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Big top delivers open-air authenticity

There are few vehicles on the planet that have the off-road heritage, mustered by hard-core fanfare, that the Jeep brand offers anyone willing to take the leap into the circle. For the new Wrangler, it simply reflects the Jeep values and takes the appeal of the go-anywhere star to a wider audience.

The 2018 Wrangler proudly sports the World War II-vintage shape, from its traditional seven-slot grille and fold-down windshield, to its external door hinges, removable doors, and rear-mounted spare tire (with a new security lock system).

Whether it’s a rain-soaked store parking lot, a snowy highway or gravel country road, much of the appeal for the Jeep brand has been its capability on any road surface. Maybe the unspoken truth about Wrangler popularity rests not only on its abilities – but with how great it looks doing it.

High-clearance fender flares accommodate 33-inch off-road, all-terrain tires. Wrangler employs four skid plates and bars to protect critical vehicle components while on the trail. Dozens of different door, top and windshield combos allow for endless configuration possibilities.

The 4×4 Wrangler is available in both two- and four-door models, in four different trim configurations: Sport ($27,495 two-door or $30,995 four-door), Sport S ($30,695/$34,195), Sahara ($37,845 four-door only) and Rubicon ($37,495/$40,995).

Inside the cabin, you have what is commonly referred to as a weather-proof interior space.

Not just capable of handling some post-game muddy cleats or an unintentional open window during a rain storm, the Wrangler’s interior has one-way drain valves that allow for a full hose-out.

Based on the trim level chosen, something totally new for Wrangler owners will be the availability of the Uconnect 7.0 or 8.4NAV systems, which include the popular Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity apps. Personally, I find the interface to be extremely intuitive for the NAV system and connecting up with a phone is a breeze with the new system. Look for all the necessary conveniences for USB charging and devise storage.

The 2018 Wrangler offers three powertrains with the 3.0-liter EcoDiesel V6 (260 hp & 442 lb.-ft. of torque); an all-new 2.0-L turbo 4-cylinder (270 hp & 295 lb.-ft. of torque); as well as the tried-and-true 3.6-L Pentastar V6 engine (285 hp & 260 lb.-ft. of torque).

The EcoDiesel powerplant is mated to a new 8-speed automatic transmission, while the V6 Pentastar offers a standard 6-speed manual transmission with the new 8-speed automatic transmission as optional. All trim levels of the Wrangler can tow up to 3,500 pounds with the available towing package.

 

Going topless is easy, but requires some muscle

I recently tested the 2018 Jeep Sahara 4×4 Unlimited and quickly took to the quick-step directions manual to determine how I might be able to turn my four-door Jeep hardtop into a distinct open-air experience.

In the center console was a graphic illustration of every key step and location of latches, levers and hex nuts that are integral to removing the doors, front roof panels and rear hardtop. Also included was a convenient tool pouch with a ratchet, bits and extension.

My Freedom Top easily dismantles with the flip of several latches up front that loosen the two lightweight panels above the front row. Loosen a few strategically located hex screws along the rear outboard walls and the main rear cap is ready to be removed. This is where the muscle comes in.

It took my teenage son and I one preliminary walk through to determine how exactly to lift the top up and off the rear of the Sahara. This requires some serious lifting and it is not a job I’d recommend any one person try. This explains the huge popularity for power lifts that attach to garage roofs.

Once you have the hard top off, you still need to store it somewhere. Likewise for the four doors, which I found to be just as unique an experience driving as it was without the top. Doors require a simple internal hinge be loosened and the door easily lifted off its external hinges.

Difficult to figure out? No. Better than previous models? Easily. Worth the effort? Absolutely!

This auto review was researched and written by SteinPro Content Services and provided to the Sun-Times for publication