Expert Reviews

2024 Jeep Wrangler First Drive Review and Video

The iconic Jeep as we know it has long followed a slow and steady trajectory in its evolution from rough and rugged trail rig to something a little more refined.

Of course, its capability is still the major draw for those who want to take to the trails, not to mention the countless others who at least want to look like they do. Now, some six years after the arrival of the most polished generation to date, the 2024 Jeep Wrangler gets subtle tweaks that further elevate the experience it delivers off-road while offering more all-around functionality than before.

A More Robust Rubicon

After all these years it’s astonishing that there’s any off-road ability left to extract from the Wrangler, and yet here we are. In fact, not since the introduction of the Rubicon version and its factory-installed locking differentials has there been a more significant improvement to the way the Wrangler performs off the beaten path – and on it.

It should come as no surprise, then, that it’s the Rubicon that enjoys these enhancements, with a newly added full-floating rear axle, among a few other upgrades. The short version goes like this: compared to a more typical semi-floating axle design, which has the wheels bolted more or less directly to the ends of the spinning shafts, a full-floating system uses spindles instead. This means the axle can handle more load – in the case of an off-roader like this, that means bigger tires, for instance – while busted axle shafts can be removed and the corresponding wheel can still spin freely.

That robust rear axle is standard equipment across the Rubicon range that includes four-, six-, and eight-cylinder power, as well as a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) version; however, sticking with either of the former two motors means more on-road capability thanks to an improved towing capacity of 2,268 kg (5,000 lb). The V8-powered Wrangler Rubicon 392, as well as the Rubicon 4xe PHEV, can tow the same 1,588 kg (3,500 lb) as before due to the additional weight of their respective powertrains.

Also new this year is an optional factory-installed winch that comes mounted inside a unique bumper. With a pull rating of 3,629 kg (8,000 lb), there’s plenty of peace of mind that comes with it.

Tackling Trails

The reality of the 2024 Wrangler Rubicon is that those upgrades don’t do much to change the way it performs on the trail – not that there was anything wrong with it before now. The latest generation of Jeep’s halo trail rig has been the best to date since it was introduced nearly six years ago, with chunky all-terrain tires, locking front and rear differentials, and a disconnecting front sway bar that allows for more suspension articulation.

Even so, a short refresher in southern Utah provided the perfect reminder of just how capable the Wrangler is off-road. With the tires aired down to about 20 psi we set out for Sand Hollow State Park, a trio of Wranglers following the lead of a Gladiator – not to mention some outstanding trail guides.

Behind the wheel of a Wrangler Rubicon 4xe for the first half of our trail-tackling adventure, it wasn’t long before the first obstacle: sand. Lots of it, too. The deep and loose kind that can quickly bury a rig like this one axle-deep. And it did. But it wasn’t long before a healthy stab of the throttle had momentum back on the Wrangler’s side, just in time for the first rock climb. Of course, these were no ordinary rocks, with ominous nearby names like Devil’s Playground and The Squeeze setting expectations accordingly. But the Wrangler proved itself a worthy foil – again, with the help of spotters and trail guides from Jeep Jamboree – and it wasn’t long before we were climbing off-camber boulders with relative ease.

Swapping into the Wrangler Rubicon 392 and its 6.4L V8 engine, that capability was accompanied by much more drama thanks to the delightful noises it makes when prodded. Even a gentle stab of the throttle uncorks an evil snarl befitting of a muscle car. (It should come as no surprise that the same engine can be had under the hood of the Dodge Challenger.)

Enhanced On-Road Experience

The rest of this drive day was far more tame, piloting the revised Wrangler Willys on the roads around St. George, Utah, and towing a trailer with a V6 version of the Rubicon. The former now comes fitted with bigger tires (33-inch versus 32), steel rock sliders, and a locking rear differential. While it could easily have been a sort of placebo effect, it seemed to track more truly down the road than previous Wranglers, requiring less steering corrections while cruising. (There’s truth to the adage that this Jeep can go anywhere but a straight line.)

Also improving the experience is the new 12.3-inch touchscreen infotainment system, which is backlit with LEDs and doesn’t get washed out by the sun with the top down as a result. It also runs the latest Uconnect 5 system from Jeep parent company Stellantis, which is as clean and easy to use as ever, with wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connections, plus over-the-air update capability, and a new catalogue of trails built right in.

Towing an empty Airstream camper trailer weighing some 1,950 kg (4,300 lb), the equalizing hitch no doubt helped offset some suspension sag; and the back end was prone to bouncing a bit over bumps – a byproduct of the extra ride height and squishy tires. But the Wrangler felt confident with all that weight hooked up to the back, even with wicked wind gusts blowing across the Sand Hollow Reservoir.

Final Thoughts

Looking at the 2024 Jeep Wrangler standing boldly atop the rocks in southern Utah, not even a keen-eyed observer would be able to tell it apart from any other of this JL generation. And it’s true that the actual trail-tackling abilities are about the same as before, too. But there’s no question that it’s the most capable to date – an all-too-common claim about each new version of this iconic off-roader that continues to be true rather than simply a bunch of marketing jargon.

The rear axle is the big addition, with the enhanced towing capacity nothing to scoff at. Then there’s the new infotainment screen that’s sure to make every new Wrangler that much easier – and more enjoyable – to live with. They leave little to be desired as far as capability and everyday usability, which begs the question: what’s left to squeeze out of this off-roader? But then if the Wrangler’s evolution over the years is any indication, Jeep’s own version of Zeno’s paradox is in full effect here. Incremental improvements are seemingly endless, and it’s only a matter of time before this Jeep gets even better.