2018 Jeep Wrangler: The most changes since 1997

The next generation of the iconic off-roader will be the 2018 Jeep Wrangler, debuting sometime in 2017.

While Jeep reportedly tried an independent suspension for Wrangler, based on the 1963 Jeep Wagoneer or the Ram 4×4, Larry Vellequette of Automotive News wrote on February 15, 2015, that they would stick with floating solid axles; one insider said they would change the configuration somewhat. Among other things, this will help Mopar and the aftermarket to keep selling modifications, and will keep modified Wranglers on the trail for years to come.

To lose weight, or at least to avoid gaining too much extra weight, Wrangler is likely to switch to an aluminum tub and may use a lighter but equally tough hydroformed frame, possibly with other aluminum-alloy components. A diesel could provide a serious boost in fuel efficiency.

The Jeep Wrangler is a key vehicle for Chrysler, the “ring that controls all Jeeps,” and Sergio Marchionne has said many times they cannot reduce its off-road capability. Whether this means they will actually not reduce its capability remains to be seen.

The appearance of the Wrangler is not likely to change much, and aerodynamic improvements may be brought about mostly by changes in the side mirrors, underbody covers, and gearing.

Flip-up rear window

A new Chrysler patent application shows a unique full folding back glass design, and while this patent isn’t officially related to the Jeep Wrangler, it is used for the illustrations, and there is no vehicle in the current lineup that would accept a design like this as well as the Wrangler.

The current Wrangler has backglass that opens away from the bodywork with struts that hold it up high enough to access the entire opening for easier loading and unloading. The spare tire swings out of the way and the backglass opens upwards. This patent application shows a similar design, but this backglass folds all of the way up to the roof, with clips built into the roof so it can be pinned down. This design also has clips inside of the vehicle where the driver may clip up the struts after disconnecting them to swivel the glass up onto the roof.

Driving with rear glass open could cause the vehicle to pull in exhaust fumes if the front windows were not also open, or while idling at a halt; and can also draw in mud when used off-road. Even with these downsides, there are likely people who would love to be able to lock the backglass of their Jeep Wrangler open while driving with the top on, so the next generation Wrangler may include this as an optional package. There is also the possibility that this backglass design is intended for a fixed roof model that would offer the option to drive with the backglass open because the owner cannot remove the roof altogether. It could also serve as another “look what we have” item that will never get used.

Chrysler may also simply have patented it to prevent other automakers from using it.

Aluminum Wranglers

Automotive News’ Larry Vellequette quoted Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne (May 6, 2014) that indicates extensive use of aluminum on the 2018 Jeep Wrangler (to be produced starting in calendar-year 2017, according to the latest Five Year Plan). When aksed if he could think of a better use for aluminum than Wrangler, Mr. Marchionne answered, “No.” He also said that FCA would be ready to produce aluminum vehicles in 2017, the same year Wrangler (but also probably at least one Alfa Romeo) enters production. (Alfa Romeo appears to be re-pioneering resins, years after GM’s Saturn and Chrysler’s own research, which resulted in several concept cars but no production car.)

While Chrysler has successfully attacked highway mileage with gearing and aerodynamics, weight is the key to city mileage, and the company is having problems meeting fuel economy goals because of customer demands for weight-increasing safety ratings, big wheels, powerful stereos, and (outside of Wrangler) near-silent interiors.

Chrysler posted a job opening for a senior buyer of aluminum components in June 2014.

Diesel engines, pickup trucks, and other changes

Many expect Jeep to finally issue a U.S. diesel version of the Wrangler, and a limited production pickup version (Gladiator? Comanche?). The engine would likely be a Fiat four-cylinder diesel (424?), the upcoming Alfa Romeo 2.2, or the next-generation VM 2.8 liter I-4 (a newer version of the engine used in Europe for many years).

Standard American engines would likely be a V6 — by then, upgraded with more power and efficiency — and the upcoming Hurricane Four.

Most expect Jeep to make the Wrangler more aerodynamic, with a greater slant to the windshield; many have speculated that the fold-down windshield function will finally be dropped. It is a unique feature for Jeep in North America, but few seem to care about it. Removable doors are likely to remain, along with the various hard and soft tops. A new patent shows flipping rear glass windows.

Independent suspensions

Many may ask why Jeep would even want to use an independent suspension, when the current design:

– Is proven to work well off-road

– Can be modified for higher off-road performance

– Is proven in sales

– Costs less to set up than an independent suspension

The arguments for the new design include:

– It could increase stability and would end the so-called “death wobble,” a public relations and lawsuit problem

– A “true Jeep” independent suspension would greatly improve ride and handling

– Most independent suspensions would improve on-road behavior

– The factory could increase capacity by bringing in ready-to-fit suspension assemblies

One possibility would be updating a 1990s design by Chrysler engineers Evan Boberg, Gerry Hentschel, and Bob Sheaves, who created an independent suspension for the 1997 Jeep Wrangler. This design does not lose ground clearance during a jounce; the differential travels with the wheel — if one side of the vehicle goes over a rock or into a ditch, the differential is pulled up, providing superior “real-life” ground clearance. Wheel travel was around 12 inches. (Evan Boberg described it in Common Sense Not Required, Bob Sheaves in this article on Li’l Blue; neither is currently employed by Chrysler.)

Another possibility is adapting the Ram Power Wagon’s suspension to the Wrangler, which would be less risky than most other solutions.

An independent suspension carries risks. The Wrangler’s off-road credentials will have to be superior to current models to win the hearts of Jeepers, who, with magazine critics, will be ready to call it “a rebadged Fiat,” “fake Jeep,” and “mall runner” — regardless of what it can do on the trail. The system will need to be well tested on all types of terrain, be as durable as the current setup, and capable on all models.

Some have talked about the possibility of making two Wranglers, traditional and independent, but this is not feasible in the current factory. A backup plan may be in place, but given that such a backup plan would also require a factory redesign, the “backup” may simply be spending more time to get it right… unless Chrysler is planning to reopen a closed plant (or build a new one) and move the old Rubicon tooling there. This remains unlikely, at best.

There have been no specific, official announcements on timing or suspension choices.

Read more at: http://www.allpar.com/SUVs/jeep/wrangler/2017.html

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