Out with the Old, In with the New: Comparing the Jeep JL and Jeep JK


Without a doubt, Jeep has been at the forefront of off-roading innovation. Their vehicles have spring boarded many new concepts even within their own family of vehicles. Everyone has come to know and love the Jeep JK series of jeeps, so when the Jeep JL was introduced by Jeep for the 2018 year we decided it would be good to compare the two. Seeing the differences between the two, and there are A LOT of differences, you will see changes both old and new. Both jeeps are great in their own right so the choice really boils down to personal preference, and hey who does not like having the latest and the greatest? We are going to talk about how they both drive, look and feel inside and out! So let’s dive right in hit the trail as we talk about the differences between the 2018 Jeep JL and the Jeep JK.

Right off the bat, you will notice a difference in the front fenders. The Jeep JL and the Jeep JK both have the same fog lights and tow hooks that you expect to find on a jeep bumper, but the JL continues to do things differently. Like the headlights on the JL, the fog lights built into the bumper are more sunken into the bumper. The JL comes in another style of the bumper that comes with a different jeep package, this adds some plastic plates to the front, giving it a more of a look like an older Range Rover. The JK has standard round lights at the midsection of the bumper and the overall design of the bumper is boxier. I personally like the older bumper better  but defiantly see the appeal of the design on the JL.

Another glaringly obvious difference between the Jeep JL and the Jeep JK is that the JL has front fender flares with fully integrated turn signal and running lights. The JK has the running and signal lights just under the headlights built into the front grill. The fender flares on the Jeep JK are just that, traditional fender flares and lack lights. The lights being moved to the fender flares on the Jeep JL is something that I have always enjoyed with jeep designs. That is their ability to mix the old with the new. The lights on the front fender is a newer design and look mixed with the same profile and feel of the historical jeeps. So you get a great mix and still a better-looking design in the end, in my opinion.

Continuing with the front of the Jeeps you will also notice that the grills are different. Now, there has never been a more iconic front for a vehicle than the one jeep has had for many decades. The front appears to be straight up and down like the Jeep JK, but the Jeep JL has a slight slope at the top, giving it a more rounded profile. Having the more inclined profile on the front gives you a bit more fuel economy and the entire concept of the JL is with just that in mind, fuel economy. So more changes to the front end are that the headlights sink into the grill much like they did on older model jeeps and this really makes the iconic jeep image POP. Now the JK still has the same “Jeep” look but their grill has the added Jeep nameplate on the top whereas the JL does not. I mean is there really a need to have the Jeep name on the front end of what is obviously a jeep, to begin with? I personally like the more boxy look of the JK but I know a lot of people are going to enjoy the more aerodynamic look, and if I am being honest I would not mind having the extra fuel economy on those long trips to the trail.

Going up from the grill you will notice that the hood on the JL has a much more predominant bump stop with built-in washers. This gives you a lot more added protection for that windshield when you decide to put the windshield down.  Going away from the JK’s hood design where the washers and bump stops were separate and more spread out. This gives the JL a more streamlined and efficient design, in keeping with their theme of doing more with less. The windshield itself is set back at a more inclined angle of about 6 degrees, giving you even more of an aerodynamic profile helping cut down on those gas bills. Another great feature of this new windshield is that when you fold it down, you still maintain the use of your sun visors and rear view mirror as the windshield itself folds down not the entire frame. The process to remove the windshield on the Jeep JK is much more involved and will take a lot more time. Again the Jeep JL is all about the economy. The economy of fuel and time.

The Hood latches on the JL are also a significant improvement. Going away from the rubber toggles and going with a better and more stable design it looks like hood rattle and dry rot might be a thing of the past. The new latch is MUCH easier to use and has a stronger, more secure hold on the hood keeping it far more secured and without as much wear and tear the older more traditional ones had before. Let’s face it, it was an old design that needed to be replaced.

Now, lets take a look at the rear of the jeeps and compare them. Like the front end, the rear has a lot of noticeable and noteworthy differences. First of all, you will notice in the center of the spare tire, is the JL has a rather large rear-facing camera. It is painfully obvious and for some its going to be an issue. For me, I like it, because it serves a purpose and by having it more exposed and it protrudes further than any other object on the jeep, the camera is more effective. You get a jeep for purpose so having a camera on a jeep that works with a purpose to me is more important than how it looks. It is a utility vehicle for a reason. The hard top has what amounts to be a built-in spoiler so they keep in line with the theme of saving that gas money. I still maintain that I prefer the boxy look of the JK but the JL having the gas mileage is a good selling point.

The lights on the read of the JL are totally redesigned and have changed how the marker lights are by opting for a fiber optic outline with the warning and signal lights being in the middle. The Third brake light on the JL is positioned in the same place as the JK but has a completely different look, to me it reminds me of a sci-fi periscope.  The JK had a problem where the license plate holder would get snagged on objects while on the trail and this would result in them being ripped off or damaged. So the Jeep JL has moved the license plate holder to the bumper. However, the way the new lights stick out on the sides on the JL, those are more than likely going to get snagged and damaged as well..so I guess its an even trade-off.

