2018 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 4×4 JL: Get down and dirty.
Price: $48,060. That's $37,995 for the trim level, plus $1,295 for Steel Bumper Group, $895 for LED Light Group, and $795 for Trailer Tow and HD Electrical Group. More options throughout.
Marketer's pitch: "Go anywhere. Do anything."
Conventional wisdom: I want to go fast around curves and save fuel.
Marketer's response: "Almost anywhere and anything, smarty."
Reality: A seriously fun little box, as long as you adjust to it.
Time for a story: Once upon a time, Jeep sent me a four-door 2011 Wrangler. It went less than well. Mr. Driver's Seat wrote bad things. Jeep owners howled.
So, with trepidation, I climbed into the driver's seat of a new 2018 JL model. It handled poorly. It was loud. The fuel gauge plummeted faster than the Saudi stock market.
But after a day, I learned to enjoy the wandering steering, the tilty corners, the shouting at passengers — think of it as Zen and the Art of Jeep Operation.
What's old is what's new: The Wrangler is all-new for 2018, but it remains the same (un)shapely box we've been loving since World War II.
Still, changes are obvious. For the first time, Wrangler buyers can add a rear camera, cross-path detection, and tilt and telescoping steering wheel. For the off-roaders, it claims better transfer cases and approach angles (no more "Come here often, babe?") and departure angles (more than "I'll text u.").
Just don't accidentally pick up the JK model — that's not short for "just kidding" (LOL, right?) — but the designator for the previous generation, still being offered for the 2018 model year.
Up to speed: Power from the 3.6-liter V-6 engine is quite sharp — 285 horses. It goes from 0-60 in 6.5 seconds, according to Car and Driver.
On the road: Yes, it's designed for off-roading, but most Jeeps will spend their lives traveling from suburban garage to the Target parking lot and school pickup line.
For that, the Jeep requires that Zen approach. On the first straightaway after leaving Chez Sturgis, the Wrangler went off toward the ditch as I sat wide-eyed. It handled like a 24-foot Ryder truck I rented 20 years ago.
Give Wrangler drivers credit — they must be paying far better attention to the road than the rest of us. You're not going to drive one-handed and stare at your phone, or you'll be off-roading sooner than expected.
Curves should be taken slowly. But the small wheelbase means zipping around parking lots is actually fun. The turning circle is just 34.5 feet — compare that with 37.6 for the Fiat 500.
Off the road: There's nothing that beats it. You've got four-wheel drive operated through a big shifter mechanism and all the right toys for getting over the steepest hills and into the softest gulleys. I unfortunately didn't get a chance to try this all out.
Shifty: The $2,000 shiftable 8-speed automatic — a stick is still offered — is a little awkwardly placed, and the shifter is huge. Rowing through the gears can be tiresome.
One note — the JL took several seconds to engage Drive most mornings and often hesitated a bit even when the vehicle was warmed up. That doesn't bode well.
Take it apart: The optional Black Freedom three-piece hardtop ($1,095) comes off in just minutes. A nice toolkit in the armrest means it's just a few turns until the top and doors are stowed away — somewhere else, unfortunately.
Mr. Cool: You'll just feel like Mr. Cool riding around with the top down and the doors off. Rear-seat passengers can just climb in via the rear bumper, as well.
The leather seats ($1,395) are comfortable and supportive, although maybe not the wisest choice if you're going off-roading a lot.
Friends and stuff: Just room for four in the two-door, and rear storage space is minuscule. But legroom for the passengers is not bad; 6-foot-2 Sturgis Kid 4.0 didn't mind it at all, although he said headroom is much better with the top off.
Play some tunes: The sound system ($1,495) is awesome. It has to be, as there's a whole lot of road noise and wind noise to contend with.
The interface is standard-issue Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. It works well and is easy to follow. The knobs for volume and tuning are designed for manly man paws.
Thin top: Still, road noise isn't as bad as one might think. The big tires didn't hum as much as I expected, and highway speeds didn't make me want to weep.
Keeping warm — and cool: Seriously humid days mean readjusting my approach to cooling. I tend to focus the air on me and turn the fan low, but the Wrangler requires a high blower speed directed into the vehicle.
Round blower vents that twist and are easily directed — my favorite setup.
Fuel economy: I averaged about 17 mpg, pretty sad, but it started out at 15. A 2.0-liter turbo four is offered, and I can't wait for a 3.0-liter EcoDiesel.
Where it's built: Toledo, Ohio.
How it's built: Consumer Reports predicts a reliability of 2 out of 5, which is where the Wrangler had been for several years before a pair of 3s in 2016 and 2017.
In the end: The Jeep Wrangler — it's not easy, but it's worth the trouble.