The Wrangler JL is an all-new design that uses a steel frame, steel body with strategic uses of aluminum (doors, hood, and tailgate), and retains the prerequisite solid axles with five-link suspension. Overall the JL is about 200-pounds lighter than the outgoing JK.
The Jeep team focused on making a better Jeep, filled with thoughtful touches and a providing a better all-around experience, with one caveat: no changes could come at the expense of off-road capability. As a result the JL is the lightest, most efficient, most aerodynamic, quietest, and most capable Wrangler ever. The engineering team even designed all of the systems to protect for 35-inch tires, and the Rubicon now comes with one-inch-larger 33-inch tires standard.
The first thing you’ll notice about the JL is that is looks exactly like a Wrangler should look, albeit scaled a bit better (thanks to increased glass area, bigger head and taillights, and cleaner proportions) to give the JL a more athletic and balanced appearance. Sure the taller windshield is laid back a little more, and there are some small hints at the aero tweaks if you look closely enough, but nothing that detracts from the classic Wrangler shape. Take the hood and fender vents for example. These might look like extraneous add-ons by a gratuitous designer, but the reality is that they allow for hot air to exit the engine bay and relieve pressure under the hood. When used in conjunction with the new lunchbox-style hood latches, these vents completely eliminate the venerable hood-flutter that plagued the JK.
Overall the JL design is much more complex and interesting than the JK. Whereas the JK felt two-dimensional, the JL feels refined and complete, layered and multi-dimensional. The grille combines the best of past eras of design, while being able to stand on its own. It has returned to the classic keystone shape and the new, larger headlights intrude on the outboard slats, reminiscent of the first federalized flat fenders Jeeps. By the way, those new headlights (LEDs are optional) are now integrated units, and not the replaceable sealed-beam-style lights like the JK has. You might also notice the return of the kink in the grille, which was last seen on YJs and XJs, a once-stalwart Jeep styling cue that retakes its rightful home at the front of the JL.
The Rubicon version of the JL has what amounts to a Mopar High Top fender kit from the factory, sitting a full 2 inches higher than the Sport or Sahara models. This allows the JL to fit 35-inch tires right from the showroom floor. You’ll want to add a 2-inch lift kit if you want full articulation without any rubbing on a Rubicon when running stock wheels.
The fenders also incorporate the turn signals now, a concerning revelation for those worried about trail damage, but a high-visibility improvement for those who daily-drive their Wranglers. We’ve been told that the fenders can be easily modified if the owner wants to relocate the lighting and trim them up. Jeep basically did everything but mold “cut here” into the fender to make it easy on enthusiasts.
Rubicon JLs continue the tradition of using Dana solid axles with the 44 designation. However, these are new axles based on Dana’s new AdvanTEK architecture that don’t share anything with the JK’s next-gen 44s, which didn’t share much with the TJ 44s. The new JL axles are stronger and feature a different ring and pinion gears (210mm/8.27-in front and 220mm/8.66-in rear on Rubicon) compared to 8.8-in on the JK. The Rubicon’s “44s” have been beefed up with thicker wall tubes and are stuffed with 4.10 gears and Tru-Lok electric lockers that can be engaged on the fly up to 30mph in 4-Lo. With any luck, we can say goodbye to the “smiling” front axles that were common on JKs that spent their time on the trail.