Moving along to the side of the Jeep JL you will notice a difference in the form of a heat vent near the fender flare. This vent is not just there for aesthetics, we all know that jeeps while off-roading and in general tend to heat up in the box, so they opted to add some vents to help that out and aid in air flow. So it not only looks neat, it actually works. A feature needed on jeeps for some time. The entire side of the jeep is redesigned in the JL to give a sleeker profile in keeping with the fuel economy. Whereas the Jeep JK has the more traditional boxy, straight up and down, doors. I prefer the older look but will yield to the temptation of better economy. The doors on the JL close more like doors on a traditional car and are not just held in place by vinyl straps like the ones found on the Jeep JK. Making for ease of use, but also keeping the jeep safe from its own doors. The JK, of course, lacks the heat vents and has a more straight and “boxy” look as opposed to the Jeep JL having a more streamlined look.

The interior of the JL is a complete overhaul. The inside is designed to be far more comfortable and more modern over the JK which is more rustic and utilitarian. The steering wheel has integrated buttons to control the radio as well as the cruise control. The phone and voice control, as well as the cruise control, are more like the JK in that they are located in the same places on the wheel. The changes, however, have made for experiencing the futuristic style conveniences of a traditional modern age car yet still being the off-\ legend we expect in a jeep. The dash allows you the ability to have a screen display for your vehicle as opposed to the traditional analog gauges found on the JK. Now the speedometer and tachometer are both traditional analog gauges like the JK but all other information is displayed on a digital screen. The screen allows the end user to set up what they want to see, so while you always see your fuel levels and water temperatures you also can change to see your mileage, outside air temperature and features like tire pressure. There is also an off-road screen, which shows your angle of attack and pitch of the vehicle, so it’s an extra ground guide essentially.

Underneath the jeeps, we see some differences in the axles. The JK comes with a Dana 44 rear axle and a Dana 30 front axle. This is pretty much what you will find on all four door jeeps at that time. With the JL they have opted to go with a Dana 35 rear Axle but kept the same Dana 30 front axle. Now, this, of course, is not your 30/35 combo that most people are familiar with, these have been completely re-worked. This gives the new 30/35 combo a lot more strength. That Dana 30 front axle has a front axle disconnect built into it, which allows for a lot more fuel economy. Basically, the front tires are disconnected from the drive when in two wheel drive so the wheels spin independently giving you more miles per gallon. On the rear end, you CAN get a Dana 44 rear axle for the JL and it comes with the anti-slip differential so you get the power to the tire with the most traction. Living in Montana sometimes all you need is one tiny bit of traction in order to prevent a major problem so this is a great feature.  

Both jeeps essentially have the same suspensions, both coil, and 5 link suspensions. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. However, the JL does have a more reinforced and re-designed steering links that go along with an improved electric and hydraulic

power steering system. When looking at the flex and articulation since both the Jeep JL and the JL utilize the same suspension, essentially, the flex and articulation are the same. Which is a great thing given that the 13 inches of give were what you had on the Jeep JK before you ended up on three wheels.

From the factory, the JL comes with a 345 gear which is higher than the gear ratio you saw from factory JK models so now you can place larger tires on a factory jeep!   The JK has been plagued with one problem in the location of their evaporation canister. The JK evap canister required the purchase of an after-market skid plate to keep it protected while out on the trail. The JL has moved the location of that evap canister and removed that problem with the JL update. The Transfer case on the stock JL is the Command Track transfer case which gives you the options of Four wheel drive in High, and low, two-wheel drive and a neutral gear. You can add the option of the Select Track transfer case. This gives you the option of a four-wheel drive high “auto” which lets the computer inside the JL determine if you need four-wheel drive engaged or not. You will also have Four Wheel drive “part-time” which is basically a standard four-wheel drive high gear.

Lets left the hood on both the JL and JK and see the engine of these legends. The JL comes standard with a 3.6L engine, which is the same engine you would have found in your JK. Of course, the JL 3.6L has been totally redesigned so it has a lot of noteworthy differences. The largest difference being the increase of overall efficiency by a factor of about 6%.  Utilizing Exhaust/Gas recycling system the engine is able to perform more effectively producing more for less which gives the end user more power as well. Literally more bang for your buck with this new 3.6L engine. Now the JL comes standard with the 3.6L like the JK but the JK only had the option for the 3.6L engine once it was introduced. The JL has options that allow for 2.0L gas turbo engine or a diesel engine. On the JK you were able to get a 5 speed automatic and a 6-speed manual transmission. The JL allows you the ability to get the 6-speed manual, but you have ALSO affronted the option to obtain one with an 8-speed automatic engine.

It is without question that jeep makes some of the best modern off-roading so when they roll out with a new product its worth comparison. We have compared both the JL and the JK as a means to show off the differences and advancements brought on by this new year model of jeep. The JK is an outstanding jeep and will always have a place in our hearts. However, without progress and innovation, we get left behind on the trail. So with the JL we get a lot of the same power and durability we expect from our JK series of jeeps, but now in a more economical and streamlined fashioned. It is safe to say that I cannot wait to see what jeep has in store for us next when we will compare the JL to the next level of off-roading jeeps.