First Drive 2019 Jeep Wrangler Review
Robert Pepper’s first drive 2019 Jeep Wrangler Review with Price, Specs, Performance, Ride and Handling, Ownership, Safety, Verdict and Score.
In a nutshell: The Wrangler’s fans will be happy that this new model loses none of the Wrangler charisma and capability, but newcomers to the model will be disappointed in the lack of safety and the high price.
2019 Jeep Wrangler JL Rubicon 4-door Specifications
Price $68,950 (diesel), $63,950 (petrol) (all prices plus onroads) Warranty 5-years, 100,000 kilometres Safety 1-star EuroNCAP rating, ANCAP not yet tested Engines 3.6L V6 petrol 209kW / 347Nm, 2.2L diesel 4 cyl 147kW, 450Nm Transmission 8-speed automatic Drive Rock-Trac with 2WD, AWD, locked centre clutch and low range, swaybar disconnect, front and rear cross-axle locking differentials Dimensions length 4790mm (inc spare), width 1894mm, height 1848mm, wheelbase 3008mm Turning Circle 12.4m Ground Clearance 252mm (claimed) Angles approach angle 34.8, ramp 20.8, departure 29.2 degrees Wading depth 760mm Max braked towing 2495kg Max towball mass 125kg Fuel Tank 81 litres Thirst 10.3L/100km (petrol), 7.3L/100km (diesel)
The 2019 Jeep Wrangler JL is the fourth vehicle to carry the name, and the seventh development of the original 4×4, the Willys MB in 1941 which inspired the Land Rover Series I.
What is the Jeep Wrangler? The Wrangler is one of the vehicle vehicles which truly merits the overused term ‘iconic’, such is its distinctive grille and silhouette. But looks alone do not a legend make, and in the world of recreational 4x4s no other vehicle inspires the loyalty of a Wrangler – eat, sleep Jeep.
The Wrangler’s army of fans appreciate the vehicle for its off-road capability which, stock-standard, is immense and even better once modified, but they also love the vehicle for its charm, customisability and increasingly rare design features such as removeable panels, solid axles, transfer case lever and a separate chassis. The Wrangler also sells well to those who just love its unique look, which as each year passes makes the car stand out more and more in a world of plastic-fantastic, anodyne, forgettably me-too SUVs.
Where did we drive the new Wrangler? The local launch was conducted over two days, but we drove only the four-door Rubicon (in both diesel and petrol trim). We had some on-road time and significant off-road time in both variants on Climies Track in Tasmania, a medium-level track with lots of ruts, rocks, off-camber sections and some mud. We also did a beach drive but the sand was so hard packed you could easily do it in 2WD, so, that didn’t tell us anything about the vehicle’s capability. This review draws on that drive, my previous experiences with the JK, and makes some educated guesses about the Sport S and Overland variants.
If asked, I would certainly not recommend an off-road novice attempt Climies Track in a standard vehicle, and if they did, I wouldn’t expect to see them at the other end. Yet that’s exactly what Jeep had our group do. We just jumped into the Wranglers, and off we went, didn’t even air down (!) or get a briefing on how all the myriad systems worked (see further down the review for more on them). All Jeep did was pair the more experienced drivers with the less experienced ones. My co-driver was on his second-ever off-road drive, being a lifestyle writer, and he managed just fine – in a Rubicon you can pretty much just point it where you want and the car just trundles along, much less need to worry about lines and technique than with lesser vehicles.
What’s the price and what do you get? The Wrangler range is pretty simple but not exactly cheap, and that seems to be an intentional strategy from Jeep Australia which wants to retain some exclusivity. Compared to the previous-generation JK Wrangler the major changes are an eight-speed automatic, keyless start, daytime running lights, park assist, 7.0inch touchscreen with Android Auto/Apple CarPlay, and a reversing camera. And all JL Wranglers are automatic only, although a manual transmission is available in other markets.
