As I, like the rest of you, await the unveiling of Jeep’s all-new 2018 Jeep Wrangler JL. And, with the recent leak of an un-camouflaged JL, I began thinking about my initial reaction to spy shots of the new Wrangler’s interior: I chided it as too car-like, too upscale to fit the Wrangler brand.
Was I right? Well, consider these thoughts on short-wheelbase Jeep instrument panels through the years, then judge for yourself:
Still very much a utilitarian vehicle, the CJ-5 instrument panel is about as simple as it gets. A centrally mounted speedometer is flanked by several knobs on one side and two simple gauges on the other. (Unless, of course, one ordered the optional radio or CB.) Front-seat passengers can make use of a grab bar bolted to the upright dash above the glove box. Optional padding, too, is minimal.
Virtually unmodified from its predecessor, some CJ-7s offered a few optional upgrades, like a padded grab bar and full-length dash pad. But, CJ-5 owners had no trouble finding their way around this identical dash.
The arrival of the squared-off Wrangler YJ in 1987 brought the short-wheelbase Jeep’s first real interior makeover. The full-length dash-top plastic pad paid homage to the CJs that came before it, but speedometer and tach now flanked the steering column, with nearly a half-dozen other gauges lining up to the starboard side. While still spartan, the YJ’s interior design moved a step away from CJ’s utilitarian, hose-it-out interior. This still is one of my favorite Jeep interiors.
The YJ’s successor, 1997’s TJ, brought another dramatic visual departure. The surface finishes remained rather low-rent, but the TJ was the most car-like Wrangler instrument panel yet. While some enthusiasts no doubt have, this interior doesn’t scream “hose me off” — with the TJ, the Jeep’s simple, spartan interior was gone. Gauges were laid out in a more conventional ergonomic array. Two air conditioning vents marked each side, with another two lining up atop radio controls in the center stack. The steering wheel hub abandoned Jeep’s iconic round look for a look more in keeping with Jeep’s corporate parent, Chrysler.
Wrangler JK, Gen. I
Here’s a bit of familiar territory, as Smokey greets me each day with the interior above, albeit in dark grey. The first JK Wrangler interior, from 2007 to 2010, featured a prominent center stack, four-spoke steering wheel and all the hard plastic you could wish for. It continues the JK’s exterior circle-centric design theme, with four round A/C vents, speakers, dials, gauges and steering wheel center cap. While it’s visually different from past Wranglers and CJs, there’s a utilitarian feel that connects the JK to previous Jeeps. While what’s underneath may be more high-tech than its predecessors, the original JK interior felt every bit the throwback, an intentional departure from anything else on the market. Just like the Wrangler itself.
Wrangler JK, Gen. II
For 2011, the JK got a bit more civilized. Hard-touch plastics were softened a bit and the instrument panel’s design was redesigned with a slightly more car-like flavor. The steering wheel lost a spoke, while gaining convenience controls for climate, speed control and the sound system. The seats and armrest were redesigned, with the latter being a very welcome replacement for the JK’s low-slung plastic shelf. Speaking from personal experience, it’s much more comfortable than my JK, even if I couldn’t stand the annoying new blinker click.
In the spy photo above, we can see the Wrangler JL appears to have a steering wheel very similar to corporate parent Fiat’s Mazda Miata clone, the 124 Spider. The simple Jeep logo feels a bit small and out of place on the bulbous central hub, but otherwise will serve nicely. In lieu of the central stack that has become a hallmark of the TJ and JK Wranglers, the JL returns to a more horizontal-feeling layout. In this regard, the JL is like the YJ, but with a decidedly more high-tech feel. The large painted mass of the JL’s dash would feel at home in any suburban ‘ute today, making it a ripe target for anyone looking to label the JL a pretender-mobile. To this reviewer’s eyes, the JL’s instrument panel and dash represent the dilution of the Jeep brand. While there’s little doubt the JL Wrangler will perform admirably on the trail, this interior simply doesn’t look like it belongs there.
Agree, disagree? Let me know if you think I’m right on the money, or way off target. Leave a comment below.