simple, durable, and allow the suspension to be easily modified. However, it’s an antiquated design with some known flaws and assembly line difficulties that most of us overlook because of the many advantages. Word is that solid axles may not be in the plans for the 2017 Jeep. Don’t act so surprised, we know for a fact that there were IFS test mules built during the design phases of both the TJ and JK. Don’t take it so hard. The rumored IFS suspension would be a long-travel system, meaning the IFS Wrangler would likely handle bumps much better than its solid-axle counterpart. An IFS Wrangler would also provide more refined on- and off-road handling characteristics. These specific attributes would likely be at the cost of less low-speed articulation, the area where Jeep has been primarily focused for many years with its Rubicon model. It’s said that, in order to maintain the same general off-road performance as the current solid axle design, the IFS system would need at least 12 inches of wheel travel. Imagine a pair of long lower A-arms that nearly meet in the middle of the Jeep, like on the Jeep Hurricane concept (pictured above).
We did bump into an especially interesting design possibility thought up many years ago by Jeep engineers. Some of the major drawbacks of IFS are the decreased ground clearance as the suspension compresses and the limited angularity available with traditional CV halfshafts. The 2017 Jeep Wrangler could be built with a sort of floating front differential that moves up and down with the lower A-arms as the suspension cycles, alleviating both of these known issues. It seems like the design introduces a lot more moving parts when you consider the steering, halfshafts, and driveshaft. All we know for sure is that if the new Wrangler has IFS, it won’t be long before an aftermarket company offers a solid axle swap kit.
The Jeep Rubicon is the most capable factory 4x4 offered to date. No one can argue that. True to its namesake, its proficiencies tend to be more skewed to the slower rockcrawling crowd. However, the current JK is a great platform for many terrain types. As such, we think the top-tier Rubicon model should be able to master more than just the rocky Rubicon. It could easily be awesome at everything. All it needs is one more speed in the transfer case. Currently, the Rubicon’s 4:1 low range is too low for any sort of high-speed mud or dune running that requires wheel speed. It maxes out at about 25 mph. The standard 2.72:1 low range found in every other Wrangler derivative is a more well-rounded ratio. It’s functional in the mud and sand, as well as on technical trails. Don’t get us wrong, we don’t want to give up the 4:1, and we don’t want to give up the 2.72:1 either. So how about a combination compromise? Imagine a three-speed transfer case, able to shift on the fly with a 2.72:1 gear, a 1.5:1 gear, and a compounded 4.10:1 gear. This would give you all the gearing options needed to attack almost anything off-road. The 1.5:1 gear could be useful on-road around mountain and snow-covered roads and could even help compensate for the addition of larger-diameter tires.
With the 3.0-L EcoDiesel success in the Jeep Grand Cherokee and now the Ram 1500 under Chrysler’s belt, it only makes sense to turn the Wrangler into an oil-burner too. The 240 hp and 420 lb-ft of the 3.0L EcoDiesel is probably a little too much to be considered for the small Jeep. However, the VM Motori HR428 DOHC 2.8L pushing 161 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque or the A428 2.8L punching out 197 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque could be the perfect
match for the Wrangler. Or, rather than reinventing the wheel, how about offering a version of the same VM Motori 2.8L four-cylinder that everyone outside of North America enjoys. We already know it fits under the hood. This overseas-available Jeep CRD turbodiesel punches out 200 hp and 339 lb-ft of torque for automatic transmission models and 302 lb-ft for Wranglers with manual transmissions. Ultimately, we hope for at least one optional engine in 2017 Jeep.
OK, fine, we get it. With a take-rate of only about 30 percent, the two-door Wrangler isn’t as popular as the four-door Unlimited model. However, that’s no reason to overlook the need for a rear fold-up seat detent. For eight model years, two-door Wrangler owners have had to deal with the flipped-up rear seat inadvertently folding back down and crushing things during hard acceleration. And speaking of rear seats, wouldn’t it be cool if there was a rear-seat delete option for both the two- and four-door? We’d also like to see a much flatter floor on the four-door with the back seats folded forward.