Wrangler JL Sport S: 2 door $48,590+ORCs; 4-door $53,450+ORCs
- Petrol V6, eight-speed automatic only;
- 2.72:1 transfer case (crawl ratio 44:1);
- 17-inch wheels (245/75/17 tyres, 31.5 inch diameter);
- Tyre pressure monitoring;
- Reversing camera; and
- 7.0-inch Uconnect with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Sport S options – $2250 3-door / $2750 4-door: Hard top, Alpine sound, tinted windows, security alarm, remote start.
Off-road Pack $1950: Anti-Spin Rear Axle with Dana M220 (stronger axle with a clutch limited-slip differential), different 17-inch wheels, Mopar floor mats.
Paint: Premium paint $745 – black and white are standard, all others are premium, yellow is special-order.
There are two variants at the top of the Wrangler line-up, Overland and Rubicon which is the ‘specialist’ off-road version and the one we’re testing here.
- Petrol V6, eight-speed automatic speed only;
- 2.72:1 transfer case (crawl ratio 44:1);
- 18″ wheels (255/70/18, 32.1 inch diameter);
- Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB);
- Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) with stop;
- Blind Spot Monitoring (BSM);
- Leather seats;
- Hard Top;
- 8.4 Uconnect touchscreen , satnav;
- 230v power; and
- Remote start.
- Diesel and petrol engines, eight-speed automatic only;
- 4.1:1 transfer case ratio (crawl ratio 77.2:1);
- 17-inch wheels;
- 32″ BFG KM3 mud terrain tyres;
- Front and rear cross-axle locking differentials;
- Front swaybar disconnect;
- Underbody protection;
- Heavy duty front/rear axles Dana M210/M220;
- Rock sliders; and
- Winch bar.
- Leather bucket seats;
- Leather shift knob; and
- Heated front seats, steering wheel.
- AUX switches – see below;
- 240A alternator (standard 220A); and
- 700CCA battery (standard 650CCA).
Jeep has developed an auxiliary switch system which provides the driver with four programmable auxiliary switches located in the lower switch bank of the instrument panel. The driver has the ability to configure the functionality of the auxiliary switches via the Uconnect settings.
All switches can be configured for setting the switch type operation to latching or momentary, power source of either battery or ignition, and ability to hold last state across key cycles. The switches control four separate relays, with fused 15-amp and 40-amp circuits (two of each).
Each relay output circuit terminates at two blunt cut wires, located in the engine compartment and under the dashboard. This caters for the fitment of electrical accessories both inside and outside the vehicle, without needing to route aftermarket wiring through the firewall.
What’s the interior like? The JL Wrangler is a clear evolution of the JK Wrangler with all that is good and bad about that old model. For instance, there’s limited cabin storage – nets for door pockets, a tiny glovebox, no sunnies holder. That said, it is good to see the centre console is split-level making it more practical than just a deep bin. Unfortunately, the handbrake is still over on the left-hand side of the centre console making it a bit of a stretch to get to. Moving it to the right-hand side wasn’t considered a priority in preparing the Wrangler for right-hand drive markets. And there’s no rest for your left foot in the foot well.
What are the controls and infotainment like? The layout of the controls is logical, pleasing to the eye and happily they’re all pretty much tactile buttons, dials and switches. The instrumentation is clear and easy to use, as is the uConnect system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Our vehicles even had mud mats fitted.
What’s the passenger space like? The front seats are comfortable with good forwards vision and there’s plenty of leg, head and shoulder room. The second-row seats are 40:60 split fold with a big arm rest folding out of the back rest, there are USB sockets and small mesh nets on the back of each front seat but no rear air vents. It is comfortable enough for adults but, as ever, the middle seat is more of a perch, lacks a headrest and so the Wrangler is best left as a four-seater only. There are three sensibly positioned child restraints but no ISOFIX mounts. According to Jeep the hardtop is now easier to remove compared to the JK Wrangler, but frankly that’s coming off a low base. We didn’t get a chance to try it.
