There's just something about that boxy, rugged-yet-refined design of the Jeep Wrangler. The SUV is a modern classic within its class, but with several notable upgrades in this year's model, the Wrangler was recently named Motor Trend's 2019 SUV of the Year at the Los Angeles Auto Show.
Taking home the award represents a big win for Fiat Chrysler's (FCAU) - Get Report Jeep team. Over the last 20 years, not once has the Wrangler -- or any other Jeep for that matter -- been named Motor Trend's SUV of the Year. Honda's (HMC) - Get Report CR-V has won the award twice in the last five years, with the most recent in 2018. In between those victories, the Mercedes-Benz GLC (a Daimler (DDAIF) brand), and the Volvo XC90 also won the award.
Now, though, it's the Wrangler's turn. Advancements in design, engineering excellence, efficiency, value and performance helped lead it to this year's award.
From Motor Trend's international bureau chief Angus MacKenzie, "The Wrangler is a thoughtful, thorough rework of an American original. ... It's laser-focused on improving the performance of its intended function, right down to the last nut and bolt."
The automaker made enough changes to the car to notably improve the driver experience, convenience and performance, without taking away any of the things that made it a Wrangler in the first place. In fact, you could argue that it improved both the on-road and off-road capabilities for both sets of drivers to enjoy.
Thanks to its new 2.0-liter 4-cylinder mild-hybrid option, drivers can enjoy a 33% boost in combined city and highway fuel efficiency. Lighter doors make it easier for owners to take them off and rather than removing various panels on the roof, the Wrangler now has a one-touch button option for retracting the roof. Park assist, blind-spot awareness and a rear camera are available on the Wrangler.
On the styling front, a cleaner-looking grill, LED turn lights on the front, and squared-up tail lights make the new Wrangler's changes noticeable, but not completely re-engineered. That's just how it should be with a classic SUV like this. Same goes for the Mercedes-Benz G-Class, just as the CEO told us back in January.
Said in the way of Motor Trend, the new Jeep Wrangler "is what crossovers want to be when they grow up."
Although not necessarily specific to the Wrangler, we're seeing it in the sales, too. According to IHS Market, "for the last two years, more people switched to the Jeep Brand than any other brand."
Overall Jeep sales were up 12% year-over-year this November. That's vastly better than the slight decline the overall industry experienced for the month. Specifically, the Cherokee had the best growth, up 22.6%. However, the Wrangler didn't come in far behind, up 20.1%.
As the infographic above suggests, the Wrangler has seen a large uptick in adoption since 2010. Adding various trims and options have increased the attractiveness of the vehicle, casting a wider net for different drivers. Further improvements -- like what we see in the 2019 version -- are attracting even more new drivers to the brand. Jeep also unveiled its new pickup the Gladiator at the Los Angeles Auto Show. The vehicle is built on a lengthened Wrangler frame, keeping many of the iconic vehicle's top features in tact, such as removable doors and its top.
That said, not everything is perfect. Recent crash-test data for the new Wrangler came back with subpar results. Part of that is the Wrangler's lack of autonomous emergency braking and pedestrian protection. While that may keep some drivers away, the Wrangler is likely to keep customers coming back for more, while Jeep hopes its recent improvements are enough to attract new buyers to the name and boost its sales. If recent momentum is any sign, they should be just fine.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author had no positions in the stocks mentioned.