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What Jeep needs to get right with the upcoming JL Wrangler, Part IV: the pickup

Ross Ballot December 9, 2016 All Things Hoon, Featured 10 Comments

Source: JLWranglerForums

Pitting the company versus the buyers: From turbodiesel to pickup, your semi-comprehensive and somewhat speculative guide on the upcoming JL Wrangler

[This is Part 4 of a multi-entry installment about the upcoming 2018+ Jeep Wrangler (read the previous pieces here: 1, 2, 3). Stay tuned for further breakdowns of what we want Jeep to do vs what Jeep will actually do.]


Ahem. Sorry, excuse the outburst above; that’s just the final pieces of my patience failing to hold it together. Anyways, few vehicles have as much hopeful speculation surrounding them as the revival of a long-absent Jeep pickup. Just this year we saw a Renegade-based concept, which turned out to be nothing more than a marketing gag, and in the past there’s been no shortage of drool-inducing concepts from Jeep and Mopar that only the delusional could think would actually make it to dealers lots. But I’m not focusing on any of those here. No, I’m talking about a real mass-production Wrangler-based pickup: something to slot in the Jeep lineup where nameplates like the Comanche, Scrambler, and Gladiator once lurked, and something that makes as much sense as an offering as a vehicle can possibly make.

If the rumors and spy photos are to be believed, we’re finally going to get what we’ve been asking for: an honest, good-looking, midsize pickup with more than enough off-road capability and a modest amount of truck ability to match. A pickup for those who want a Wrangler but need a bed, for those who need a pickup but still want to go off-roading (but don’t want a Tacoma or ZR2 Colorado), a down-to-earth fun vehicle that’s a livable size and that has an endless aftermarket to go with its macho character. Given what we know about the JL-based pickup, it should be tough for FCA to screw this up…but we want more than just a pickup. We want a true Jeep pickup. We want perfection. Read on to see what we’re pining for, what we’ll probably get, and if it’s enough to put you firmly next to me in the camp of those believing it to be among the most highly anticipated vehicle of the next few years.


PLEASE NO NOT THIS —– Source: MotorTrend

Obviously we’re going to have some realistic and unrealistic expectations when it comes to something so widely talked– er, typed– about. So, what do we want and what do expect out of this thing? For the traditional pickup buyer hunting for a handy tool to complement his lifestyle, the JL pickup should be a competent, affordable utilitarian vehicle. Relatively few frills, nothing fancy; just a solid midsize truck that’s versatile as it is capable. Give the buyer a choice of model/trim (less than the Wrangler!), two bed lengths, and *maybe* two different cab configurations. No need for over-complexity; it should remain on the somewhat simple side, less of a lifestyle vehicle than the Wrangler, more of a purposeful buying decision. Not that it shouldn’t be a nice place to spend time when optioned up, but it has to keep its utilitarian core. It still has to be a Wrangler, and a truck, after all.


Source: JLWranglerForums

On the opposite end of the spectrum, prospective owners undoubtedly want to see a full-blown Rubicon to go alongside the Wrangler bearing the same sub-model name. Some will wish for availability of a bare-bones trim, something reminiscent of days when trucks were bought for their workhorse purposes, but that will be a relatively low seller if it exists at all. Slotted in the middle will be the mass-mover, cash-cow truck: something capable, aftermarket-ready, moderately comfortable, and well-rounded. This is what Jeep needs to focus on, the pickup that splits the difference between a stripper, no-option unit and the top-tier, comfort-over-function trim that will inevitably come should sales go well. The middle-level pickup will be the nameplate’s bread and butter, allowing buyers to use it as a platform for modification should they want or simply drive it just as it came off the lot, enjoying it for what it is. Goldilocks, per se.


Source: JLWranglerForums

We can’t really expect the JL pickup to be a heavy tower, though it should easily be able to pull a small trailer with ATVs or snowmobiles, or a utility trailer for work-stuff. Cab and bed configurations? Availability of single, extended, and crew/quad cabs would help inventory fly off lots, as would a choice of bed lengths (short/medium/long). But don’t expect Jeep to offer a wide range of options on those fronts just yet. As for drivetrains? Same as those in the Wrangler: turbo 4, Pentastar, and a turbodiesel, all mated to your choice of 6-speed manual or ZF 8-speed.


