Driving around topless with no doors and the windshield folded down is a pastime that connects Jeep Wrangler owners with those who putted around in the very first civilian Jeeps, CJ-2As, back in the 1940s. And now, with the 2018 Jeep Wrangler, undressing the newest descendent of that CJ is easier than it has been in many years.
Jeep’s PR manager Trevor Dorchies and the JL Wrangler’s Chief Engineer Brian Leyes (my former boss; full disclosure: I used to work at FCA) walked me through what it takes to turn the three top options—the “Sunrider” soft top, the “Freedom Top” hard top, and the new “Sky One-Touch” powertop—into what the brand loves to call “open air freedom.” They then showed me how to take the doors off, and how to do a job that was so hard on the previous Wrangler that almost nobody ever did it: fold the windshield.
While stripping down the JL Wrangler isn’t as simple as the job was on the CJ-2A (which didn’t even come with a top or doors, and which required simply pulling two latches to fold the windshield), I came away amazed by just how much the new JL makes dismantling the outgoing JK feel downright cumbersome.
If you’ve ever tried taking the two “Freedom Panels” off the current JK Wrangler, you have probably had to deal with these two supremely annoying dials that seem to have more threads than any other fastener on the face of the earth.
The 2018 Jeep Wrangler’s Freedom Top works in much the same way as the outgoing JK; there’s still that metal latch above the visor, and there’s still the right-angle latch in the rear outboard corners.
But now, thank god, the two dials are gone, having been replaced by more latches that simply fasten the panels—which are now lighter than the outgoing ones—down to the sound bar. Plus, up front near the visors, each panel now gets a locating dowel, as well as its own 90-degree latch (previously there was just one 90-degree latch up front).
Lighter panels and latches instead of threaded bolts really are just minor improvements, but the new design makes taking the panels off significantly quicker, and it means there are no fastener knobs to lose track of.
Because I’m a bit of a Jeep “traditionalist,” if I were buying a Wrangler, I’d spring for the soft top. In the past, that meant I’d have to deal with annoying zippers that often struggled to close, especially when thermal contraction reared its ugly head on cold nights.
But on the new JL, those zippers are gone, having been replaced by a “Tongue and Groove” design (the windows slide out of a “channel” just like the soft-doors do on my 1948 Willys CJ-2A). Here’s a look at the JL’s Chief Engineer, Brian Leyes, sliding a Jeep Wrangler Unlimited’s rear window out after nonchalantly “popping” the plastic clip on the corner of the body tub:
With the rear and side windows out, both the two-door and four-door are left with a soft top that hangs over the cargo area. At first, I wasn’t sure how I’d like this “safari” look, but in person—especially with the body-colored sport bar—I dig it.
With the windows out, folding the soft top is as simple as undoing the two latches behind the visors, and pulling the top back into its “Sunrider” position.
The final step from there is simply pulling a little handle under the soft top, which activates a cable that folds the roof all the way down.
From start to finish, unclipping and sliding out the windows, pulling the latches under the visors, yanking the top back, grabbing the rear handle, and dropping the lid takes only a minute or two. And while lining up the windows into the grooves, and clipping in the rear windows means erecting the tent takes a bit longer, it was still far from an annoyance. And if that’s the case even in cold weather, and this thing holds up over time, then this new setup will be a welcome improvement over the JK’s soft top.
There does seem to be a decent amount of top “stack up” in the rear, which could hinder visibility, though I’ll admit that it’s possible that the top could be folded or compacted further than what you see above (I’m not entirely sure).
To a Jeep person, a power top sounds like blasphemy. “That’s just one more thing to break” the traditionalists will quip. And while I’ll admit I’m a big fan of bare-bones off-roaders with hand-crank windows and manual transmissions, I understand the appeal of a power top.
I have a number of friends who live in apartments and struggle to find space to store their hard-tops. Some of them have to carry the things up multiple flights of steps to their rooms or to storage areas. The inconvenience means most of my JK-owning friends just don’t bother, and keep the hard top on year-round. Where’s the fun in that?