What’s the boot space like? The tailgate is, of course, Jeep-unique. It is a split horizontal 50:50 system, where you open the lower tailgate with the spare wheel attached (the spare wheel now sits 300mm lower to improve rear visibility), then lift up the window. This isn’t as simple or easy as a one-piece door, but it has the advantage of being able to drive with the tailgate window up, and swing-out rear doors can have handy drop-down tables attached.
Depending on the model you go for, storage space runs from just 193 litres behind the back seats for the two-door variants and a handier 533 litres for the four-door variants. Drop down the rear seats which fold relatively flat and this grows to 1044 litres. Under the boot floor is a small storage area useful for carrying tools or possibly a water bladder. There is a single 12v socket in the back, unhelpfully positioned such that it will poke out into your storage system.
The Trail Management Rail System (pictured above) is just that, a set of rails in the boot floor and on the tailgate. Personally, I’m not sure it’s worth the money compared to aftermarket systems, but it’s good Jeep is offering it at all.
What’s the performance like? Fun, but below par. Let me explain. The Wrangler has live (solid) axles front and rear, not the more road-friendly independent suspension, and the hardtop is removable and, so, doesn’t have the insulation you’d get from a conventional bodyshell. More than that, the Rubicon runs high-profile mud tyres with deep, chunky tread blocks which are ‘noisy’ on the road. Generally speaking, the vehicle is off-road focused, which means compromising its on-road behaviour.
And yet, the Wrangler is fun to drive because when pushed it demands, and both rewards skill and finesse, and for me that’s fun. It can be hustled through corners at surprising speed, both petrol and diesel engines are responsive, the gearshift is intelligent and responds quickly, and the steering is well weighted and reasonably direct.
The pedals offer a good progressive action and there’s good stopping power via disc brakes right around. I will also give the BFG KM3s muddies a shout out here, as, for a mud tyre they’re great on-road – decent grip and feel even in the wet, and surprisingly quiet too.
You can expect the Overland and Sport S to be better on-road due to being a touch lighter and running road-oriented tyres, either smaller diameter in the Sport S or lower profile (18-inch wheels) in the case of the Overland, and I would also hazard a guess the Rubicon has dampers tuned for off-road use and so it rolls a little more than the other variants likely will.
What’s the Wrangler Rubicon got for going off-road? Jeep say the Rubicon is the best offroad vehicle on the market, I’m not entirely sure I’d agree but it’d definitely be in my top three. Certainly, it has more practically useful off-road features than any other vehicle on the market, so let’s quickly run through them:
- Rock-Trac 4×4 system – this has five modes:
- 2H – two-wheel drive (rear drive);
- 4H Auto – all-wheel drive, also fine to use on-road and preferred for dirt roads, slight (but unspecified) increase in fuel consumption;
- 4H Part-Time – off-road only, locks centre clutch. Confusingly and incorrectly called “Part-Time”. 4H Locked would be a more accurate term;
- 4 Lo – as Part-Time, but low-range;
- Front swaybar disconnect (only in low range);
- Front and rear cross-axle locking differentials (Tru-Lock in Jeep-speak);
- BFG KM3 mud tyres, 32-inch diameter, 255/75/17 light-truck construction; and
- Underbody protection.
The Selec-Trac system for Sport S and Overland is identical to Rock-Trac, but has a 2.72:1 reduction giving a crawl ratio of 44:1, compared to the Rock-Trac 4.71:1 with a 77:1 reduction. Jeep include the swaybar disconnect and front/rear lockers in their definition of Rock-Trac, both of which are unique to Rubicon. If you’re thinking the Jeep 4×4 system is very much like the Mitsubishi Super-Select, then you’d be exactly right, it’s the same modes just different names.
