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The 2018 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Uses a Mild-Hybrid Four-Cylinder Approach to Improve Fuel Economy

Car and Driver logo Car and Driver 10/15/2018 Tony Quiroga
The Jeep Wrangler Uses a Mild-Hybrid Four-Cylinder Approach to Improve Fuel: The Wrangler gets its first hybrid powertrain, in an attempt to improve fuel economy.© Provided by Hearst Communications, Inc The Wrangler gets its first hybrid powertrain, in an attempt to improve fuel economy.

From the October 2018 issue

Every drive in a Jeep Wrangler feels as if you’re getting away with something. How can it be legal to drive on public roads in a vehicle with removable doors and a windshield that folds flat? The closest thing to it is the feeling you got when, at age four, you drove your Power Wheels out of the cul-de-sac. Mommy is going to be so mad, and it’s going to be so worth it.

Completely redesigned for 2018, the Wrangler is even more like a Power Wheels now that it’s available with an electric motor. It’s not the sole source of propulsiona turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder does most of the work-but a 22-hp motor does double duty as a starter for the stop-start system and contributes up to 71 pound-feet of torque for up to a half-second when pulling away from a stop.

We’ve previously tested the Wrangler’s largely carryover 285-hp 3.6-liter V-6 and would go so far as to say that that Jeep is quick for a 4469-pound body-on-frame machine that appears to have been designed to help Richard Leakey hunt for Australopithecus remains. That one needed 6.8 seconds to get from zero to 60 mph. With the turbo four-closely related to the engine in the Alfa Romeo Giulia and Stelviothe Wrangler is even quicker. Despite being slightly down on power compared with the six, it hits 60 in 6.5 seconds. It seems relevant to mention that the four is built in Termoli, Italy, and that Italians hate losing races.

a close up of a motorcycle engine: The Jeep Wrangler Uses a Mild-Hybrid Four-Cylinder Approach to Improve Fuel© Marc Urbano - Car and Driver The Jeep Wrangler Uses a Mild-Hybrid Four-Cylinder Approach to Improve Fuel

From behind the foldable windshield, the bigger difference between the two engines is the 2.0-liter’s off-idle responsiveness. With the electric motor filling in for the moment it takes the twin-scroll turbocharger to wake up, the hybrid system’s torque delivery makes the Wrangler seem as if it has a 5.9-liter AMC V-8 under the hood. Peak twist, 295 pound-feet, arrives at 3000 rpm. That’s 35 more pound-feet 1800 rpm earlier than the V-6 manages. Technically, Jeep charges $1000 for the turbo four, but the eight-speed automatic is a mandatory $2000 tagalong, making the four-cylinder Wrangler $3000 more expensive than a V-6 manual and $1000 more than a V-6 automatic. Budget accordingly.

As a Sahara, the Wrangler Unlimited tested here rides on 255/70R-18 all-season tires with a street-friendly tread. The new-gen model (JL in Jeep-speak) is by far the best-handling and most refined Wrangler ever built, and while the Sahara’s cushiony sidewalls help soften the ride, they also contribute to the woolliness in the Jeep’s steering. Keeping a Wrangler in its lane at highway speeds is harder than solving differential equations, and the recirculating-ball steering does the thing no directional favors.

a car parked on the side of a road: The Jeep Wrangler Uses a Mild-Hybrid Four-Cylinder Approach to Improve Fuel© Marc Urbano - Car and Driver The Jeep Wrangler Uses a Mild-Hybrid Four-Cylinder Approach to Improve Fuel

A widely accepted and helpful notion is to think of these off-road vehicles as family pets. Doing so will put you in a forgiving mood when yours inevitably and unpredictably feints toward a ditch as though the optional LED headlights have spotted a squirrel on the side of the road and the steering requires a corrective tug on the leash. Hey, these things are made to wander.

Vague steering aside, the JL now comports itself with the manners of a merely older SUV, instead of an ancient one. Despite its solid axles front and rear, the ride is civilized, even compared with cars that didn’t start out as military transport.

The 2018 redesign also brought the Wrangler’s interior quality up to current industry standards. The look is more modern but still rugged and commensurate with this Sahara’s $42,790 base price. Our example’s $1495 leather-seat option looks and feels good and brings stitched vinyl to the instrument panel. Also available is FCA’s familiar 8.4-inch touchscreen, which is easy to read and work, and there are power and USB ports aplenty. Completing the Power Wheels effect is the Sky One-Touch Power Top, which carves a massive hole in the hardtop roof over both rows of seats and covers it with a power-retractable canvas blanket. The $3995 roof leaves a view above that will fool you into thinking you’re in a traditional convertible. It will open or close at up to 60 mph, above which speed it would presumably go all America’s Cup on you.

a motorcycle parked on the side of a car: Even the posh Unlimited Sahara model is a stick-axle, body-on-frame off-roader at heart. Don’t expect commuter-grade crossover manners.© Marc Urbano - Car and Driver Even the posh Unlimited Sahara model is a stick-axle, body-on-frame off-roader at heart. Don’t expect commuter-grade crossover manners.

In addition to its broad torque delivery, the turbo Wrangler also offers a meaningful fuel-economy improvement on the EPA’s score card, though it does want pricier premium fuel for maximum power. In EPA testing, a four-door Wrangler with the 2.0-liter earned 22 mpg combined versus the automatic-equipped V-6 model’s 20 mpg combined. We drove this Wrangler like a Volkswagen GTI, so we could only manage 18 mpg in daily driving. But in our steady 75-mph fuel-economy test, the 2.0-liter returned a fantastic 26 mpg, a 6-mpg improvement over the V-6.

While the four-cylinder’s improved mileage is useful, fuel economy wouldn’t be our primary motivator in opting for it. We’d spend the extra money because the turbo 2.0-liter and the electric motor make for a Jeep with effortless thrust. And that’s exactly how you imagined a Jeep would feel when you were four years old.

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