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Feb27

2018 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited – The First-ever Cool Hybrid

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2018 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited front quarter

2018 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon

2.0-liter turbocharged hybrid I4 (270 hp @ 5,250 rpm, 295 lb-ft @ 3,000 rpm)

Eight-speed automatic transmission, four-wheel drive

22 city / 24 highway / 22 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)

10.9 city / 10.0 highway / 10.5 combined (NRCan Rating, L/100km)

19.9 (observed mileage, MPG)

Base Price: $42,940 US / $51,990 CAD

As Tested: $58,990 / $65,140 CAD

Prices include $1,495 destination charge in the United States and $2,595 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can’t be directly compared.

I want first to apologize to the Jeep owners of northern Columbus, and by extension all brethren of the seven-slot grille everywhere. In my week driving this 2018 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited, I neglected to properly wave in most cases.

It’s a Jeep thing, and apparently I don’t understand.

I suppose it’s an ethical thing — can I be a properly unbiased journalist if I gonzo myself into the Jeep subculture? Moreover, is this, a Jeep Wrangler with a hybrid system, a proper Jeep?

2018 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited profile

No, I’m not kidding. Jeep hasn’t highlighted the hybrid system in marketing this new powertrain, preferring use of the less-specific “eTorque” moniker. Mated to a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder (related to the Alfa Romeo Giulia four), the hybrid system allows for automatic stop-start, regenerative braking, and engine cut-off during coasting, while adding a bit of torque to the already stout mill.2018 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited front

Interestingly, the peak horsepower of this turbo engine is rather close (270 hp to 285 hp) to the 3.6-liter Pentastar V6, but the torque is a more noticeable difference. The turbo produces 295 lb-ft at 3,000 rpm, while the V6 can only manage 260 lb-ft at a relatively high 4,800 rpm.

2018 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited rear

I discussed the engine mix with Trevor Dorchies, manager of product communications at Jeep, and he tells me that 40 percent of new Wrangler customers choose the 2.0-liter turbo, likely due to the combination of additional torque and slightly improved fuel economy. Unfortunately for purists, opting for the four-cylinder removes the option of a manual transmission.

My testing, while obviously not under rigorous controlled situations, revealed fuel economy that wasn’t spectacular. While the EPA rates this combo at 22 mpg combined, I only managed 19.9 mpg. Much of my drive was limited to two-lane roads under 50 mph, with a significant portion shifted into four-wheel drive high range due to a larger-than-expected snowstorm. With a better mix of highway driving and less crappy weather, I’d expect a better economy result.

2018 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited dashboard

The start-stop system worked quite well, other than one minor annoyance. When the engine did restart while still sitting at a long light, it did so with a palpable lurch. It was never audible, but I’d feel a slight bump, as if the Jeep had been tapped on the bumper. Considering the awful roads and the awful drivers (seriously, I saw a driver stuck trying to ascend an icy hill, foot to floor, smoking a front tire, sawing at the wheel with one hand and phone firmly in ear with the other), I honestly thought I had been bumped in the rear a couple of times. It’s something I’m sure I’d get used to after a short while.

2018 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited front seat

If you look at Jeep’s build and price tool, the turbo engine is listed as a thousand-dollar option over the V6. That’s a bit misleading, however, as the eight-speed automatic is required when selecting the turbo — that’s another two grand, making the hybrid a three thousand dollar proposition. The eight-speed shifts smoothly, and I never noticed it hunting for a ratio. But many Jeep buyers seem to be the sort to shift for themselves, and that option can knock a few grand off the top of the eye-popping sticker on this well-equipped Rubicon trim.

2018 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited rear seat

Speaking of big money, my tester was equipped with the Sky One-Touch power top — basically a sliding soft sunroof for the removable hard top. It’s a lovely option, since lowering a Jeep soft top can be a time-consuming endeavor. A button press and the top slides back, while the rear quarter windows can be removed rather easily for a good open-air experience. If you’ll notice the white stuff on the ground, however — you can imagine that I spent very little time with the top retracted.

2018 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited center stack

Even with windows and top closed, the Sky One-Touch power top doesn’t eliminate road noise like most SUVs — the rush of wind and of other traffic noise will be noticeable, but muted. As the top is a $3,995 option, I’d suggest test driving several different top types before committing yourself and your new car loan.

2018 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited dashboard

Driving the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited is a much better experience than the few older-generation Wranglers I’ve experienced. Other than a slight bounciness to the ride, which is to be expected from the combination of stiff off-road focused springing and tall sidewalls, the Jeep drives quite nicely on road. It’s not a sports car, but it’s much more willing to change direction at the whim of the driver, rather than that of a loose steering box and sloppy knobby tires often found on older Jeeps.

Basically, what I’m saying is if you’ve only experienced older, more agricultural Jeeps, you owe it to yourself to drive the new JL-chassis Wrangler. A few bad experienced turned me off the brand, but this new design has turned me around.

2018 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited gauges

Were I to build my own Wrangler Unlimited — and yes, I’d choose the four-door Unlimited over the two-door model since I’m quite often hauling the family and need the rear-seat legroom — I’d likely choose the Sport S trim, V6, manual. Sport S gives me the option of the $995 bigger touch screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as 17-inch alloy wheels, the $595 limited-slip rear differential, and $995 active safety group (blind-spot and cross-path detection, mostly). All in, I’d be driving a well-equipped four-door Wrangler for just under $39k.

And yes, I’d choose the teal — Bikini Pearl, Toledo calls it.

2019 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Bikini Pearl Screenshot

Were I to choose the automatic transmission, there’s no question I’d spring for the hybrid four-cylinder. The low-end torque is addictive. My wife hates driving a manual, and I’m pretty certain I’d have to fight her for the keys, so realistically my imaginary teal Jeep Wrangler Unlimited would be a green hybrid.

You can tell the uppity neighbors that it’s just like a Prius.

2018 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited badge

[Images: © 2019 Chris Tonn/TTAC, screenshot via jeep.com]

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