What’s the Wrangler Rubicon like off-road? Well, it’s excellent. The reason being that the individual design features add up to more than their whole. Let’s take the tyres first. Brand new muddies are going to give a vehicle a traction edge, and especially tyres like the KM3.
The grip levels of these tyres is impressive and, sure, they’re not cheap but it’s a very good move by Jeep to fit them and the rubber makes a very capable car even more able. Then we have the suspension. The Rubicon suspension won’t be suitable for heavy loads (more on that later), but with minimal weight in each vehicle it was supple, meaning all four wheels were often in contact with the ground which is good for both traction and stability.
The front swaybar disconnect is highly effective too (but you need to bear in mind that it’s speed limited and only available in 4-high and 4-low). Not only does this permit more flex on the front axle, but it also means easier movement through the flex range. This is especially noticeable when driving up rutted hills where there is little weight on the front axle – other vehicles would lift a wheel, teetering on three wheels and spinning the airborne one…the Rubicon is more likely to have all four stably planted on the ground, driving forwards.
Below is a photo of a JK Wrangler Rubicon I had on test some years ago with its swaybar in and out. I was unable to get a similar shot for the JL, but the principle is exactly the same.
Cross-axle lockers are a huge boon in rough, wheel-in-the-air rocky climbs. A single locker in the rear, as is fairly common in many 4x4s, is a good option although in many cases effective brake traction control working across all four wheels such as on the Toyota Fortuner is better than engaging a single rear locker. Yet even the best traction control isn’t as good (yet!) as twin cross-axle lockers when you’re crawling up steep, rocky terrain, and having both front and rear lockers is a significant performance advantage over just a rear locker.
Both engines and drivetrains deserve a gold star too. For off-road performance, the tractability of an engine is often overlooked. You want ready amounts of torque for quick reactions and pickup, but not a flighty, unpredictable throttle that requires a feather touch. Jeep has the balance right for both engines. The transmission can pretty much be left in D for Drive too, but when required you can lock in a gear and pull away from stationary up to 3rd low according to the manual or 4th low according to my experience. Either is good. The eight ratios mean you can choose exactly the one you need, and the engine braking is very good too.
Even better, the hill descent control (HDC) is amazing, it even brings the car to a complete halt and smoothly lets it move on, working down to 1km/h. Never seen that before, so impressed. However, the track didn’t have any properly steep hills to truly test the system, but previous Jeep HDC experience has been very good so I’ll assume this next generation is even better. The system is a bit odd, though – the speed is set by the gearshift, and the car decides the gear to go with the selected HDC speed so you lose manual gearshift control.
If you want, in low-range you can use the ‘drive through the brakes’ technique with left foot on brake, right on accelerator. In the road modes this technique doesn’t work as there is a brake-throttle inhibitor.
No matter how much clearance you have, you’ll scrape eventually and the Rubicon has a decent amount of underbody protection, plus rock-sliders for the sills which can take the weight of the car.
The owner’s manual actually recommends removing the standard sidesteps on Sport S and Overland before off-roading…if other manufacturers did the same there’d be a lot less bent alloy! Nevertheless, I do think a 50mm lift is in order for the Rubicon. And on the subject of the owner’s manual, interestingly the manual also says chains must only be fitted to the rear wheels, presumably for clearance at the front. A bit sad for a vehicle like the Rubicon, especially as it has a front live axle which should offer more clearance than independent suspension.
Only twice on the launch did a Wrangler become stuck, the first was driver error after driving the vehicle into a hole, and the other time was thick mud which would have stopped anything short of 35-inch aired-down tyres so hardly a reflection on the Rubicon. After some track-building and judicious use of Maxtrax we got the vehicle un-bogged, and the others went through without much drama.
We finished Climies Track in the dark, allowing evaluation of the headlights which are excellent, being modern LEDs. I’d still go for a set of auxiliary lights though, but would advise owners to try the vehicle at night first so they can decide where they need extra light.
