What Jeep needs to get right with the upcoming JL Wrangler, Part V: Packages, tidbits, and trims (oh my)
Pitting the company versus the buyers: From turbodiesel to pickup, your semi-comprehensive and somewhat speculative guide on the upcoming JL Wrangler
[This is the final piece in a five-part installment about the 2018+ Jeep Wrangler in which we’ve explored the exterior, off-road hardware, drivetrain & interior, and the pickup. Hopefully sooner rather than later we’ll know how close my, and the industry’s, predictions were…]
So here we are, at the conclusion of our speculation series about the upcoming Jeep JL Wrangler. We’ve covered a lot in the last few months, from engines and transmissions to the interior to the pickup and damn-near everything in-between. The JL Wrangler is shaping up to be one hell of a vehicle, especially so should FCA keep their shoddy quality out of the equation, and we’re more eager than ever to see it. So while we’re still in the dark about what the production-spec JL will actually look, sound, feel, and drive like, let’s predict and speculate some more! This time we’ll delve into the realms of available trims, packages, easter eggs, and more. Read on to see what we the people want from the JL, and what we’ll likely/probably get from Jeep. Things are heating up quickly, so be sure to stay tuned. Now jump with me as we dive into some of my final thoughts on the next-gen Wrangler.
Part 5: Trims, packages, tidbits, and final thoughts
Jason Torchinsky — Jalopnik’s barely-contained word-wizard– recently wrote that Jeep should sell a “Cheapjeep,” a bare-bones stripper version of the JK, alongside the JL. It’s a brilliant idea, especially at the $9999 price he suggests. I don’t want to step on his toes, but I’ve long said that there should be a no-nonsense version of the Wrangler, a back-to-basics version harkening back to the days of YJ when the Wrangler was an extremely basic form of transportation. And while selling a JK-stripper would be a way to limit the MSRP, that would a) interfere with tooling for the JL, b) eat up production line space (not to mention other resources) needed for the JL, and c) dig heavily into JL sales.
Rather, Jeep should really sell a low-to-no-option version of the JL, not the JK, at the bottom of the model range. It needs to be a truck that’s as basic as basic gets, yet has the large majority of the off-road capability and just as much of the fun-factor of its more expensive counterparts. With a sales model going back to the YJ way of adding options in which you actually have to check boxes for what you want (rear seats, AC, hard doors, etc– anything not necessary to actually driving is considered an option), they would sell a ton of them and even possibly reel in people to purchase a new vehicle rather than buying used. It would work great for those wanting to buy an inexpensive vehicle as a platform for a more hardcore off-road build, too. I can’t see this in any way as a bad idea.
Trims / Packages
I don’t know if anyone has actually counted, but I’d wager that the Wrangler has the highest number of variants of any vehicle sold today…if not more than the Porsche 911 that might hold the title if not for the Jeep. For the JK generation alone there’s been X, Sport, Sahara, Rubicon, Rubicon X, Rubicon Hard Rock, Rocky Mountain, Islander, Mountain, 70th Anniversary, 75th Anniversary, Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3, Moab, Polar, Freedom, Willys, Willys Wheeler, Dragon, Black Bear, Backcountry, and inevitably something else I’ve overlooked or that slots in-between trims (like Sahara “S” / Sport “S”). Take all of that in for a moment. That’s one vehicle, painted and stickered differently twenty– twenty— different ways, and that’s assuming I haven’t missed any. It’s time to draw the line.
For the JL, it’s time to cut back on these “special editions” (many of which aren’t very special at all). Most owners will customize their Wrangler regardless of how it rolls off the lot, so it’s absolute overkill to have so many available from the dealer. You remember the acronym: K.I.S.S.! We don’t need a specific package for every section of the earth or every tiny niche that can be filled; why not offer decal packages as MOPAR accessories, or even as special-order for an uptick in price? Yes, some of the aforementioned trims were package deals that got you extra options at a more competitive price, but selling something like the Wrangler Polar Edition in a location like Florida or SoCal is just silly. Let’s stop with the individual models, please? It’s getting ridiculous. And I can’t begin to imagine the backlash should there be another “special edition” to match the Chinese “Year of the …”. I get what they were going for with the Dragon edition, but it was one of those good-in-theory-bad-in-practice ideas. I’ll only let it slide if they introduce a Year of the Hellcat edition, equipped with the engine to match. It goes without saying that this would be wildly unnecessary, but that doesn’t make it any less awesome.
-The fender-mounted LED running lights that there’s been spy photos of that are likely going to make it to the JL? Skip ‘em, they look out of place. The Wrangler has always marched to the beat of its own drum, hanging onto its old-school roots rather than being on the forefront of technology. Adding mass-appeal LEDs only makes it look tacky and mainstream, not the standout, standalone vehicle that it should be.