That’s really the whole point behind the power top: it’s a way to finally give apartment-dwelling hard top owners a way to see a bit more sky than those two Freedom Panels allow.
Do most folks who live in apartments tend to be people who have hundreds of extra bucks (no word on pricing just yet) to spend on a fancy power top? Is the power top that much quieter than the soft top to make it worth the investment? To these, I don’t yet have answers. But I can show you how this thing works.
Simply push the button near the rearview mirror while traveling at speeds under 60 mph, and the soft top—with its eight bows—begins to slide back and fold into an accordion-shape, giving the front and rear passengers (or just the front passengers if you stop the roof halfway) infinite headroom.
The clip above shows what the power retractable roof looks like from inside.
One of my favorite features of the power top is the rear windows, which can be removed in less than ten seconds by rotating two right-angle latches, and simply lifting the window’s bottom posts out of the holes in the body tub. The result is a more airy cabin and improved visibility.
Taking the front and rear doors off the JL Wrangler is simple, especially since they’re 14 pounds and seven pounds lighter, respectively, than before.
Before yanking the doors off their hinges, you’ve got to pull off a little plastic cover (which sits in the footwell under the dash or on the b-pillar, depending on if you’re removing the front or rear doors) to gain access to the electrical connector that actuates locks and power windows. After rotating a little white clip, the connector pops free.
From there, just unhook a nylon limit strap/wire conduit, and grab the tool set that comes with the JL. Throw the T50 torx bit onto the quarter-inch drive ratchet, and start cranking away on the door check strap bolt
That check strap is new on the JL, and actually means the door doesn’t just flop in the wind: there are set detents, like on any other car from this century.
With the connector and limit strap disconnected, and the check strap and door hinges unbolted, removing the door is as simple as lifting 47 pounds of aluminum and steel (or 34 pounds if it’s a rear door).
Even though it wasn’t exactly light, I found the door to be rather manageable, though the door’s armrest—which Jeep says was designed to give owners a place to lift the door—isn’t located at the door’s center of mass. As such, I found that the door wanted to rotate forward, leaving me grabbing onto the mirror to counter that moment.
In either case, removing and re-installing the JL’s doors is quick and easy, even if there’s an extra bolt for the check strap, and even if installing the hinge pins (which are now unequal length) still requires a bit of precision.
A couple of years ago, two of my coworkers drove around Moab, Utah in a JK with a folded-down windshield. That job of dropping the front glass was such a chore that it was worthy of a large article on this website.
But folding the JL’s windshield is hardly worthy of a feature story (aside from this one); it’s really no big deal. First, you use your fingernails or a flathead to take off the plastic covers that hide the windshield wiper arm bolts:
With those off, the next step is to remove the bolts with the included tool set:
And from there, hopping inside and removing the four bolts near the visors is the last step before dropping the windshield.
You can see the location of those four bolts holes in the picture below, just at the top of the windshield surround:
The folded windscreen sits on top of plastic footman loops, which also act as hood blocks and as windshield washer nozzles—very clever.
Here’s a look at the hooks that hold the windscreen down onto those footman loops:
And here are the “key slots” on the back of the windshield frame into which those hooks slide:
I wasn’t sure what I’d think about a windshield that technically folded down, but that still left the A-pillars and upper windshield surround in place. “Would there be a point?” I wondered.
The answer is “yes.” Driving any vehicle without glass a foot in front of your face is always a hell of a lot of fun. Sure, the JL’s downward visibility is a bit hampered (see image below), but all it takes is undoing one of the hinge bolts at the base of the windshield, and you can just take the whole thing off.
There’s still a lot I don’t know about the tops. I’d like to see how easy it is to remove the soft tops entirely, I want to learn more about the half doors, and I’d like to see what it takes to actually take the windshield off fully.
Still, based on my experience with the JL Wranglers that the company had for journalists near Tucson, Arizona, there’s a lot to like. The windshield now folds down much more easily than before, the Freedom Panels comes off much quicker than before, the soft top takes much less time to lower than on the JK, the doors are lighter and now there’s a power top.
The result, I think, will be more people driving around in stripped-down Jeep Wranglers than ever before. And that’s just cool.