Does it have a spare? Yes, a full-sized spare tyre with matching alloy wheel, mounted on the rear tailgate where it is easy to access off-road, and doesn’t take up storage space. Rear mounted spares can get in the way of rear visibility, but the Wranglers JLs all have reversing cameras (and the spare is mounted lower than on previous models).
Can you tow with it? You can indeed, a claimed 2495kg for the Unlimited (long wheelbase) models, with a decent 250kg towball mass limit. However, while that’s an improvement over the JK which was a mere 2300kg, even nearly 2500kg isn’t much when other wagons such as the Everest and Pajero Sport are 3000kg plus. It is also good to see Jeep have added trailer stability control.
But, as is so often the case, the 2495kg rating is unlikely to be achieved in reality. The tare mass of the Rubicons is 1992kg for the petrol and 2160kg for the diesel. The GVM (maximum it can weigh) is only 2562 and 2630kg respectively so payload (amount it can carry) is an unimpressive 570kg for the petrol and 470kg for the diesel. This means the the diesel variant can’t carry 5 x 100kg people legally, and if you add 100kg of camping and recovery gear there’s not much payload available for either. I see GVM upgrades figuring in the future of many Wrangler owners.
Back to towing, and the GCM (max combined weight of trailer and towcar) is only 4808kg for the petrol, so we if subtract off 2495kg from that we get 2313kg, and from that we delete the tare mass of 1992kg to give us…a payload of 321kg. And for the diesel it is 221kg. Ideally, you want the GCM to be the sum of the GVM and max tow and the Wranglers are short by 249kg.
I could go further with the towing maths and figure out the effect of the rear axle load and the towball mass – you can read all about it here – but there’s no point as the story is clear. Don’t buy a Wrangler thinking it’ll tow 2495kg in the real world. I’d suggest thinking in terms of a lightish camper trailer only, below 1500kg.
The ute version of the Wrangler, the Glaidator, is due here with a 3500kg tow rating but if the payload isn’t up to the mark then it too will join the ranks of cars with tow ratings that exist purely in brochures and not the real world. Interestingly, the US handbook has the 3.6L 4-door only capable of towing 1587kg with a 158kg towball mass.
Here’s a table of Rubicon weights, all in kg:
Payload (amount it can carry)
GVM (maximum weight)
GCM (maximum weight of towcar and trailer)
Max braked tow weight
Max weight of car at max tow weight *
Payload when towing max tow
* accounts for a 250kg TBM
As you can see in the above table, there’s not a lot of payload left when towing at the maximum allowed. The Jeep people will disagree, but the Wrangler JL is a fantastic, short-range fun car. It is not suitable as a long-range tourer or tow car.
What about ownership? Jeep Australia has, in past years, developed quite a reputation for poor customer service and unreliability and my personal experience through involvement in the 4×4 scene bears this out – no less than three of my personal friends have reluctantly dropped Jeep for this reason, let alone the others I hear about, and I myself have experienced Jeep customer care.
However, let’s be fair here and look forwards, not backwards. Jeep Australia boss, Steve Zanlunghi acknowledges the challenges Jeep faces in Australia, and talked about his determination to put it right. Tellingly for me, he said he started his career on the phones in customer care, right on the frontline of disgruntled owners. I asked him for one single quote that summarised the Jeep Australia view of the customer, and he gave me this: “We have fundamentally changed the culture where customer focus is now a priority.” As evidence, he offered that warranty claims are down 35%, and buy-backs down 52%. And there’s the 5-year warranty, albeit that’s now industry standard and Jeep’s is only good for 100,000km.
Jeep is keen to keep customers coming back to dealers, and have made efforts to ensure that you cannot get your Jeep serviced elsewhere for cheaper. There is a capped price servicing deal which Jeep say is $850 less servicing than the JK over 5 years. Warranty is 5 years but only 100,000km and includes lifetime roadside assistance when serviced within Jeep’s authorised dealer network.