-Another thing: supposedly the folding windshield will be phased out, and that’s a shame. They need to keep this a Wrangler through and through. Sure, a fixed windscreen will help out in the structural rigidity department and thus improve the crash-test results, but now we’re talking about getting rid of a fundamental element of what makes a Wrangler a Wrangler. At some point it begins to do wrong upon faithfuls. The possible pop-out window panels do look neat though.
-At one point there were rumors of a trio of JL models being offered: a two-door, a longer-wheelbase two-door (similar to the the TJ Unlimited, aka LJ), and then the four-door JL Unlimited rounding out the stable. Would this be a good idea? No, it would be a great idea! Of course the two-doors are less practical, but there’s a lot of people out there who want more space than the traditional two-door offers without the full-size length and inherent trade-offs (like a worse breakover angle) of the much bigger four-door. There’s a reason the LJs command such a premium on the used market, and that’s because they mix the classic Jeep two-door looks with a more spacious interior. It’s the best of both worlds as far as the Wrangler goes and while I highly doubt we’ll see a LWB two-door, I’d sure love to see it.
-Easter Eggs: less of them wouldn’t be a bad thing. Or at least making them more intricate, “you have to be in the know” esque hat-tips would be an improvement. It’s starting to get a little cheesy; what was once interesting and exciting (on the JK and Grand Cherokee) has now become played out and forced (ever seen a Renegade?). A few Easter Eggs are fine (above the mirror, along the bottom of the windshield, in the headlights and maybe one or two more), but overdoing it makes it tacky real quick. There shouldn’t need to be gimmicks to help sell the Wrangler.
It’s no secret that I’m a huge Jeep fan, lover, and critic. Unabashedly so. I grew up around Jeeps, and test drove five different JKs before buying my WRX. But just because the JK didn’t perfectly fit my needs shouldn’t discredit it in any way; the JK turned the Wrangler into a “real vehicle,” and the JL promises to build on that. Jeep wants you to have your cake and eat it too, and given what’s expected of the next-gen Wrangler, it should deliver on being the most refined and most capable Wrangler yet.
For Jeep, even more so than for Ford with the Bronco, the JL Wrangler will need to succeed on two fronts: with the masses, and with the die-hards. Am I hopeful that the JL and the pickup based on it will be perfect? Yup. Am I realistic that most of the available trims will be somewhat streamlined, mainstream-targeting for the sake of boosting sales even further? Absolutely. But so long as the Wrangler maintains the outdoorsy, go-anywhere mentality it always has, and actually has the chops to back it up, I don’t see how it could fail. In fact, it could do more than succeed by inspiring Ford to bring back a Bronco, GM to roll out a Blazer, and maybe even Toyota to introduce another FJ. After all, few things are better than using a 4WD vehicle to experience the outdoors and see sights that go largely unseen; having more available options on sale only makes that more exciting.
Just today (1/9/17), Ford (finally!) made official that there will be a new Bronco. Couldn’t have been timed more perfectly with putting the finishing touches on this piece. I left the above paragraph unchanged from how it was prior to Ford’s release, for sake of making clear how crucial the upcoming Wrangler is not only to Jeep, but to the market. That Ford has realized there’s a whole market segment monopolized by Jeep, and that they’ve committed to building a competitor, shows how serious the upcoming years of 4WD, purposeful off-road vehicles will be. I’m more excited about this than any other segment out there; while hypercars are fun to fantasize about and sports cars are fun to drive and electric cars push us into the future, the 4x4s provide an honest personality with capabilities most other vehicles can’t match. It’ll be great to see the focus shift off the horsepower wars and for words like articulation, transfer case, and electronically disconnect-able swaybars become more commonplace. Bring it on.
It seems that Jeep will have a pretty huge hit on its hands. Better powertrains, a more street-friendly platform, more day-to-day usability, all in conjunction with the off-road, go-anywhere personality we’ve come to love of the brand and especially of the Wrangler itself. As with so many others, I’m hoping for the best. The Wrangler is among the most storied, important, and fun vehicles on sale today, and there’s no reason that should change with the upcoming generation. Rather, it should only get better. People were worried about the integrity of the Wrangler going into the release of the JK and we all know that it turned out to be a pretty great rig, proven by the sales records and stronger-than-ever backing of Jeep Wrangler enthusiasts. To those who are concerned about the JL, I’ll leave you with this: wait and see. If there’s one thing Jeep can’t afford to screw up, it’s the Wrangler. And given the slew of incredible products to roll out of FCA lately, the future is promising. Cross your fingers, hold your breath, pray to your Jeep shrine, do whatever it is you do; the the JL Wrangler is nearly upon us, and now we can only hope that the JL Wrangler is everything we want and more. The unveiling can’t get here soon enough.
This has been the final installment of “What to expect when you’re expecting a new Jeep.” Thanks for reading, and check back in the upcoming months to see if I was anywhere near accurate in my predictions!