TUCSON, AZ – Even the guides are having trouble finding good traction on the rocky terrain as our all-new Jeep Wrangler – leaning 26 degrees to the driver’s side and ascending an impossibly steep incline – digs for purchase amid a virtual terrace of metal-bending boulders.

But with light goading on the accelerator pedal and clear steering direction from the handlers, the Wrangler hauls itself up the technically difficult climb and down the other side undamaged and ready for another challenge.

Though this kind of off-road prowess is what we’d expect from America’s premier 4x4, it’s still exhilarating to discover that any vehicle is this capable straight from the factory. When new-found on-road manners are added to the equation, it’s safe to say the latest iteration of Jeep’s go-anywhere Wrangler SUV meets and exceeds expectations.

Designated “JL,” the ’18 Wrangler is the first complete makeover of the model since 2007 when the predecessor “JK” arrived along with the popular 4-door Unlimited option. The new Wrangler sticks to a tried-and-true formula dating back to its 1941 origins with its upright stance, utilitarian interior design and solid front and rear axles doing the grunt work.

At the same time, the JL brings dramatic change with lighter aluminum body panels replacing steel, interior functionality and comfort taking priority, and powertrain options growing to include a 2.0L turbocharged 4-cyl. engine hooked to a 48V mild hybrid system dubbed eTorque. Both the 4 cyl. and carryover 3.6L V-6 are offered with an all-new 8-speed automatic transmission; a 6-speed manual is standard with the V-6.

We spent most of our test day driving the 2.0L turbocharged I-4, appreciating its juicy torque band, silent stop/start system and an observed 21 mpg (11.2 L/100 km) average fuel economy (but as high as 27 mpg [8.7 L/100 km]) in combined driving.

The hybrid powertrain produces 270 hp and 295 lb.-ft. (400 Nm) of torque starting at just 3,000 rpm, which comes in handy for off-road maneuvers requiring maximum twist at low engine speeds. In 4WD LO mode, the throttle and turbo response are reduced, which we note makes power delivery much easier to manage when employing the Rubicon’s 77.2:1 crawl ratio through tough terrain.

The unobtrusive stop/start operation powered by the eTorque’s belt alternator-starter brings the engine online so quietly we doubt most drivers would bother switching off the fuel-saving system.

The restart also is quick, assisting in a 7.5-second 0-60 mph (97 km/h) run in a 4-door from a truly “dead” stop. That’s 1.5 seconds quicker than we observed with the engine at rest in the V-6 4-door equipped with FCA’s standard starter-motor-actuated stop-start system.