Source: CarAndDriver

The JL pickup could be a massive sales success, combining the off-road capability that the Tacoma offers with the American-ness of the Colorado/Canyon, all while doing so in an attractive package and offering more aftermarket potential than any of the direct competitors. A JL Rubicon pickup with a turbodiesel and a manual transmission would be, to me at least, among the most desirable vehicles on sale — and an attainable one at that. My bank account and WRX fear for their lives.

But what will Jeep build? Should we be concerned that what could be a great vehicle will only be a good one? Chances are that we’ll have limited options at first as Jeep tests the water to see a) what options customers actually pony up the money for, b) if it cannibalizes sales from the Wrangler and/or Ram, and c) if the damn thing even sells at all. As such, at first we’ll likely only see a few trims (say Sahara, Sport, and Rubicon), and there will be only one or two cab/bed configuration offerings. The problem I see here is that while it makes sense to release a smaller array of choices upon first offering, given this is an unproven product in the current Jeep lineup, I think it will actually hinder sales. If buyers can’t get exactly what they want, they will go with the Wrangler (which will have seemingly infinite options, packages, trims, etc.) or buy another truck that fits their needs/wants/wallet nearly or just as well.


Source: Allpar

Aside from the whole ordeal of what they actually offer come time that order banks open, Jeep will have to try hard to mess things up. Take a four-door JL Wrangler Unlimited and everything that will (hopefully) make it the best Wrangler yet, throw a bed on the back in place of the enclosed Wrangler body, name the thing something nostalgic, and it’ll be a force to be reckoned with. While it’s great to speculate on what could be, like the rumored and spy-photographed removable top, a little simplicity may be best here. I’d hate to see them try to hard and compromise the whole Jeepiness thing in the process, but I have faith (for now at least, given FCA’s awesome assortment of recent products) that they’ll do right upon everyone holding their breath to see how the much-anticipated JL Wrangler-based pickup turns out.


Source: JLWranglerForums

A few random tidbits: from JLWranglerForums’ renderings, it looks like the inside of the tailgate will have the seven-slot grille molded into its plastic liner. Freakin’ brilliant idea! Most drop-in bedliners have some sort of pattern inset on the tailgate protector, and there’s no reason Jeep couldn’t capitalize on this. Other notes…admit it, a removable roof would be pretty incredible. That would make it the only convertible truck on sale today, short of taking a sawzall to an unsuspecting victim. One more thing: availability of a Wrangler truck means parts should largely be interchangeable with the JL it’s based on. Mix and match parts at will; off-road perfection should ensue.


Source: Allpar

What about in its own competitive space? Expect the pickup will stick to its guns, just as it should. Those other comparably-sized offerings may put up a fight, but none will have as much character. Nissan’s Frontier, while still technically a good truck, is effectively ancient and in need of replacement. The Colorado is a pretty great machine, especially with the diesel (aside from the hit-or-miss quality issues), but even the lustworthy ZR2 won’t be a direct competitor. Whereas the Jeep pickup will match its Wrangler brethren in what it’s good at (trails, rock crawling, mud, etc.), the ZR2 will probably split the difference between the Rubicon and Ford’s Raptor. A direct competitor, the ZR2 is not. How about the Tacoma? Toyota’s un-killable workhorse is still a fantastic vehicle in its own right, and it has what would be the Jeep’s most direct arch nemesis in the TRD Off-Road and the TRD Pro. It will be great to see the comparisons between the two should they be on sale simultaneously, even greater to be able to buy either of them (especially used!), and greater still to have them force each other to get better and better. Think Mustang GT350 and Camaro ZL1 of the off-road-capable pickup world; in conjunction with the ZR2 and Raptor, we’ll soon have an off-road revolution on our hands. Oh, what a time to be alive.

Jeep Gladiator concept

Source: Trucks.com

So when will we see this thing? It seems like we’ve been waiting for this since Jeep’s 2005 Gladiator concept, a promising design that heartbreakingly never saw production. Hopefully they’ll uncover the pickup at the 2017 Detroit Auto Show, but I’d be skeptical of that. Jeep has historically used the New York Auto Show to hold any major unveiling, though that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll do so for the JL platform. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the JL Wrangler shown off in Detroit, and then the pickup released in New York. Stay tuned.


