One of America's most iconic vehicles, the 2018 Jeep Wrangler is the first of a new breed, a comprehensively redesigned take on the boxy off-roader that's bristling with modern technology and drivetrain technology. But at its core, the Wrangler remains one of the most rugged, capable, and charming vehicles on the market. That's doubly true of the Wrangler Unlimited, which adds an extra pair of doors to the equation.

Best Value

Jeep sells the Wrangler Unlimited in three trims – the budget-friendly $31,690 Sport, which doesn't even come with air conditioning as standard, the cushy, image-conscious $38,540 Sahara, and the highly capable $41,690 Rubicon. While we tested the Rubicon, the smart buy is the Sahara.

For a start, this trim adds a lot of the optional content from the Sport – the entire $3,200 Sport S Package, which includes stuff like air conditioning and power windows, and a seven-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility being the most notable – and also grants access to a few better options.

You'll want the LED Lighting Group, it costs $895 but replaces the horrible halogen headlights with far superior LED units. The $595 Cold Weather Package is a smart buy, adding heated front seats and a heated steering wheel, while the $895 Active Safety Package adds blind-spot monitoring and rear parking sensors. That's a lot of content for just under $2,400.

The Dual-Top Group is expensive at $2,195, but it makes a lot of sense if you live somewhere with four seasons – a hardtop can be a savior in the cold. But bear in mind, if you ever want to take the hardtop off, you'll need a place to store the big, rigid roof.

Enthusiasts and the frugal should grab the no-cost six-speed manual transmission, while everyone else needs to shell out $2,000 for the eight-speed automatic. Jeep will also offer a diesel engine and a 2.0-liter, gas-powered turbo four-cylinder later this year, but for now, the 3.6-liter V6 is the only available option and it's the one we've chosen.

  • Model: 2018 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara
  • Engine: 3.6-liter V6
  • Output: 270 hp / 295 lb-ft
  • Transmission:Six-speed manual
  • Drivetrain: Four-wheel drive
  • MPG: 17 City / 23 Hwy
  • Options:LED Lighting Group ($895, LED headlights, running lights, fog lights, and taillights), Cold Weather Package ($595, heated front seats, heated steering wheel, remote start, engine block heater), Jeep Active Safety Group ($895, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, rear parking sensors), Dual-Top Group ($2,195, three-piece hardtop, black Sunrider softtop)
  • Base Price:$38,540 (including the $1,195 destination charge)
  • Best Value Price:$42,225

Performance

Jeep All New Wrangler Unlimited

To talk about the Wrangler's performance means focusing on two different elements – on and off road. Off road, the Wrangler is shockingly capable. The Rubicon arrives with locking differentials, electronically disconnecting sway bars, upgraded front and rear axles, available steel bumpers (for extra durability), and 33-inch off-road tires. If you can see it, the Rubicon can probably conquer it. It's indomitable.

The Wrangler is more frustrating on road, where its off-road nature weighs down the experience. The suspension is very soft and there's so much give in the huge sidewalls of the off-road tires that the Wrangler rolls heavily and quickly. Live front and rear axles react severely to any significant potholes or imperfections. Despite these woes, it's worth noting that the Wrangler's steering is vastly improved, offering better high-speed stability and more natural weight that go a long way toward reducing the effort of highway travel.

Both on and off road, the 3.6-liter V6 performs well. Low-end performance is plentiful, and the mid-range punch is strong. Rev the base engine out, and at least on our Rubicon tester, there's an ear pleasing exhaust and induction note. The jury is still out on the optional 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder and its 48-volt mild hybrid system, as well as the long-awaited diesel engine.

The six-speed manual is fun, but the clutch uptake is vague and thanks to the overeager throttle response, it's hard to take off from a standstill smoothly. We haven't driven an eight-speed automatic in the Wrangler, but based on the other FCA products with this engine/transmission combo – the Ram 1500, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Chrysler 300, Dodge Challenger, and Dodge Charger – it will be excellent.

Style

In news that will shock all, the 2018 Wrangler Unlimited looks like a Wrangler. Its two-box layout is smoothed out slightly, with a more aerodynamic grille and a sharper rake to the windshield. But the seven-slat grille, round headlights, square taillights, and enormous wheel arches remain, hiding the smaller design details. For example, the headlights intrude on the exterior grille slats, just like the original military vehicles that were the first Jeeps.

The cabin is a vast improvement. Our test model had a seven-inch display in the instrument cluster and an 8.4-inch touchscreen infotainment system over the center stack, just like the Cherokee and Compass. It's a smart, clean, intuitive setup that works well (which is probably why it's now present in so many of Fiat Chrysler's vehicles).

The buttons underneath the center stack are mostly redundant and aren't a particularly clean design. That's exacerbated by the four switches for the window. That said, given the option of using the touchscreen and the analog buttons, we mainly opted for the old-fashioned approach. At the very least, we're glad Jeep isn't forcing consumers to use its touchscreen (even though it's excellent).

Clever interior design touches abound – we dig the hand-grenade-style shift lever, which is the right size and easy to grip. But the more functional things, like the front seats, aren't as good. The bottom cushion isn't large enough, and there's a lack of support from the bolsters. The smaller front window also makes it difficult to see out of the front. The second row is roomy enough and perfectly fine for occasional adult use.

The Best and Worst Things

For the price, the Wrangler is arguably the most capable off-road vehicle on the road. But this capability could be uncomfortable to live with daily, owing to the super-soft suspension and live axles.

Right For? Wrong For?

Jeep All New Wrangler Unlimited

Outdoors enthusiast should continue to flock to the Wrangler, even in its base trim. This is a versatile, capable vehicle – just as it's always been – but it's going to keep you safer and more comfortable no matter where in nature you go.

The frugal might not appreciate the speed that the Wrangler Unlimited's price climbs. Starting north of $30,000, our Unlimited Rubicon's price starts at over $41,000. Our tester was pushing up against $50,000 – that's an eye-watering price for a vehicle with such a utilitarian character.

The Bottom Line

A charmer off road, the Jeep Wrangler demands a lot of sacrifices for everyday use. But if you can live with its noisy and uncomfortable on-road character, even a basic Wrangler can take you far off the beaten path, where its shortcomings simply won't matter.