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The ’17 Wrangler’s new suspension

by David Zatz on

Given rumors that the next-generation Jeep Wrangler will drop its solid-axle suspension, several Allpar members asked consulting engineer Bob Sheaves what Chrysler’s most likely options were. He responded:

1. Hire or contract with Evan Boberg and me to update the Li’l Blue design. This is unlikely and probably would have taken place already, if it were to happen at all.

2. Hire an outside consulting firm with military experience, such as Meritor Defense, AM General, Oshkosh Defense, FEG, or Rod Millen. This is unlikely.

3. Use internal resources and try to adapt the existing Ram truck 4×4 design, or further develop the Li’l Blue design. This is the most likely option.

The challenge for Jeep is making a new Wrangler which is:

  • similar in price to the current model
  • the premier off-road vehicle in its price range
  • more capable and comfortable on-road
  • more fuel efficient.

Many observers have noted that the company could do this by using expensive alternative materials, eight-speed automatics, diesel engines, and such, rumors still target a move from solid axles to reduce unsprung weight, the biggest change since CJ became Wrangler under AMC. The challenge is creating a reliable, sturdy system with at least as much ground clearance as the current solid-axle design — and as much suspension articulation — without going overboard on cost.

Bob Sheaves, Evan Boberg, and Gerry Hentschel addressed these issues with their innovative Li’l Blue mule; Mr. Sheaves suggested another option, the in-between setup of Ram 4×4 pickups. While the Ram independent front suspension may not be optimized to the technical level required by the new Wrangler, the cost penalties of the Li’l Blue suspension may be too high (and current Jeep engineers might not be able to adapt it). The Ram setup would, at least, be rugged.

The days of the easily-modified Wrangler are probably numbered, unless the company keeps making the old model somewhere as a niche option — which seems unlikely at best, despite all those empty buildings in Michigan and Italy, or the precedent of making older models in Russia, India, and China. Whether that matters is a subject for (intense and never-ending) debate.

Jeep can’t afford to blow this one. The success of the Jeep brand is hinged mainly on the off-road prowess of the Wrangler Rubicon. As the company makes seas of front wheel drive Cherokees and Renegades, the badge remains backed by the faith and credit of Wrangler.

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