Source: JLWranglerForums

Alright, I’ve rambled on enough now. It’s probably pretty easy to see that I think about the prospective JL Wrangler-based pickup quite a bit, always hoping for the best, always expecting it to live up to the Jeep name and brand heritage that will help form its soul. Given what we know and given what we’re hoping for, the pickup should prove to be a great vehicle for those it suits, a viable option for the casual off-roader and hardcore wheeler alike, an easily maneuverable truck that has enough character to go along with its versatility and the infinite possibilities for what you can do with it. It’s a vehicle that needs to be just as home at Moab or on the Black Bear Pass as it is as your local Home Depot, or on the daily commute. Dear Jeep, please…we’ve been waiting forever for this. You have all the tools, all the hardware, all the lineage, all the support; don’t let us down! Very few vehicles are as obvious lineup additions as this one, and very few are basically guaranteed to sell as well as this will. So, my final sentiment on the matter: Jeep has proven recently that it knows what it’s doing. And it’s doing it well, sales records prove that. Now is the time for Jeep to show us just how good they are, and just how good a Jeep can be. The JL Wrangler-based pickup has so much promise that the auto industry and all its fans are on their toes, waiting to see what happens next. If Jeep is going to make this happen, now is the time: a Wrangler-based pickup is the perfect vehicle to complement the Jeep lineup. Hopefully it’s as great as we want it to be.


Source: JLWranglerForums

This has been Part 4 of “What to expect when you’re expecting a new Jeep.” Stay tuned for Part 5 in the upcoming days…or weeks…or whenever I get around to it.

  • Rover 1
    • Vairship

      And the Land Cruiser J70!

    • outback_ute

      $120k for those! Not sure how many they will sell when you can get an admittedly less capable “midsize” pickup for 1/4-1/3 the price, or a LC79 pickup for a touch over half the price. Payload is an impressive 2080kg (have to take the tray body out of this) and it has a pretty long 135″ WB. They have only fitted it with 2 airbags only and stated it won’t get a 5-star crash rating. I dare say the target audience will be fine with this, but not the mines.

      Ross, if it was up to me I would be looking at doing a Jeep pickup within the confines of the lwb body (with longer rear overhang than the existing model), with the option of a single cab or dual cab basically via having a framed permanent liner that mates to a removable hard roof (leave a soft roof to the aftermarket or Mopar catalogue).

      I’d even leave the rear outer door skins in place for the single cab version, and use them to access a storage bin in the body side! Make it a feature not a drawback. No separate bed, the Jeep won’t have the load rating to require that, and if that is what you want perhaps sir would like to look at our Ram pickups…

      Primary objective is to keep the tooling cost down by sharing as many parts as possible, in order to make the business case viable. If sales go that well, then more differentiation can be explored for the future.

      • Rover 1

        $120k + you have to then buy the tray.

        • outback_ute

          I would say that the 6×6 will be available. In about 20-30 years time when they are replaced by the ADF!

          Good point that the $120k does not include the tray, but it does include the bull bar, snorkel and dual batteries! The other strange thing is towing capacity is only 2200kg (4850 lb). Just downloaded the surprisingly-uninformative brochure (very little in the way of specifications, no dimensions) and the options list makes interesting reading, eg “winch preparation package”, 2nd spare tyre, cyclonic air filter; all ‘normal’ so far, but then “walk-on bonnet”!

      • Ross Ballot

        Holy hell, at $120k I think they’ll have a much more difficult time with the regular Mercedes pickup that’s on its way (in non-US markets, at least).

        Tooling shouldn’t be a problem (or too much of one, at least) being that most of the panels/doors/hood/etc will be shared. Hopefully that keeps costs down as well.

        • outback_ute

          It would have to be difficult to justify over things like a Sprinter or Iveco 4×4, or even an Isuzu/Hino medium duty truck. The Sprinter 4×4 with similar load capacity and tow rating is $50k cheaper, and I imagine not far behind in off-road ability for most purposes.

          I understand that the units supplied for the forestry fire fighting units are cheaper, but still in the order of $100k.

  • SlowJoeCrow

    I suppose there is no hope of a forward control version, for extra bed length and general cool factor

    • Ross Ballot

      Not a chance, as badly as many of us wish. Way too unsafe for mass production.

  • AmpLighter

    I agree.. and based on several spy shots of the “new” truck.. it’s not looking very promising.. I’m finding that it’s nothing more than taking parts from one concept or company and simply adding these on and calling it a truck. We like the Renegade bed.. just not that short.. The Gladiator is pleasing.. but again it’s using parts/kits from MVS an official Mopar supplier of truck kits. I think if the truck is to stay and remain true to the jeep history.. they would not use the MVS truck bed version and resort to more of the Renegade or even the AEV truck beds. I think what’s throwing us, is that the four door truck looks awkward and even cumbersome. We would actually like to see the 2 door truck introduced before the 4 door..