Servicing for the petrol is $299 per service with intervals of 12 months or 12,000km, diesel is $499 with intervals of 12 months or 20,000km. However, as always, off-roaders or those who tow should consider more frequent servicing.
Should I buy a petrol or diesel Rubicon? Petrol all the way for me. Firstly, $5000 extra for a diesel engine buys a lot of petrol. Secondly, while the diesel is good, I prefer the revvy petrol as a fun driving machine. Both are equally capable off- or on-road, and share the same eight-speed automatic albeit with slightly different ratios to suit the engines. Also counting against the diesel is another 168kg of weight, and while the GVM is higher you get only a 470kg payload which is pretty small.
The only reason to choose the diesel, really, is the extra range – a combined fuel consumption rating of 10.3L/100km vs 7.5L/100km for petrol and diesel is quite a bit – but frankly, the Wrangler is not a long-range tourer or tow car so I don’t think that’s a big issue. There’s a decent sized 81-litre fuel tank so the petrol isn’t exactly short-legged for range. You’d need to drive a long way to make up the $5000 in savings too. The diesel engine is only available on the Rubicon.
So, what about competitors? Jeep see the Wrangler competitors as the FJ Cruiser (now discontinued), the G-Class and Defender…so it doesn’t, according to them, have any real competitors. Buyers are apparently coming to the Wrangler from the Ranger (15%), LC70 (9%) and Colorado (11%). Oddly, I think, Jeep don’t see the Suzuki Jimny in the same class. I do, because while the Jimny is smaller, it too is a short-range fun 4WD, and significantly cheaper plus offers three-star ANCAP safety. In fact, I’d say the Wrangler competitors include other vehicles you don’t need but want, such as the Fiat 500 Abarth and Toyota 86.
What safety features does it get? The Wrangler JL has scored a one-star safety rating from EuroNCAP, and as our local ANCAP scores are increasingly aligned with EuroNCAP, it’s fair to assume the JL will score the same over here, or possibly two stars at best. Jeep has defaulted to the usual carmarker response when there’s a poor safety rating by listing all the safety features they can think of for the JL, which total 70. That sounds impressive until you realise included in that list of desperation are GPS, roadside assistance, driver instrument cluster, child restraints, headlamp time delay off, keyless entry and even a universal door opener.
So let’s break this down. One criticism I have of the ANCAP (and EuroNCAP) ratings is that they are overly simplistic. These days, a car’s safety rating is made up of:
- passive safety – the basic crashworthiness, how well the car protects occupants. Covers the crumple zones, airbags and the like;
- active safety – when you’re on your way to an accident this helps prevent or mitigate the crash. Includes tech like ABS, stability control;
- proactive safety – helps stop an accident even occurring. Autonomous emergency braking, lane keep assist, blind spot warning and the like; and
- The safety rating is also made up of adult protection, child protection, and pedestrian protection. It is, in theory, possible to have a car with great passive safety but weak everywhere else and so it scores a low rating.
According to EuroNCAP, the Wrangler loses points for not having a rear seatbelt pre-tensioner, no airbags for knee or pelvis, no ISOFIX childseat mounts, no active bonnet for pedestrians, no AEB and no lane keep assist. Safety ratings are simplistic, and don’t always reflect individual preferences or usage scenarios, and the Overland and Rubicon variants will have AEB. Also, many owners will modify their Wranglers with aftermarket gear which often compromises the performance of advanced proactive safety gear anyway, for example AEB sensors aren’t always well replicated in bullbars.
So, how about we dig into the actual crashworthiness, which is what most owners will care about. Here we find a score of 50%, with the crash-test dummies an unhealthy mix of colours denoting Weak to Good, but mostly Adequate and Marginal. And here’s how a 3- and 5-star 4×4 rates compared with the Wrangler, according to EuroNCAP. All three are separate-chassis designs, and the Jimny is almost as old as the Wrangler and shares a live axle at the front.