What It Is: A next-generation four-door Jeep Wrangler mule undergoing testing in southeastern Michigan. We’ve seen several thinly veiled current-gen Wranglers serving as mules over the past several months, each one sporting a slightly unconventional piece of bodywork or fresh mechanicals in its nether regions, but this is the first time we’ve snagged a next-gen Wrangler doing its thing in its own skin. With plenty of miles of testing to complete before its big reveal, Jeep wisely called in the ragman to stitch up a concealing set of camouflage duds and shape-altering materials designed to send mixed messages—just get a load of the (we hope) exaggerated centerpiece in the front bumper. We haven’t seen a manufacturer go to such lengths to completely obscure a vehicle since FCA was putting the Pacifica through its trials.
Why It Matters: As we’ve said before, few modern vehicles have the iconic status of the Wrangler, and thus any clean-sheet redesign is approached by the faithful with a mixture of anticipation and skepticism. We’ve been confident all along that the new Wrangler will keep its solid front and rear axles, four-wheel drive, and body-on-frame construction, and these images seem to support that theory. Unfortunately, the heavy draping makes it impossible to determine if the body could, as has been widely reported, utilize aluminum for some or all of its construction. The same goes for the rumored-to-be-done-for fold-down windshield, as the cladding is too thick to sniff out the presence of a hinge or joint (or lack thereof).
Platform: Aside from clearly visible frame rails, these spy photos don’t reveal much about the new Wrangler’s chassis. Based on previous intelligence, however, you can count on traditional solid axles and a ladder-frame chassis. Hopefully, Jeep is busy removing weight from those components while maintaining or improving strength and durability. It’s worth noting that the elaborate camo could easily be configured to give an SUV appearance to the pending Jeep pickup, although the short rear overhang seen here indicates otherwise.
Powertrain: FCA revealed a revised product plan in January that indicated that both a diesel engine and a hybrid powertrain are on the slate for the next-gen Wrangler. The new powertrains won’t be available at launch; the diesel is set to arrive before the 2022 model year, and the hybrid is coming after that. No specifics were given, but it makes sense that a version of the 240-hp turbo-diesel 3.0-liter V-6 currently in use in the Ram 1500 pickup would be a candidate (the hybrid system is also earmarked for an appearance in the Ram pickup). Until then, it’s a good bet the Pentastar V-6 will provide motivation, and Jeep is working to ensure Chrysler’s ZF-sourced eight-speed automatic transmission will fit in the new Wrangler. The current Wrangler uses an older five-speed unit, as the eight-speed is too bulky to fit.
Estimated Arrival and Price: The next Wrangler is said to be scheduled for a debut late this year; the Toledo factory where today’s model is built is already retooling for the next-gen version as well as a new Wrangler-based pickup. With demand for the profitable Wrangler often outstripping supply—and with the anticipated aluminum bits coming online—we don’t see the new rig’s base MSRP coming in below today’s $25,000 mark.
Competition: Chevrolet Colorado, Nissan Frontier, Subaru Forester, Toyota 4Runner.
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON MAY 2016 BY ANDREW WENDLER
SOURCE: CAR AND DRIVER