Jeep Wrangler gets turbo, diesel, hybrid options for the first time

The iconic off-roader has gotten a few tweaks, but none more arresting than its powertrain options.

Emme Hall Former editor for CNET Cars
I love two-seater, RWD convertibles and own a 2004 Mazdaspeed Miata for pavement fun and a lifted 2001 Miata for pre-running. I race air-cooled Volkswagens in desert races like the Mint 400 and the Baja 1000. I have won the Rebelle Rally, seven-day navigational challenge, twice and I am the only driver to compete in an EV, the Rivian R1T.
Emme Hall
5 min read

The off-road world has been waiting with bated breath for the next-generation iconic Jeep Wrangler. The Jeep arguably has the best off-road capability of all the SUVs currently on the market and now it will have a new twist: a diesel engine. The caveat? We'll have to wait until 2019 for that oil-burner to arrive.

In the meantime, folks have the option of a new 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine or the proven 3.6-liter V6, now with stop/start technology. The smaller turbocharged engine is good for 270 horsepower and is mated to a new eight-speed automatic transmission. This engine features a new eTorque technology with start/stop, fuel shut-off and regenerative braking. This mild-hybrid system is in place not only for reduced emission and better fuel economy, but more importantly for the torque. All 295 pound-feet of it is available at the low-end thanks to the 48-volt battery, making slow-speed rock crawling even easier. No word on EPA fuel ratings, but Jeep certainly seems to be paying attention to efficiency this time around.

I'll admit to being a bit skeptical about a turbocharger in a vehicle meant for off-road glory, but Jeep placed the twin-scroll turbocharger directly on the cylinder head for greater durability and designed an electronically actuated waste gate that should perform well even when one is rock crawling or in a precarious situation. Further, a separate liquid-cooling system for air, throttle body and turbo should allow drivers to turn up the heat on their driving lines choices while keeping their power points nice and cool.

But really, it's the diesel that I think most folks will want to wait for. The 3.0-liter V6 EcoDiesel, mated to the eight-speed automatic transmission, will offer 260 horsepower and 442 pound/feet of torque. Jeeps are made for slow and steady rock climbing, not fast dune running like the Ford Raptor; it does just fine with horsepower in the mid-200s. The extra torque, however, is a boon and should help the Wrangler climb up and over obstacles even easier.

Promised in 2020 is a plug-in hybrid option as well, but Jeep has been mum on details.

And what if you just want to row your own gears? An all-new six-speed manual transmission is standard on all Wranglers with the 3.6-liter V6 engine.  

Off-road goodies

The 2018 Jeep Wrangler 2-door model is available in Sport, Sport S and Rubicon trims. If you want a bit more room, Wrangler 4-door models are available in Sport, Sport S, Sahara and Rubicon trims.

Jeep gives the 2018 Wrangler in the Sahara trim the option of the new Selec-Trac full-time two speed transfer case, providing full-time four-wheel drive as well as a 2.72:1 low-range gear ratio. When in full-time four-wheel drive, power defaults to the rear wheels, but the Jeep will send power to the front when needed. Of course, you can lock that baby into four-wheel drive high for the traditional 50/50 torque split and four-wheel low for all your dirt shenanigans. 

The part-time four-wheel drive Command-Trac system is standard in the Sahara, with the same low-range gear ratio but really, go for the good stuff. The Rock-Trac system in the Rubicon comes with the whole shebang. You get locking front and rear differentials, front sway bar disconnect and a killer 4:1 low-range gear ratio.

The Command-Trac and Rock-Trac systems are still the same as in past Jeep generations, but the new transmissions improve crawl ratios. Again, this helps out when the going gets tough and slow speed coupled with high torque is necessary. (from release):  With the standard six-speed manual transmission, Wrangler Rubicon has an impressive and improved crawl ratio of 84.2:1, and 77.2:1 on Rubicon models equipped with the new eight-speed automatic transmission 

Feast your eyes on the next-generation Jeep Wrangler

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The new Wrangler Rubicon four-door gets a bit better geometry as well, thanks to the bigger BF Goodrich KO2 tires. An approach angle of 44 degrees, breakover angle of 27.8 degrees, departure angle of 37 degrees and a ground clearance of 10.9 inches should be enough to get drivers most places save for the most extreme trails.

This latest generation Wrangler has also made a visit to Weight Watchers and has dropped 200 pounds. Most of that is due to the use of aluminum in the hood, fenders and doors as well as a magnesium tailgated wrapped in aluminum. Additionally, 90 pounds was taken out of the frame thanks to the additional use of high strength steel.

Wranglers have never been known for their interior technology, but the 2018 model is shaping up to be pretty nifty. FCA's excellent Uconnect system is standard across a 5, 7 or 8.4-inch touchscreen with pinch and zoom capability. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are both included along with a Wi-Fi hotspot, two USB ports, two 12V accessory ports and a 115-volt three-prong AC outlet, all the better for blending up some beverages at the end of the trail.

When it comes to driver's aids, well, don't expect much. Jeep has finally outfitted the Wrangler with a back-up camera and blind spot monitoring is now a go with audible and visual warnings. However, don't go looking for adaptive cruise control or any other semi-autonomous features. Those low-mounted sensors just won't last in an obstacle-ridden dirt trail.

And for those who fear a misguided return to the square-headlight days of yore, never fear. The 2018 Wrangler still sports the familiar round headlights and seven-slot grille. The most distinctive change to the front fascia is the relocation of the LED turn signals to the front of the fenders, rather than just below the headlights. It's a bold move and certainly does emphasize the width of the Jeep.

2018 Jeep Wranger Rubicon

Open-top fun on the trail.


Available next summer will be the Sky One-Touch powertop, taking some of the burden of letting the sunshine in. The current top is, honestly, a bitch to take down. The addition of a push-button open canvas roof should be a welcome option.

There is, however, one push button I'm not on board with. The 2018 Wrangler will feature a push-button start. What is this, a car? No, it's a Jeep. Jeeps start with keys, not Fancy McFancyPants push buttons.

No word on pricing yet, but the 2018 Jeep Wrangler will be on sale in January. We've got a drive planned soon, so keep your eyes peeled for our impressions from behind the wheel of this iconic vehicle.