Article by Joel Feder. Posted on  Dated July 1, 2019. Click her for full article.

The Jeep Wrangler is an icon around the world. But even icons don’t stay the same. Evolution happens.

It started life as a military tool hitting the beaches of Normandy as part of America’s “Arsenal of Democracy.” Over the last 75 years, it’s changed, but despite time and evolution it’s still the open-air two-door off-roader that roamed the beaches during the war. Of course, there have been copy cats that have come over the decades, and there are the special editions over the years that pepper the icon’s history with spice. The bottom line: Jeep is an icon that changed the world.

As a new era rapidly approaches with advances in both technology and propulsion methods, it’s time to take a look at the future of the Jeep Wrangler. What will the Wrangler of the future look like, and how will it perform?

Today’s Wrangler

The latest step in the Wrangler’s evolution was in November 2017 at the Los Angeles Auto Show when Fiat Chrysler Automobiles took the covers off the 2018 Jeep Wrangler. Known as the “JL,” the fourth-generation Wrangler brought a host of refinements, modern technology, and updated powertrains to the off-roader.

Most of today’s Wranglers are powered by a 285-horsepower 3.6-liter V-6 hooked to either a 6-speed manual or 8-speed automatic transmission that sends power to all four wheels. A more efficient, 270-hp turbo-4 with a 48-volt mild-hybrid system is optional for people looking to get a few more miles per gallon.

Two-door, four-door, and pickup versions are available, and while a hardtop is offered, all Wranglers can quickly be turned into convertibles by either rolling back the soft-top or unlatching the hard-top panels. The doors come off, the windshield can fold down, but more impressive than its open-air attitude? The Wrangler still passes modern crash tests.

Tomorrow’s Wrangler

While two powertrains are currently offered, more on slated to arrive soon under the Wrangler’s hood. A 3.0-liter turbodiesel V-6 will be the first to arrive with more torque for towing and rock-climbing adventures. The oil-burner will be a variant of the engine found under the hood of the 2019 Ram 1500 turbodiesel where it has 260 hp and 480 lb-ft of torque, though those figures could change when it lands in the Wrangler.

A plug-in hybrid version of the Wrangler will be produced in 2020, though details are slim at this point. The powertrain will use a version of FCA’s in-house, two-motor hybrid system currently used in the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivan. A lithium-ion battery pack is a given, though as to where it will be packaged in the Wrangler isn’t clear to us. It’s likely the electric motors will be partnered with either an Atkinson cycle version of the Wrangler’s 3.6-liter V-6 or—less likely, but still possible—a modified version of the Wrangler’s 2.0-liter turbo-4. Regardless of what’s under the hood, soon there will be a Wrangler that has a plug and accepts a charge.

Most FCA products have more than six forward gears by now—except the Wrangler, which is available with an endearing 6-speed manual or modern 8-speed automatic. The upcoming Ford Bronco is slated to have a 10-speed automatic (and a hybrid model). Does the Wrangler have enough gears for the future? Will the Wrangler eventually get a 10-speed automatic transmission? Will it still be available with a 6-speed manual? Our take: The 8-speed FCA uses is fantastic and it’s not clear that a 10-speed automatic is completely necessary.

The current Wrangler is still in its infancy, by new-car standards. During its model cycle, it’s possible Jeep will expand the body styles offered with a two-door pickup (hello, Commando or Jeepster?). Extremely unlikely, but always possible, there could be a Wrangler 6×6, because America. (The skunkworks at Jeep are always busy.)

What won’t change is the seven-slot grille and round headlights, those are mainstays. Sorry YJ, fans, square’s probably never coming back, except for the taillights, which likely will stay square forever.

The JL Wrangler may have been developed by Jeep with an aluminum body to help the Wrangler go on a diet in the face of stricter emissions regulations, but it didn’t happen—at least, for now. While the Wrangler might be able to get away with its emissions in the U.S. for a while, the rest of the world is getting stricter, and lightweight materials may be necessary.

The Wrangler’s off-road hardware will continue to evolve. Today, it combines mechanical hardware (thanks Dana) with modern electronics (hello electronically disconnecting sway bar). Expect more and more electronic aids and drive modes to push the mechanical bits even further in the future.

While the Wrangler’s never been about comfort, it has become a much nicer place than it used to be. Future models likely will continue this trend and better brakes, more advanced suspension bits (active dampers perhaps?) and electronic throttle setup are all on the list of possibilities for future models.

To FCA’s credit, it’s creative with the Wrangler’s tops. Today there’s a hard top, soft top, and even a variant that has a soft-top sliding sunroof. Today’s hardtop and soft tops are easier than ever to remove, and this trend is likely to continue with even more innovation. Expect better insulated soft tops and hard tops as well.

The Next Wrangler

With this generation of Wrangler getting a plug-in hybrid variant, the next-gen seems certain to offer a plug. The larger question is: Will it even be available without a plug?

Expect more range from the plug-in powertrain thanks to advances in battery chemistry and management software.

The Wrangler could either go all-electric or offer a battery-electric variant in the lineup, too. Bollinger and Rivian will offer all-electric, off-road vehicles, and Jeep will need to answer both startup automakers. Electric vehicles make sense off-road: instant torque for low-speed off-roading. It doesn’t take a lot of juice to move along the trail slowly and electric motors can provide torque multiplication for low-range and crawling scenarios.

Regardless of what’s powering the Wrangler, it still needs to look like a Wrangler: a two-door open-top box on wheels. We’re not sure how long the icon can get away with its removable doors, fold-down windshield, and open top while still passing increasingly stringent crash tests.

Since the Willys era, the Wrangler’s home has been Toledo, Ohio (except for a brief period in time, but nobody wants to think about that). For Toledo, Jeep is a part of life. It’s hard to see that changing soon.

Jeep will likely endure no matter where it goes, we say. It’s outlived countless owners including Willys, Kaiser, AMC, DaimlerChrysler—maybe FCA too? The brand likely will survive, but the Magic 8 Ball says FCA’s stewardship of Jeep is a little murky. But who would end up with Jeep? The new owners could be based in America, France, Korea, China, who knows.

The Wrangler we know today is vastly different than the jeep that started it all, despite their similarities. Tomorrow’s Jeep will no doubt be even more radical—but still familiar.