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4xForward: I Like Almost Everything About the JL Wrangler Better Than the JK

Posted in Features on August 21, 2018
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I just got back from wheeling JL Wranglers over the Rubicon with Jp magazine’s editor, Rick Péwé. While Rick was able to go drive the JL in New Zealand before its official launch, with the exception of a quick five-minute drive during Moab Easter Jeep Safari 2018 this was actually the first real seat time I've had in the newest Wrangler. So, how do I think the latest evolution of the Rubicon handles the Rubicon? You’ll have to wait until next month for the actual story, but for now I’ll admit that the JL in many ways fixes stuff I didn’t like about the JK in the same way the JK fixed many things I didn’t like about the TJ. But that’s not to say I like the JK better than the TJ. But I do like almost everything about the JL better than the JK. It’s not that JKs are inherently poor vehicles, but personally I just never gelled with them.

Here’s where I would normally go into a spinoff about how, unlike me, some JK owners love them so much they feel the need to tart up their Jeeps with vanity license plates like “RKHOUND” and custom hood decals like “RagnaRock.” Why don’t they just airbrush a mural of Thor straddling the Jeep upon which the mural is painted while raising a lightbar hammer emitting thunderbolts and prancing unicorns and—oh, I’m spinning off. Focus, Hazel, focus.

Anyway, my point is that JKs, while definitely capable, sometimes become the bedazzled jean jacket of the automotive realm. But despite some owners’ propensity to go overboard, the JK served as the platform upon which an entire aftermarket industry thrived for over a decade. It’s no exaggeration that fortunes were literally made by people savvy enough to realize the JK’s shortcomings and bring to market off-road-friendly solutions.

As Rick and I enjoyed a weekend on the ’Con hopping between variants of Jeep’s new JL Rubicon, in the back of my mind I wondered to what degree the JL would be excessorized. But then it dawned on me that unlike the JK, which sort of requires aftermarket solutions to counter its inherent shortcomings, the JL Rubicon was designed with more off-road-enthusiast DNA, which could potentially make some of those modifications optional. For one, the flares come with a nice scribed line right where it seems a 40-inch tire would need it to be cut without looking homely like JK flares when they receive an extreme cut. The Rubicon has an available front bumper featuring removable ends and has the ability to be made winch-capable, and the rear is available in steel with a generous cutout that should take a 35-inch spare easily. The JL Rubicon can be checked with high-power LED lighting package, unlike the JK’s standard beams. The JL Rubicon axles are new Dana 44s, which are stronger and wider than JK Dana 44s, so you should be able to fit 37s on factory wheels without requiring wheel spacers and run with less worry of breakage. The tow package includes four in-dash auxiliary accessory switches, so would you need an aftermarket distribution box? The factory rollcage employs a complete front hoop independent of the windshield frame, so the windshield can easily be folded or removed without leaving the soft (or hard) top dangling unlatched. I could go on, but like I said . . . next month.

So should the aftermarket be worried? Is the JL going to punch a hole in the lucrative accessory market the way streaming video punched a hole in cable TV? I honestly think not. Off-roaders will always have a burning desire to tailor their vehicles to their exact usage. What if you simply don’t like the look or material the factory flares are made of, or you insist on aluminum bumpers and armor? What if you need amber fogs for your misty mountain commute, or you outrun the factory LEDs? How warm and fuzzy are you gonna feel with Dana 44s if you’re running a sticky 40-inch tire with a high-power V-8 swap? Sure, the JL offers four auxiliary switches, but what if you have six components to control? And so on and so on.

In short, I don’t think the JL shuts the door on any single aftermarket manufacturer. If anything, it just creates openings, albeit at a higher level that will push the off-road envelope in new and exciting areas. Now’s a good time to be a wheeler. I can’t wait to see what the JL shakes out of the aftermarket tree.

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