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Is the New Jeep Wrangler JL Better Than the JK?

Nena Knows Jeeps

Nena BarlowPhotographer, Writer

With the introduction of the new 2018 Jeep Wrangler JL, one can’t help but wonder how it compares to the previous-generation Wrangler, the bestselling JK. If you read no further than this, here it is: The JL is better than the JK. For simplicity, I will only discuss how the JL Rubicon compares to the later-version JK (2012–2017) Rubicon. I won’t even discuss comparisons to any Wrangler built before the 2012 model, because, well, that just wouldn’t be fair.

My first JL, nicknamed “Juliet,” arrived on Tuesday, January 29. She is an Unlimited Rubicon with the eight-speed automatic, 3.6L V-6, optional dual top, 8.4-inch control screen, tan leather, metal bumpers, tow package, and heavy-duty electrical system. We have also received some JLs with cloth seats, 7-inch screens, and plastic bumpers. We’ve had a chance to wring them out on Sedona’s backroads and mountain trails, Moab red rocks, snow, sand, SoCal freeway traffic, San Bernardino Mountain trails, and some rally-speed driving choppy back roads. I giggled with glee the whole time. Here are the highligts of the JL to me, in no particular order:

Performance
• Beefier front axle housing and bigger brakes. (Yay—FINALLY!)
• Amazingly quick and smooth power from the next-generation 3.6L V-6 paired with a new-to-Wrangler eight-speed automatic transmission that is well proven in other vehicles.
• Rubicon SmartBar, better known as the antisway bar unit, has better connectors and seals.
• Even smoother and more aggressive traction control and hill descent control.
• Steering is hydroelectric and that means consistent power delivery, regardless of rpm¬—all really important when crawling with lockers on.
• Tighter turning radius.

Interior
• Dramatically improved back seat comfort.
• Big control screen and features that finally bring the Wrangler into the 21st century, like a heated steering wheel, 300-plus satellite radio channels, Apple CarPlay, Siri interface, and an interior quiet enough to actually use and enjoy those features.
• Four built-in auxiliary switches in the center dash to easily add things like off-road lights, winch shutoff, fridge, radios, etc.
• No irritating foam-filled rollbar pads. And the rollbars are color-matched!

Exterior
• Soft top. I cannot stress enough how big this is. I hear angels singing every time I have to manipulate this top. It is so NOT the cursing and the pain of the JK four-door soft top. No zippers. Can I say that again? NO zippers. You get to keep ALL the skin on your fingers! We expect to see Unlimited owners using their soft tops, not selling them on Craigslist.
• High fenders on the Rubicon. You can now fit 35s or 37s with just a 2-inch lift. More on modifying the JL in my next article.
• Two things that always bothered us on JKs: the evaporative canister near the rear driveshaft and the vacuum brake-assist canister in the front bumper. On the JL? Gone. Well, not gone, but tucked up in places where we don’t have to care about them anymore. Yay!

Head’s Up
Are there things I don’t instantly like? Of course! As a rule, Jeep people are opposed to change, and we will certainly never have a Wrangler that comes from the factory totally enthusiast-proof. But, I can deal with that. Here are a few of the things we will address for Barlow needs:
• Seat height. Anyone over 6 feet 4 inches tall is going to have an issue in the front seat with head clearance on the roof and B-pillar.
• Stop/start feature. Not a big fan.
• Undercarriage protection. There are still a lot of things exposed that we will want to better protect for our more “rough and tumble” Jeep lifestyle, like the rear diff, sway bar, and oil pan and transmission area.

Closing Thoughts
There are myriad other details about the new Wrangler that clearly tell us Jeep designers truly are Jeep fans. They love the Wrangler, and they know how we want to use it. There are too many good things to list here, but the bottom line is that in my opinion the JL is a win for the enthusiast.

In case you are wondering, I plan to rub this in even more next month when I talk about how much easier it is to modify this JL than any other previous Wrangler. Until then, Happy Trails!