The Hardest Part of Overhauling the All-New Jeep Wrangler


The Jeep Wrangler was completely overhauled, and even though it might not look like it at first, the SUV is all-new.

The previous Jeep Wrangler was one of the least technologically advanced new vehicles on the market, but this generation reverses that, says Ralph Gilles, head of design for FCA. Being a Jeep owner, he was all too aware that it wasn’t an easy vehicle to live with.

“Jeep owners put up with it today, but they know it’s going to be a different experience, so they welcome the differences, but the new one is ergonomically better in so many ways,” Gilles told during the 2017 L.A. Auto Show. Some would say that the Jeep’s lack of technology and modern conveniences kept it pure and added to its charm, but the famous SUV was desperately in need of a re-do. Gilles is the first to admit that the overhaul wasn’t easy.

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“That car probably had more design problems than any car I’ve ever worked on,” he admitted, adding that it’s not an easy task to completely redesign an iconic and purposefully utilitarian vehicle with a rabid fanbase. Jeep fans are a notoriously prickly bunch because a Wrangler’s capability dictates its design. It has always been function over form, so there’s really no use if it can’t off-road.

Gilles said they started designing the new SUV about five years ago carte blanche and tried radically different looks but decided that none of them really honored the Wrangler, so they stuck to a more familiar design.

“Naturally, we kept coming back to more evolution rather than revolution because it wasn’t necessary,” he said. “The car is so freakishly successful, more successful than it’s ever been in its history, and as other cars evolve, it’s becoming more unique.” As retro becomes cool again, boxy is back in vogue.

Gilles is proud that the design is so pure, even with all the tech and features it has gained. “It does everything that it used to do but even better, even though all the modern stuff was a pain in the ass to integrate,” he said. All the modern sensors, safety equipment and cooling requirements have to be there, and yet the roof still has to come off, the doors still have to go down, and the off-road capability cannot be compromised.

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One feature that was a nightmare to engineer was the reverse camera, which is the first one ever put on a Wrangler right from the factory. He’s proud of the fact that all the new stuff is integrated without “slapping you in the face.”

“Probably the most difficult part, and I give the engineers a lot of credit, was the rear camera,” Gilles said. “It’s by far the most difficult vehicle because the spare tire is exactly where the camera wants to be, so they came up with an ingenious solution.” Engineers tried every possible camera placement and even tried to use two cameras with a digitally stitched together image, but ended up creating a lockable camera in the middle of the spare tire mount. The new Jeep is full of creative solutions like this that make it more modern without compromising its iconic character or capability.

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