We’re not the biggest fans of the cold. When the temperature drops below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, we’d rather be sipping a hot Americano in a coffee shop or sitting on the couch reading a page-turner of a book with the heat on. But we knew we had to go out into the frigid weather when we got the keys to the 2018 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sport.
Jeep loaned us the newest version of its iconic off-roader just in time for a wheeling extravaganza in Central Texas. Every winter, the owner/enthusiast group Austin JeepPeople throws its biggest annual event, the Polar Bear Run (PBR). Jeep drivers – most of them in modified Wranglers – show up to an off-highway vehicle park, remove their doors and tops, then go off-roading in the cold. This year’s PBR at the Hidden Falls Adventure Park in Marble Falls, Texas attracted more than 400 registrations/Jeeps and raised $18,000 for a trio of charities.
Not only was the 2018 PBR a great test of the new JL Wrangler’s abilities on rocky trails, but it also gave us a chance to hear what hardcore Jeep Wrangler owners think of the newest generation of the brand’s signature model.
2018 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sport Exterior
When we first drove the all-new 2018 Wrangler during its North American media launch in Arizona last December, we called its styling “more evolutionary than revolutionary.” We stand by that statement. It looks largely similar to the JK model it replaces, although it does have its key differences. For instance, the headlights jut into the first and seventh grille slots – a nod to the front end of the old Jeep CJ-5. The front turn signals are now on the front fenders. If you look closely, you’ll see the door handles are different from those on the outgoing Wrangler and the wheelbases of both the two- and four-door models are slightly longer than they used to be.
At first, the PBR attendees around us didn’t seem to notice there was a JL Wrangler in the middle of their sea of JKs. Perhaps it was because everyone was too busy registering. Before we hit the trails, we enlisted the help of a couple of friendly Jeep owners who assisted us in removing all four doors, taking off the optional three-piece hard top (the two panels over the front seat can be taken off by one person, but the large rear part of the top requires lifting by at least two people), disconnecting the front sway bars so that our front wheels could articulate more, and airing the tires down to around 21 psi so they could grip the rocky ground better. Even with three people wrenching away, stripping down the Wrangler took a while.
It was worth it for the feeling of freedom we had once we were on the trails – even though it only got into the low 50s that day. That’s when word about the vehicle we were in spread. At every stop on our way through Hidden Falls, people got out of their vehicles to come admire the Wrangler. We never heard a complaint about its appearance. More than once, someone asked where they could start cutting the front fenders off and where they could relocate the front turn signals. We have a feeling there will be several fender-less JLs at next year’s PBR.
2018 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sport Interior
Being the entry-level trim of the new Wrangler lineup, the Sport model didn’t have a lot of bells and whistles. It was simple yet effective at drawing crowds and getting us over ugly chunks of rock. The Sport comes standard with cloth seats, a five-inch Uconnect 3 touchscreen, USB and auxiliary inputs, voice command functionality with Bluetooth, a 12-volt power outlet, and manual locks and mirrors. However, it does come with keyless start and fog lamps.
Once we were at the PBR, it really didn’t matter what equipment our test vehicle did or didn’t have, especially after we took the doors off. During lunch, we parked the Wrangler near a sponsor’s tent so everyone could get a better look at it. That’s pretty much what happened – everyone seemed to go up to the JL. Some attendees remarked about how much more modern the Wrangler’s interior looked. Several climbed inside and poked around. Our travel partner for the day, Stevie, was impressed by how roomy the second row was and how smoothly the new Wrangler rode compared to its predecessor. He would know. He owns a JK Wrangler Rubicon.
2018 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sport Performance
Our Wrangler was equipped with the familiar 3.6-liter Pentastar V6. Output remains 285 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. However, thanks to a new eight-speed automatic and the lightweight aluminum Jeep used for the new rig’s doors, hinges, hood, fenders, and windshield frame, the Pentastar was lovably enthusiastic. The EPA has determined it’s good for 18 city, 23 highway, and 20 combined mpg.** Towing capacity is 3,500 pounds.
Jeep outfitted our press loaner with a variety of options, including that eight-speed auto with Hill Descent Control, an anti-spin rear differential and Dana 44 HD rear axle combo, and 245/75R17 Bridgestone Dueler all-terrain tires. Their presence was comforting because we had to keep up with lifted JK Saharas and Rubicons, some of which were riding on 35-inch rubber. All we had was a stock Wrangler, 9.7 inches of ground clearance, and confidence in our vehicle’s Jeep DNA. We threw the JL’s Command-Trac part-time four-wheel drive system into 4LO (with an old-school transfer case lever, of course), listened to the instructions of our spotter CK, and went slow. Our Wrangler’s transfer case skid plate got scraped a few times and we rubbed the bottom left corner of the back bumper against the ground while going down a particularly gnarly decline, but we made it to the end of the trail. Consider us – and our new friends — pleased with the 2018 Wrangler’s performance.
2018 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sport Safety
Whether we were wheeling with Austin JeepPeople or driving on the highway, the Wrangler protected us with anti-lock brakes, Electronic Stability Control, Electronic Roll Mitigation, and tire pressure monitoring. A backup camera kept us from bumping into pedestrians and other vehicles. For a worst case scenario, the Wrangler had front and front seat side-impact airbags.
2018 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sport Overall
Prices for the all-new 2018 Jeep Wrangler start at $26,995.* Our Unlimited Sport had a base price of $30,495* and an as-tested price of $37,095. You can get your very own 2018 Wrangler at an AutoNation Jeep dealership. Whether or not you can take its doors and roof off and convince someone to go off-roading with you in the cold is up to you.
*MSRP excludes tax, license, registration, destination charge and options. Dealer prices may vary.
**Based on EPA mileage ratings. Your mileage will vary depending specific vehicle trim, how you drive and maintain your vehicle, driving conditions, and other factors.