The number-two most asked question about the Wrangler is likely how to make more power, especially with the ’07 to ’11 Jeeps featuring the 202hp 3.8L V-6. The ’12-up JKs with the Pentastar V-6 make 83 more horsepower, but more is always better right? For far too long, the Wrangler has not enjoyed any optional engines. We’re sure that a version of the current Pentastar V-6 will make its way into the 2017 Jeep Wrangler. It’s pretty well known that this engine can be easily modified and upgraded for a turbo with factory reliability. Imagine your Pentastar-powered JK punching out somewhere in the neighborhood of 350 hp with a factory warranty. Yes, please.
Air Under There
Aside from 12- and 120-volt power outlets, what’s the one thing that almost every outdoor enthusiast can make use of? How about factory-offered on-board air? It could be used for filling tires after an off-road outing, inflating lake floaties and camp mattresses, and blowing the dust off of gear. If we had our way, there would be an optional central tire inflation system too, allowing the tires to be inflated or deflated on the fly from the comfort of the driver’s seat. We think the on-board electric air pump output should be at least 3 cfm at 90 psi. A 2.5-gallon tank would be an added bonus.
Beadlocks allow the tires to be run at lower pressures off-road for improved traction and a smoother ride without the worry of losing a tire bead, causing the tire to deflate quickly. The precedent for the OEs has been set, and Mopar has been dabbling with aftermarket DOT-compliant beadlocks for several years. Ford took the first leap of faith and began offering DOT-compliant beadlocks as an option on its Ford Raptor. The Ford wheels can be used as a traditional non-beadlocked wheel with an “accent” ring, or you can dismount the outer tire bead and clamp it in place with that same accent ring, technically making the assembly no longer suitable for street use. We’ve seen several prototype Mopar wheels with a similar design. It shouldn’t be long before they surface on the Wrangler Rubicon and Moab models, although we suspect that the Ram Power Wagon will be the first Chrysler vehicle to get the optional factory beadlock treatment.
For years, Jeep has had the misguided belief that people want boxy based on the success of the ’84 to ’01 XJ Cherokee and all of the Wrangler models. Well guess what, the Commander was just as boxy and Jeep couldn’t even give them away fast enough to keep the rotors from rusting at the shipping yard. It’s all about the content, it can still be cool without being boxy. As sure as government fuel-mileage mandates increase, we think you’ll see the 2017 Jeep Wrangler loose a bit of chub and gain a swoopier grille and overall body design in general. It might not be too far off of what you see here on the Jeep Hurricane concept introduced in 2005.
We pretty much expect the fold-down windshield to disappear for 2017. Jeep has prepped us all for it since the introduction of the ’07 Wrangler. The curved JK windshield frame looks like a banana sitting on the hood when folded down. In fact, it looks so silly that almost no one ever utilizes the feature, not to mention how difficult of a job it has become. At this point, all we can hope for is that the Wrangler will at least have a removable windshield frame that can be unbolted for trail use or easy repair/replacement if needed, but don’t hold your breath for that. We’re actually skeptical if the new Wrangler will even have a removable top anymore. It’s possible that it will be replaced with an extra-large sunroof, similar to what is found on the ’15 Jeep Renegade. You can thank your friendly local government crash standards if so.
The Jeep Wrangler is one of the last 4x4 SUV holdouts in the industry with a body-on-frame design. We’d love to believe it will stay that way, but from a manufacturing standpoint, the cons outweigh the pros. A modern-day Unitbody Jeep chassis can be built more rigidly, lighter, and for less money than a traditional ladder frame and body design. At the end of the day, the dollar could call the shots on this one. Aside from the possibility of a Unitbody, we also believe the next generation Wrangler will be significantly lighter and smaller. We expect Jeep to shrink the porky Wrangler and diet off somewhere in the neighborhood of 700-1,000 pounds. The lighter weight will in turn improve fuel economy, acceleration, braking, handling, and on- and off-road performance. A plus-side of going with the Unitbody design would be the ability to decrease the overall height and center of gravity compared to the outgoing model, yet retain the large wheel openings for tires that could potentially be larger than what is currently.