An all-new Jeep Wrangler has broken cover for the first time ahead of its anticipated 2018 launch. The car has been seen undertaking hot-weather testing in the US’s southwestern desert.
The test car, seen in two-door form, appears to have larger dimensions compared with today’s car, including a longer wheelbase and bonnet. That's not a surprise, given that Jeep is expected to switch the Wrangler from a steel body-on-frame constuction to an alloy unibody in order to save weight. The current Wrangler weighs 2125kg in V6 Sahara form.
Jeep is known to be exploring a high-tech engineering future for the next Wrangler with an alloy body and downsized turbocharged engines - thus opening a significant technical lead over the rival Land Rover Defender.
The plan was divulged late last year by Sergio Marchionne, chairman of Jeep's parent company Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FAC). He cited Ford’s move to a weight-saving aluminium chassis for the F150 pick-up.
“Discussions about moving to alloy from steel for the Wrangler are going on now,” Marchionne said. He added that the plan centres around modern powertrains that “require a complete rethink of the architecture”.
Marchionne also said Jeep wants to “modernise the Wrangler while preserving all its capabilities”. He listed “significant improvements” in the interior and driving manners as targets.
US Wranglers are sold with a 3.6-litre V6, while European models have a 2.8-litre four-cylinder diesel rated at up to 34mpg. These could easily be replaced by single or twin-turbo 2.0-litre petrol and diesel engines that make more power and torque and offer more performance, better fuel economy and lower emissions thanks to lighter bodywork.
Marchionne didn’t confirm whether the Wrangler would ditch its body-on-frame construction, but it is highly likely because he said Jeep’s existing Toledo plant would not be able to build the new Wrangler.
With a switch from steel body-on-frame to alloy unibody construction, the new Wrangler could save up to 400kg, reducing the kerb weight of a five-door model to around 1800kg.
Such a move would put pressure on Land Rover to do the same with its upcoming Defender replacement, which could be on the market at a similar time to the new Wrangler, around 2016/17.
Any Trail Rated Jeep must pass gruelling off-road tests, particularly the Rubicon trail – 17 miles of boulders, river crossings and acute climbs and descents in the Sierra Nevada desert.