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Latest Wrangler more civilized, more capable

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New Jeep Wranglers don’t come along very often, but in this time of “crossover fever,” you have to try and keep up – or get left behind. As the king of highly capable off-roaders, the Wrangler, and all its variants including the newly introduced Gladiator pickup, have a very “Jeep” look.

For 2018, the Wrangler is offered in Sport, Sahara, and Rubicon trims. I tested a classic two-door Wrangler Rubicon.

Jeep revised the Wrangler’s sheet metal to first retain a familiar look, but to also help it reduce its “barn door” fuel economy ratings. The nose has the familiar 7-slot grille, but it is angled back and retains its signature big round headlights. The windshield still folds forward, but when upright rests at an angle to help with aerodynamics. The Rubicon graphics, tow hooks, meaty bumpers, and tall 33-inch all-terrain tires really give Wrangler a tough look.

The popular soft top and urban/winter friendly hardtop configurations are available. A nice-to-have feature is the optional full, power-retractable canvas sunroof integrated with the hardtop. My test vehicle had the Black Freedom 3-Piece Hard Top, which deletes the soft top.

The motivation for my test vehicle took the form of an optional 2.0-liter turbo 4-cylinder engine with idle shut off to reduce fuel consumption. It’s rated at a spunky 270 horsepower and 295 lb-ft, at 3,000 rpm, which gives it better low-end grunt than the standard V6. Jeep indicates that the peak power ratings can only be achieved using premium fuel. This particular engine comes exclusively with the 8-speed automatic. This engine/transmission combination is rated to tow up to 2,000 pounds.

The Wrangler’s interior has been re-engineered with a pleasing dash design and it lowers the window line height. The new dashboard doesn’t look as inexpensive as past models, and thankfully, controls have been moved to more logical, easy-to-use locations.

My test vehicle had all the good stuff including the optional Uconnect 4C NAV with 8.4-Inch Display GPS Navigation and leather seats. Jeep touts the Wrangler’s “hose out” interior, but I would be very careful where I pointed the hose.

Surprisingly, rear seat passengers (2) will find their accommodations surprisingly spacious once they scramble past front seats and around the door opening. Accessing the small cargo area behind the folding rear bench is easier as the rear door is lighter, but it is still hinged on the passenger side.

When winter sets in the interior can be cold and drafty (soft tops), my hard top will do a better job of keeping cold air/noise out. The interior is not a quiet place as the 33-inch tires add some background noise.

If you purchase a Wrangler Rubicon it’s likely that you want to do some off-roading, and this is the most capable vehicle to do it in. Beyond big tires, Rubicons get stout Dana 44 units with selectable locking differentials. With the push of a button, you can disconnect sway bars for greater off-road articulation that plants the tires on the ground. Wranglers come with a part-time transfer case with a crawl ratio that lets you maneuver a Rubicon slowly over tricky elements like downed trees, moguls and over narrow creeks.

Wrangler can do this and over house-sized rock formations with the previously mentioned hardware and a super-strong, separate ladder frame suspended by robust coil springs and combined with solid front and rear axles.

Safety features include four airbags on-board and a lane-departure warning and a rearview camera. Removable doors, fold-down windshield, 4×4 and higher center of gravity will likely impact your insurance bill.

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